Fraud trial hinges on health of Milanes

Luis Milanes arrived in court Monday late and in the company of an oxygen tank.

Expats who expected the start of a fraud trial expressed dissatisfaction that the three-judge panel delayed the case until Wednesday so Milanes, the casino owner, can receive a medical examination.

Expats who were victims of his failed Savings Unlimited high interest operation expressed suspicion, but the larger than life Milanes, who is in his 60s, might well be ailing.

Expats probably will be disappointed Wednesday even if Milanes is found fit to stand trial. The case has been complicated by conciliation agreements entered into by Milanes and his former investors in 2011.

His legal team, headed by Hugo Navas, is likely to argue that even though one of the agreements failed that Milanes is exposed unjustly by the agreements. He already admitted guilt by agreeing to the conciliations.

Milanes has a long history of using the law cleverly for his personal advantage. He also is believed to have launched civil suits against a committee set up as a result of a conciliation agreement.

The second conciliation failed when a few of the affected investors declined to accept steep discounts in what they said they were owed.

Although Milanes has admitted fraud, he also has said that an associate fled to Europe with the money.

Milanes, a Cuban American, closed his Paseo Colón office in November 2002 and fled.  Milanes returned to Costa Rica in June 2008 and has been involved with the legal process and his former investors since.

The complicated case has been delayed frequently, sometimes by factors like a pregnancy leave for a judge and repeated changes in the prosecutors. One conciliation agreement included the surrender of the Hotel Europa downtown. Former investors still have not been able to obtain full control of the business from Milanes.

Savings Unlimited was one of those too-good-to-be-true investment deals that proliferated in Costa Rica in the 1990s. More than 500 took advantage of the high monthly interest rates and gave money to Savings Unlimited with the expectation that the cash would be used for casino development. In fact, the casinos were maintained in corporations separate from Savings Unlimited and are not involved in the current action. Milanes is believed to have sold most of them.

If Milanes is found unfit for trial, the case will be in limbo again.

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