BRITISH citizen John Shimell wasfound guilty last week of fraud, but hoursafter a Costa Rican court announced thedecision, he was released from prison.The court decided that the three yearsShimell had already served waiting for histrial in San Sebastián prison, south of SanJosé, was punishment enough.Although he faced up to 10 years inprison, Shimell, 62, was given a shortersentence because of his age, his willingnessto return from Spain to face the accusations,and the fact that some clients didreceive the money they were promisedunder his alleged fraud.Shimell maintains his innocence andclaims he was unfairly held for two and ahalf years before he saw a judge. Heclaims he was found guilty only so thecourt would not have to pay him for themoral and material damage he accruedduring his preventive detention in prison.CECILIA Tristán, who according toprosecutors is a dual U.S.-Costa Rican citizenwho managed Shimell’s business,European Financial Services, was alsocharged with fraud, but absolved of allresponsibility.“I am extremely happy; there is justicein Costa Rica,” she told The Tico Times.“The past three years have been veryhard for me, very painful for me and myfamily. I really believed in the business. Itold my friends to take advantage of whathe was offering. It was a big surprise tome.”Shimell opened his investment firmin Costa Rica in 1999. Prosecutor CarlosMeléndez said the business offeredfraudulent project financing fromEnglish and Turkish banks that requiredclients to make an advance payment of atleast $10,000, which was allegedly keptdespite never providing the financing(TT, Nov. 26, 2004).Shimell and Tristán had also beenaccused of offering investment opportunitiesthat promised false annual returns as high as30%, zero risk, and a five-time capitalrelease, Meléndez said. Tristán, who did notserve preventive detention but had to sign inperiodically before authorities, was found tobe innocent of the charges.SHIMELL and his lawyer JennyRamírez said Monday the business didprovide returns to three clients, andclients who did not receive these benefitshad failed to comply with all the requiredregulations.Of approximately 60 clients, the trialincluded approximately 25 alleged victimswho said they lost between $10,000 and$50,000 each.Shimell’s business was ordered to paydamages to some clients, but because thatbusiness no longer exists, nothing will bepaid, his lawyer said.SHIMELL was taken into custody inearly 2002 after he returned from Spain toaddress the accusations. He was arrested andgiven preventive prison because authoritiesconsidered him a flight risk after he madetravel plans to visit his dying father.Shimell said the justice systemimposed numerous unnecessary delays andcontinually lengthened his preventivedetention order (TT, May 7, 2004).“I came back for justice, and what justicedid I get?” he said after the ruling.Meléndez said the delays in Shimell’scase are within reason.THE court’s decision came Jan. 21,two days before Shimell would have completedthree years in preventive prison, themaximum allowed by law for thesecharges, according to Ramírez. If the courthad waited any longer, her client wouldhave been released to await the sentenceoutside of prison, she said.Shimell said he is considering bringinghis case before the Inter-AmericanHuman Rights Commission. However,his lawyer Ramírez said she is happywith the decision and will not take anyfurther legal action unless the prosecutorappeals the ruling.Meléndez told the daily La Nación lastweek he will study the court’s decision anddetermine whether to appeal for a toughersentence.MEANWHILE, Shimell said he isusing his newfound freedom to visit withfriends and his 14-year-old Costa Ricandaughter, whom he adopted five yearsago. He is also seeing doctors and dentiststo be evaluated for health problems hesaid stem from being attacked by otherprisoners a year ago.After being imprisoned since January2002, Shimell said Monday he is still gettingused to being free.“It hasn’t really sunk in. After threeyears of protecting yourself from attacksand robberies, and to now have hot water…The first night I only slept an hour becauseI was in a real bed,” he told The Tico Times.