San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Villalobos Case to Go to Trial

A criminal court judge has finallyissued a decision to take Osvaldo Villalobos’financial crimes case to trial after aprolonged wait that agonized former investorswho lost money when Villalobos andhis brother Luis Enrique closed their high interestloan operations in 2002 after apolice raid (TT, Nov. 14, 2003).The decision, made last week, cameon the heels of a request for habeas corpus– a writ ordering that a person in custodybe brought before a court – that agroup of investors presented to theConstitutional Chamber of the SupremeCourt (Sala IV) July 1 to call for a speedierresolution of the hearing process thatbegan in early February (TT, Feb. 4).The judge who presided over thehearing ended it Feb. 28. A month later,he released Osvaldo Villalobos fromhouse arrest, requiring him only to sign inat the court twice a month and stay inCosta Rica.The same judge ruled last week that thecase is worthy of going to trial, but a trialdate could be weeks or months away, arepresentative of Ewald Acuña’s law officetold The Tico Times. Acuña representshundreds of Villalobos investors.Luis Enrique fled the country shortlyafter the police raid, taking with him whatauthorities suspect could be as much as$800 million that more than 6,000investors had given his company.Both brothers are charged with fraud,money laundering and illegal financialintermediation, but only Osvaldo is ontrial because his brother cannot be tried inabsentia, according to Judicial Branchrepresentatives.Hundreds of investors filed legalcomplaints against the brothers after theiroperation closed, and many of those withdrewtheir complaints in the months leadingup to the hearing. The court orderedthem to pay legal fees for processing thecomplaints they withdrew, Acuna’s representativesaid.The United Concerned Citizens andResidents (UCCR), a group of 650investors who banded together to fight forthe brothers’ acquittal, presented thehabeas corpus to the Sala IV. Membersbelieve the request may have precipitatedthe ruling, according to a statement fromthe group.

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