Three and a half years ago Luís Milanés –known as “the Cuban” – closed up his high-yield investment operation, Savings Unlimited, and disappeared, taking an estimated $200 million with him, money entrusted to him by hundreds of investors.
The International Police (INTERPOL) has since released an international warrant for the arrest of Milanés, a Cuban-American, and the Costa Rican government is continuing its investigation into Savings Unlimited.
It recently extended the time frame it has to conclude the investigation, citing the complexity of the case.
One group of bilked investors, however, is sick of waiting.
In January, a man who identified himself only as an “angry investor” bought an ad in The Tico Times (TT, Jan. 20) through his lawyer, María Elena Gamboa, saying he believed investors could still recuperate at least some of their money by going after what he said were assets of Savings Unlimited still in Costa Rica.
Savings Unlimited, known as a copycat of the wildly popular and similarly defunct investment enterprise run by Enrique Villalobos and known as “The Brothers,” offered investors 3-4% monthly interest on minimum investments of $5,000.
Tico Times reports from 2002 say Milanés, who ran Savings Unlimited, was the head of the casino conglomerate Casinos Europa, which ran Casino Europa, at the Radisson Hotel; Hotel Morazán and its Casino Tropical; Royal Dutch Casino; the Toby Brown hair salons; and ASCIA, a business that imported clothing, electronics and toys, among other goods (TT, July 26, 2002; TT, Dec. 13, 2003).
Milanés took investors on tours of the hotels and casinos and said their money was being invested in slot machines for these and other casinos in Central America, an assertion also impressed on investors by way of the regular Savings Unlimited newsletters. Since Milanés has fled, these businesses have continued to run unhindered, Gamboa said.
The “angry investor,” who requested that his name be withheld for fear of his safety, spoke with The Tico Times recently and said investigators have been unable to prove Milanés really owned or operated any of the hotels or casinos.
The Prosecutor’s Office has declined to give The Tico Times any information about the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
Gamboa said many of the same players from Savings Unlimited are still in Costa Rica and she and her legal team have filed civil suits and criminal complaints against them, looking to recover the lost money for a small group of investors who have joined her and the “angry investor.” Gamboa would not say how many investors had joined her case.
After Milanés fled, in November 2002, accompanied by Savings Unlimited General Manager Enrique Pereira, Costa Rican authorities arrested several people allegedly involved with the operation on charges of fraud, including José Milanés, Milanés’ brother; Enrique Pereira, Pereira’s father; Michael Rodríguez, Marketing Director at Savings Unlimited; and Mercedes López, Milanes’ personal assistant (TT, May 9, 2003). Victor Poo, a key Savings Unlimited employee, was arrested in Panama Feb. 18, 2003, after being recognized by an investor and confronted by several investors’ lawyers at a hotel (TT, Feb 21, 2003).
The Tico Times asked the Judicial Branch press office for the legal status of these suspects, but did not receive a response.
“First, the people who have to pay are Luís and José Milanés, because they are the ones responsible,” Gamboa said.
However, she says her lawsuit lists all the above-mentioned names, and insists she has proof they were involved with the operation.
“They are all linked. They were a group with the purpose of harming investors,” Gamboa said.
José Milanés and the senior Pereira both vehemently denied they had anything to do with Savings Unlimited, however, in an interview with The Tico Times in April 2003 (TT,April 4, 2003). José Milanés insisted that his brother never talked to him about Savings Unlimited and forbid him from being involved, while the senior Pereira said his son never mentioned the business either.
When asked who actually owned the various casinos and hotels attributed to his brother, José Milanés said: “”I understand the owner of everything is Victor Poo.”
The Tico Times has been unable to confirm whether this was, or is true. Rodolfo Garita, General Director of Casino Europa, declined to comment, and said his legal team would contact the paper. At press time this had not happened.
Marco Salazar, General Manager of the Royal Dutch Casino, confirmed that all three casinos have the same owner, and said the owner’s identity is “confidential.”