San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican doctor accused of abusing minors released from prison, reopens medical clinic

An international arrest warrant and fresh charges of sexual abuse against a minor were not enough to keep Dr. German Enrique Moreno in jail. Costa Rican authorities quietly released Moreno from preventive detention on Dec. 23, the day most Costa Ricans, including government officials, began a long holiday break.

Moreno, who was arrested Aug. 22 on charges that he allegedly sexually assaulted a 16-year-old, had been sentenced to three months of preventive detention, which expired in November. He had been held in a Puntarenas jail pending an investigation.

The terms of Moreno’s release are unclear, as officials from the Prosecutor’s Office are on vacation until next week and were unavailable to comment.

An attorney for the alleged victim in the case also would not comment.

Residents from the southern Nicoya Peninsula beach town of Playa Carmen, where Moreno operated a medical clinic out of his storefront home until his arrest in August, said the doctor returned to the clinic over Christmas weekend.

On Tuesday, The Tico Times confirmed that Moreno’s beachside clinic is open for business, and Moreno, who is still legally licensed to practice medicine in Costa Rica, is accepting patients. Moreno declined to speak with The Tico Times and referred questions to his attorney. No one answered the phone at the number given by Moreno or immediately replied to a message left by a reporter.

Moreno previously was convicted of sexually abusing minors aged 14 to 17 in Costa Rica in the 1990s. He fled to the United States and failed to serve a nine-year sentence on the charges. The statute of limitations on those charges has since expired.

Moreno was arrested again in 2005 in Houston, Texas, in the U.S., on charges of sexually abusing at least seven victims, all minors at the time. Moreno was also accused of practicing medicine without a license. After posting bond, Moreno fled the U.S. and disappeared, until a Tico Times investigation tracked him to a Playa Carmen clinic last August. An Interpol warrant for Moreno is still valid, citing crimes against children and sex crimes. However, the Costa Rican Constitution bars nationals from being extradited.

Officials from the Costa Rican Doctors and Surgeons Association, which issues medical licenses in Costa Rica, said they could not revoke Moreno’s medical license until they are notified by the Prosecutor’s Office, which is investigating the case.

“We have to abide by what the judicial courts will decide in Moreno’s case,” Marino Ramírez, the doctors association’s chief investigator, said on Tuesday.

According to Ramírez, the association’s own internal investigation was put on hold once the Prosecutor’s Office initiated its investigation.

The alleged victim in the most recent case, who asked The Tico Times to withhold his name, said in August that he filed a criminal complaint after learning through media reports that the doctor is wanted in the U.S. on nine counts of child sexual abuse in Houston.

According to the alleged victim’s attorney at the time of Moreno’s latest arrest in Costa Rica, the doctor was “obsessed” with her client, who lived with the doctor for two years in Playa Carmen, along with his mother and two siblings. It was during this time that the alleged abuse occurred.

The family moved out of Moreno’s residence in December 2010, but the doctor continued to harass and intimidate them, according to family members and witnesses who spoke to The Tico Times.

After meeting with a lawyer, a psychologist and a social worker, the family obtained a restraining order against Moreno last July in Jacó. They said he continued to contact them through an acquaintance before he was arrested. The restraining order remains in effect, a source said on Tuesday.

Neighbors in Playa Carmen first alerted The Tico Times that the fugitive Moreno was living in their community, practicing medicine legally at a local clinic and spending time at local schools. Those residents now say they are shocked to learn that Moreno has been released from preventive prison and is again practicing medicine in their community.

“I’m still in disbelief. I’m really let down by the system and concerned about [residents’] safety,” said one community member, who asked to remain anonymous.

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