San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Milanés to Face Music

International fugitive Luis Milanés, a Cuban-American who disappeared from Costa Rica in 2002 with an estimated $200 million in investors’ money, was arrested last week as he arrived here on a plane from El Salvador.


After being held briefly by the authorities, Milanés was released the following day, June 20, at the request of prosecutors, who say the fugitive had come to Costa Rica to turn himself in.


Interpol, however, says Milanés was arrested in El Salvador after presenting someone else’s Costa Rican passport. When asked for another piece of identification, Milanés presented a Cuban ID with his real name.


Agents found an arrest warrant issued Dec. 19, 2002, by San José Criminal Court, according to Interpol. Milanés was arrested and put on a flight to Costa Rica.


Authorities here say Milanés was on his way to Costa Rica to turn himself in, and was stopped when his flight had a layover in El Salvador.


The Judicial Branch press office said Milanés was released because of his apparent willingness to face charges here.


Milanés promised to hand over $12 million in property mortgages to be held as security that he would appear in court. He made good on that promise Tuesday, according to the Judicial Branch press office.


Before his disappearance in November 2002, Milanés – known also as “The Cuban” – ran Savings Unlimited, a competitor of the well-known, defunct operation known as “The Brothers,” operated by the Luis Enrique Villalobos and Oswaldo Villalobos.


Like “the Brothers,” Savings Unlimited offered 3 to 4 percent monthly returns on investors’ deposits, with a minimum limit of $5,000. Savings Unlimited was said to have had more than 2,000 investors, a mix of mostly U.S. citizens, other foreigners and Costa Ricans.


But while “the Brothers” – apparently headed up by Luis Enrique, who disappeared a month before Milanés with an estimated $800 million in investor money – greeted investors with Biblical passages and kept their operations secret,Milanés was known to take depositors on tours of his casinos, where he said much of the money was being invested.


Oswaldo, Luis Enrique’s brother who ran a currency exchange office next door, was convicted of illegal financial intermediation last year. Luis Enrique is still at large.


Milanés was 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; Dec. 13, 2003).


In 2006, a group of former Savings Unlimited investors filed suit against several of those companies, which are still in operation, looking to recuperate their money.


The daily La Nación reported this week that a group of investors represented by attorney Ewald Acuña, who also represented some Villalobos investors in the trial against Oswaldo, are looking to negotiate the return of their money.



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