For the third time in his life, Costa Rican doctor German Enrique Moreno Rojas has been charged with sexually molesting a minor.
Moreno’s latest arrest happened Monday after a 19-year-old Costa Rican man filed a criminal complaint in Jacó accusing the doctor, who is a fugitive from justice in the United States, of sexually assaulting him when he was 16.
Agents from the Judicial Investigation Police, or OIJ, arrested Moreno, 50, at his mother’s residence in the northern San José district of Tibás. He had been staying there since closing his medical practice Aug. 6 in the southern Nicoya Peninsula town of Playa Carmen (TT, Aug. 19, 12). He was booked at downtown San José’s judicial headquarters and transferred to a holding cell in Jacó, on the central Pacific coast, pending a preliminary hearing.
Moreno did not respond to questions by The Tico Times at the time of his arrest.
A judge on Tuesday ordered Moreno held for three months in preventive custody while prosecutors build a case, a spokeswoman from the Chief Prosecutor’s Office said on Wednesday. Prosecutors had asked for six months of preventive detention, but a government official with knowledge of the hearing said most of the evidence in the case, including witness testimony, has already been collected.
Moreno was moved to a jail in the Pacific port city of Puntarenas. Investigators will collect more evidence in Puntarenas province before deciding if the case will proceed to a trial phase. The source said Moreno’s attorney did not request special protective measures for his client.
The Tico Times attempted to contact Moreno’s attorney, but was unable to reach him by press time.
The alleged victim in the case, who asked The Tico Times to withhold his name, said he filed a criminal complaint after learning through media reports that the doctor is wanted in the United States on nine counts of child sexual abuse in Houston, Texas. An Interpol arrest warrant issued after Moreno fled the U.S. in May 2005 is still valid, although the Costa Rican Constitution bars nationals from being extradited.
Moreno also evaded jail by fleeing the country after being convicted in 1993 in Costa Rica of sexually molesting five boys in the Caribbean slope town of Turrialba.
“With the story going public, my client felt empowered enough to trust that Moreno would some day pay for his crimes,” said attorney Alexandra Morales, who represents the 19-year-old and his family.
Morales said Moreno 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. Prosecutors will not comment on the details of the abuse.
The family moved out of Moreno’s residence last December, 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 month in Jacó. They said he continued to contact them through an acquaintance.
Is a Costa Rican Trial Possible?
In Houston, Moreno faces charges of sexually abusing at least seven victims, all minors at the time the alleged abuses occurred. Although he cannot be extradited to the U.S., the constitution, Costa Rica’s penal code and an extradition treaty between the two countries allow Moreno to be tried in a Costa Rican court for his alleged crimes in the U.S., according to Costa Rica’s Chief Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría and other legal experts consulted by The Tico Times.
For Costa Rican prosecutors to move forward with that strategy, they must first receive an official request from the U.S.
“We can’t step on the United States’ sovereignty and start our own investigation for crimes committed on foreign soil. We need a formal request from the prosecutor in charge of this investigation in the U.S. in order to start coordinating the numerous aspects of this process,” Chavarría said.
Moreno’s 2005 sexual abuse case was headed by the Harris County District Attorney’s office in Houston, Texas. Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman at that office, said the DA is aware of Moreno’s arrest in Costa Rica. She could not comment further by press time.
If an official request is made, Costa Rica’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office would coordinate both the relocation of evidence from the U.S. and the method for witness testimony, Chavarría said.
According to a U.S. Embassy official, under the bilateral treaty between Costa Rica and the U.S., a formal request for extradition must be made by the U.S. and denied on the basis of nationality by the government of Costa Rica. Only then can a U.S. court request local prosecution. Witnesses would be allowed to testify via video conference, the official said.
The U.S. Justice Department would not “confirm or comment on specific matters of extradition,” a department spokeswoman said. However, a spokeswoman for Costa Rica’s judicial system told The Tico Times on Wednesday that the Costa Rican government has not received an extradition request from the U.S. in the Moreno case, nor an official request from any U.S. government agency for judicial assistance.
“In the past we have had similar processes where criminal organizations were divided between the two countries. In those cases, we never had trouble, since U.S. authorities were always eager to collaborate and finance the cost of bringing witnesses here,” Chavarría said.
Longing for Justice
The latest accusations against Moreno surfaced because his accuser stepped forward after learning of the doctor’s other alleged victims in the U.S. It helped him overcome his fear of retribution, he said. He hopes the criminal complaint will help bring justice not only in his case, but in the U.S. case as well.
In Houston, some of Moreno’s accusers say they follow the news in Costa Rica online almost daily. They too say they are no longer afraid to speak out.
In Playa Carmen, news of Moreno’s arrest spread quickly. It was local neighbors who 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.
Residents are relieved that Costa Rican police were able to arrest Moreno, thanks to a concerted community effort to raise awareness about his past. But they still worry that the doctor might somehow slip away, again.