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Church Slams Door After La Nación’s Loan Exposé

May 30, 2008

La Nación, a leading daily, has found itself shut out by the Roman Catholic Church after it ran a series of articles probing an allegedly illegal loan and investment operation within the Church.

The daily reported in April that the Church’s Episcopal Conference, composed of the country’s eight bishops, had been receiving money from investors, then investing and loaning the money.

La Nación reported that the Superintendence of Financial Entities (SUGEF), a government agency that regulates securities, discovered the unregistered transactions in 2004 and told the church to stop, and to return the money it had received. Church leaders agreed and SUGEF did not file a complaint.

Receiving, investing and lending money without proper registration and oversight is called illegal financial intermediation in Costa Rica.

Last year, Osvaldo Villalobos, of the wellknown Villalobos Brothers, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the crime.Villalobos and his brother, Luis Enrique, had received investments from mostly foreigners here for decades, paying out monthly returns of between 2 and 3 percent. Thousands, however, lost their investments when Luis Enrique disappeared following a series of Tico Times reports and government investigations (TT July 12, 2002).

Despite the SUGEF agreement, the Church continued to receive money in its accounts from Costa Ricans and foreigners, and invest it through Grupo Empresarial Sama, La Nación found.

The Church also continued to provide loans, including one for $3 million to Anna Moscarelli, a Swiss national who invested on the Peninsula Papagayo, on the northwestern Pacific coast, which is overseen by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).

La Nación reported SUGEF found some of the workers for the Episcopal Conference were among both investors and loan recipients.

On May 14, SUGEF filed charges of illegal financial intermediation with the Prosecutor’s Office. The conference’s board of directors, which includes the eight bishops, has insisted the investments and loans occurred without their knowledge.

 

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