San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

State Can’t Pay for Fugitive’s Return

AN alleged private detective from the United Statessays he has found multimillionaire fugitive Luis EnriqueVillalobos, wanted in Costa Rica for charges of moneylaundering and fraud, but Costa Rican law, which saysthe government will not pay for the recovery of runaways,stymies his efforts to turn a profit from the captureor even recover his expenses.Villalobos and his brother Osvaldo operated anallegedly illegal multimillion-dollar high-interest loancompany in Costa Rica that shut down in 2002 after apolice raid.Police confiscated more than $7 million and arrested Osvaldo shortly after. He whiled away morethan two years alternately serving preventiveprison and house arrest awaiting a trial,while Luis Enrique fled, allegedly with asmuch as $1 billion in investors’ funds.The operation manipulated the fundsof roughly 6,000 investors, each of whombought in with a minimum of $10,000, andpaid them monthly interests of 2.8-3%(TT, Nov. 14, 2003).The mystery, that neither investors knowor have divulged, nor Osvaldo Villalobos’lawyer Edgardo García explained, is how theoperation earned its money.The search warrant issued July 3, 2002,that led to the raids of the Villalobos brothers’offices the following day, identified 29Costa Rican companies they controlled,and more may have been revealed in thesubsequent investigation, some of whichwere related to tourism and currencyexchange (TT, July 12, 2002).THE self-described private U.S. detectivemet with The Tico Times last week oncondition of anonymity, which he said is aprecaution against possible retributionfrom people linked to past alleged criminalshe has caught, or those involved in theVillalobos affair.He goes by the first name Steven, andsaid he has worked in “fugitive apprehensionand return” for 10 years. He shiesfrom the term “bounty hunter,” but said he,five associates, and two computer whizzeshave captured 20 fugitives and sold themto the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI), U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration(DEA) and the Russian government.His usual fee is $100,000, he said. TheTico Times was unable to confirm this withU.S. or Russian authorities.For the past eight months, he said, hehas pursued Luis Enrique Villalobos, mostlythrough bank account activity. Heclaims he has discovered the fugitive’swhereabouts and 21 accounts with a combinedtotal of nearly $500 million.Villalobos and his bank activity are undersurveillance, he said, and there are“enough safeguards in place,” to track theman if he moves.However, Steven told The Tico Timeshe is dazzled by Villalobos’ financialpower and intelligence, and would like tomove on him quickly.“It’s like a mastermind situation,” hesaid, unlike anything he has confronted inthe past. “He probably has above-averageintelligence and enough money to makehimself powerful.”SINCE making the alleged discovery,Steven has butted against intractable CostaRican authorities and law that does notallow the state to pay private parties for thecapture of fugitives. He agreed to share hisstory with The Tico Times if the paperhelped arrange an interview with the stateprosecutor in charge of the case, drug-traffickingprosecutor Walter Espinoza.Espinoza met with Steven and TheTico Times last week, warning beforehandhe would try only to solicit informationabout Villalobos from the detective, andwould not pay for the capture.“There’s no budget for it,” he said.Steven had offered to capture LuisEnrique, fly him to Costa Rica on a privatejet, and deliver the $500 million in his bankaccounts.STEVEN told Espinoza that Osvaldo,released from preventive detention lastweek on condition that he remain in thecountry (TT, April 1), would flee soon,and joked that the state would have to payhim to capture both brothers. Espinozareplied, “probably.”Osvaldo Villalobos was unavailable forcomment, but his lawyer, García, denied hewould flee, saying his client “urgentlywants to take this to trial, because we aregoing to get him cleared of charges.”The state concluded a hearing lastmonth with the expectation of a decision asto whether a trial will take place. No decisionhas been officially announced, butboth the prosecutor and the defense attorneytold The Tico Times it will go to trial.STEVEN then tried to arrange anappointment with Ewald Acuña, lawyer for agroup of hundreds of investors, many ofwhom filed legal complaints against theVillalobos brothers in the hearing inFebruary (TT, Feb. 4). Acuña said he is notinterested.Why? “It’s an issue of ethics,” he told TheTico Times. Asked if he would like to alert hisclients, the investors, to the possibility of payingfor the capture, the evidence, and thereturn of the money, he said, “No, I don’t haveany way of verifying if this is true.”A high-ranking official with the JudicialInvestigation Police (OIJ), who said he is notauthorized to speak with the press and spoketo The Tico Times on condition of anonymity,said he tried to work with Steven, but wasunable to sidestep the no-pay rule.“The fact that our Constitution does notallow us to negotiate (payments) is ashame,” he said. “I understand that theUnited States pays people – bounty hunters– and that should be done here to reduceimpunity. The fact that he (Villalobos) hastaken so much money out of the country…there’s a lot of interest in getting him back.”Asked if the law could ever change, hesaid, “I think the government could eventuallyrecognize the need to change this law. Itwould be a pretty good deterrent, and preventsuspects from escaping so easily.”In his time allegedly working with theU.S. and Russian governments, Stevensaid he has never “hit a wall, an actualwall,” like he has in Costa Rica.Steven claims Luis Enrique always hasfour armed body guards near him at alltimes, which makes “the chances of somebodygetting hurt in the process (of capturinghim) very real.”“We think he’s fixing to make anothermove,” Steven said, a judgment he madefrom a flurry of bank transactions andmovement around Villalobos’ hideout.MEANWHILE, Osvaldo’s lawyerGarcía maintains his client’s innocence, anddistanced Osvaldo from Luis Enrique, sayingOsvaldo was his brother’s employee andhe cannot answer for his brother’s actions.“Throughout the investigation, therehas not been a single indication nor suspicionthat the money was dirty,” García toldThe Tico Times. He did not clarify how themoney was earned.“The police in Costa Rica knew therewas no money laundering, that there wasno financial crime. That’s what we’regoing to prove.” When asked for proof, hesaid, “I can’t disclose the information untilthe trial, because that’s part of my strategy,but the public has to know there was nomoney laundering.”While the lawyers are hashing out thelegalities, the detective is planning to makea move on the missing Villalobos brother,with or without payment.“We’re working on a book deal,” hesaid, that could cover his costs.This week, however, Steven seems tohave disappeared. The Tico Times has beenunable to contact him or verify if he is stillin the country since Sunday.

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