San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

British Prisoner Awaits Hearing

JOHN Shimell has spent nearly two and a half years sharing a cell with some 20 other inmates in a Costa Rican prison without once being presented before a judge.According to some authorities involved in his case, that is perfectly acceptable. Shimell, who says he has been physically attacked, robbed at knifepoint and drugged with sleeping pills since being incarcerated, said he certainly doesn’t think so.Accused of – but not yet charged with – fraud in connection with an investment firm he owned in Costa Rica, the British citizen claims he is the victim of a corrupt justice system that has imposed numerous unnecessary delays, continually lengthened his preventive prison order and not giving him a preliminary hearing.DURING the preliminary hearing, both the prosecution and the defense would present the evidence they would use in court, after which a judge would determine whether there is sufficient cause to keep Shimell behind bars and charge him with a crime.He had a hearing scheduled for last November (TT, Nov. 14, 2003), but it was delayed. He was then told he would see a judge on April 23.On April 23, after three hours in a holding cell at a courthouse in San José, he was transferred back to San Sebastián prison and told he would have to wait even longer.“This latest delay, again, is a disgrace,” said Shimell, a 61-year-old financial advisor. His hearing is now scheduled to begin on Monday, and he, his wife, his defense team and the British Embassy are all hoping it finally does.“WHAT we’re interested in is that the preliminary hearing he’s going to have actually happens,” said British Vice-Consul to Costa Rica, Shelia de Pacheco, adding, “it does seem rather a long time Mr. Shimell’s been there without a preliminary hearing.”Pacheco said the British Embassy is neither maintaining Shimell’s innocence nor his guilt, but acting to protect the interests of a British citizen who she firmly believes deserves a hearing, she said.The embassy recently sent a letter to Costa Rica’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, which said, “The British Embassy is very concerned that the human rights of Mr. Shimell could be violated by his case not being attended to during so much time.”Copies of the letter, which expressed the embassy’s “strong interest” in seeing progress in the case, were sent to the Inter- American Court of Human Rights and Costa Rica’s Ombudsman, José Manuel Echandi.SHIMELL’S defense claims the delays have been arbitrary and seem as though they could have easily been prevented. At one point, for example, the prosecution was waiting on information regarding Shimell’s business history in Great Britain from the country’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).The SFO filed a 585-page report with the Costa Rican Consulate in London on May 7 of last year. The document sat there for three months, according to a copy of an e-mail sent from the consulate to Shimell’s defense team, because the report weighed “various kilos” and the office had not had enough funding to cover its shipment. It cost $113 to send.Carlos Meléndez, the prosecutor handling Shimell’s case, said such delays, in situations like Shimell’s, are perfectly normal.“In this type of complex investigation, given the specific characteristics of this case, this is totally within the norm,” Meléndez said.THE prosecutor said he knew of numerous cases in which preventive prison orders for ongoing investigations have been just as long. He declined, however, to provide specific examples.Meléndez said he is legally forbidden from discussing the specifics of Shimell’s case because those details must remain private information until after his preliminary hearing.The prosecutor said “several judges have been constantly aware of his case,” and have ordered his preventive prison extended until August 23 because they believe he is a flight risk.Shimell said the prosecution is using travel plans he had made to visit his dying father as proof he intended to flee the country. His father died on April 23, 2002 – exactly three months after Shimell’s arrest.ANOTHER woman being investigated in connection with Shimell, however, has been granted conditional freedom, presenting herself before a judge every 15 days rather than waiting in jail, Meléndez said.He said the Costa Rican suspect has family and other interests in the country that reduce the likelihood she’ll flee the country to escape justice. Shimell disagreed. “She’s free, because she’s Costa Rican,” he said.Shimell claims he came back voluntarily several times to visit the prosecutor since his business came under investigation. The last time, after a discussion with Meléndez, he was detained on suspicion of fraud and on allegations that he had a false passport.IN a formal complaint he filed against Meléndez, Shimell claims the prosecutor for months did nothing to investigate the claim that his passport was false, and that he has “perverted the course of justice and defamed (his) character in Europe and has prolonged the investigation of (his) case.”Meléndez said those claims were unfounded and merely reflected Shimell’s personal opinion.Pacheco, in a letter to Shimell on embassy letterhead, certified that United Kingdom authorities had issued a passport to him in 1998 that had the same number as the one he has been using for identification purposes since being jailed.Shimell, nominated for the International Who’s Who of Professionals after his arrest, said he gets through the days by sticking with a friend of his who’s “a big guy,” and takes comfort in knowing he is innocent. “That’s the only thing that keeps me sane in this bloody hellhole,” he said.

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