There are two stock markets in Costa Rica, and all banks issue Certificates of Investment (as do many private companies and licensed finance companies). Investments in private companies and investments in stock, bond and commodity markets outside of Costa Rica are easily arranged through local investment brokers. There is no consumer protection legislation.
Casa Canada is not involved in the purchase or sale of stocks, bonds, or other securities, however it is the advice of Casa Canada Group that investors be extremely diligent should they wish to invest in Costa Rica. The legal system is dysfunctional, a civil case can take up to ten years to resolve, the financial regulatory authorities do not protect investors, but are ruthless in shutting down banks or other financial institutions, trapping investor or depositor funds in expensive, interminable legalities.
Real estate investments in Costa Rica can be excellent, but care must be taken before and after purchase – frauds are common where mortgages or other liens suddenly appear against the title of a property, put in place by crooked lawyers and swindlers. The legal system does little to prosecute the perpetrators, and the victim can count on their property being tied up with a mortgage registered against it for years. Casa Canada Group provides a service to check the title of properties every week to catch this sort of problem right away.
Far more than the surface area of Costa Rica is on file in the National Registry. The same piece of property many have several legal titles on different sized lots. If the property is purchased, others can claim ownership leading to an involved lawsuit lasting years, or decades, and the innocent buyer could lose the case and property with no refund possible. Casa Canada recommends the purchase of title insurance, and can provide this insurance through a reputable US firm. It is a one-time payment that guarantees a refund of the investment should the title be questioned.
There are other dangers in real estate, such as fraud and claims by ex-spouses or heirs to a property. Title to inherited property can be contested by relatives of the deceased for up to 10 years, as can divorce settlements and newly partitioned land.
Squatters who move onto a property they do not own and improve it may have legal rights to the property. Once again, the court case will take many years during which time the squatter can continue to enjoy the property legally. After all this, the court may decide the squatter has the right to use the property.
If you are going to purchase property in Costa Rica, talk to the experts at Casa Canada first for free advice. A small amount of checking can save losing an investment.
Costa Rica has little in the way of stock offerings. The stock market trades mostly in debt such as bonds, and the majority of that is from the government or government-owned companies. Stockbrokers, stock markets and anything to do with stocks and bonds are supervised by SUGEVAL, who along with SUGEF, the supervisors of banks and financial entities, control the financial sector of Costa Rica under CONASSIF – the Consejo Nacional de Supervisión de Sistema Financiero, an agency of the Central Bank of Costa Rica.
These organizations are noted for arrogant, heavy-handed behavior, and for the heartless way they deal with investors and depositors. Should anyone believe that the financial supervisory agencies in Costa Rica are there to protect investors, as they are in many countries, it is necessary to think again. It would be closer to the truth if we were to say these agencies protect investors from their money!
Here are examples of these entities in action, where Casa Canada was directly involved and has first hand experience.
SUGEF – Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras
(Supervises banks and financial institutions)
In early 2004 Banco ELCA, with whom we dealt, was investigated by SUGEF. Following the investigation it was alleged that Carlos Alvarado, the President and owner of the bank was engaged in illegal activities. On Tuesday, June 29, 2004 Banco ELCA was intervened and closed down by SUGEF, in spite of the fact that it had more than enough assets to cover all deposits and investment certificates. Depositors, investors in certificates of deposit and small businessmen had no access to their funds. Carlos Alvarado was arrested and held in what is called “preventive detention”. This is where the government of Costa Rica can hold someone suspected of a crime in prison for an indefinite period without charges being laid.
The intervention caused chaos among depositors. Small businessmen could not meet their payroll; pay their bills, rents or other obligations as their funds inaccessible. Many personal depositors could not pay their rent, mortgages or other month end payments. This type of grief does not concern the financial supervisors – no doubt these ruthless individuals selected the date of the intervention to be when deposits would be highest as clients prepared to write month end cheques.
Branches were closed, employees fired and the finances of the bank investigated in detail. The investors spent enormous amounts of money during this period. While you may guess that the government paid this, you would be wrong – this money came from deposits in the bank. Eventually personal deposits up to $10,000 were returned to their owners, but nothing was paid to the small business people that had a company – they had to struggle along with no access to their bank accounts.
On April 21, 2005 there was a meeting held to elect a representative of the depositors on the liquidation committee for the bankruptcy of Banco ELCA. This committee was composed of a representative of the owner, an appointee of SUGEF and a representative of the depositors. Once this committee took over and SUGEF could be outvoted, the massive losses stopped, gradually turning into a profit as the bank’s assets were properly managed.
Subsequently about 80% of deposit money was returned to account owners but legal cases were still underway by 2012. It is unlikely all funds will be returned, but even if they were, there is a major loss of interest income and the incredible hardships caused to depositors and employees by this unnecessary intervention.
The committee has sued SUGEF for wrongful intervention and for losses created by that entity while in control of the bank. The case is still in court, and with Costa Rica’s legal system is likely to be for years to come.
SUGEVAL – Superintendencia General de Valores
(Supervises stock markets and brokers)
On August 5, 2004 SUGEVAL intervened Financorp, a security brokerage company with whom we were dealing. We knew the company was in trouble well before the intervention and had come to an arrangement with investors representing the majority of the funds, and with the owners of Financorp, to place the company into voluntary receivership, with the just retired president of the Costa Rica stock exchange presiding. We hired auditors to work with the official auditors of Financorp, to do an audit of the company. Most information was available in three days. Our intention was to continue to operate the company and gradually return investor funds from profits. The bond market was at a panic selling low, so the recovery of the market that was inevitable would have saved everyone’s investment and the employee’s jobs.
SUGEVAL were notified of the situation, and of the fact that we would be operating a receivership. This did not suit them, so a couple of days later they intervened, kicked out our auditors and closed the company. The employees were fired, and bonds used as security were taken by lenders to settle loans made to the owners of Financorp. These bonds went at very low prices, in spite of written instructions to SUGEF to not sell Casa Canada owned bonds. Our assets were dumped into a common pool with other investors; in spite of the fact that we had written proof from the government registrar that our bonds were privately owned. Of course, the expenses of the intervention including staff were paid from investor’s funds.
On December 15, 2004 at an investor’s meeting the interventor in charge of Financorp offered a deal – if we would get a quitclaim signed by all investors agreeing not to take legal action against SUGEVAL, they would pay the amount of our investment that remained. At this time the figures indicated that this would be about 57% of our investment.
In spite of the disruption of the Christmas holidays, by January 10, 2005 all investors had signed quitclaims – legal costs to prepare these documents were paid by investors. On January 17 we were informed that SUGEVAL had changed its mind – they wanted to do a formal liquidation through Costa Rica’s hopeless court system. A meeting of investors was held, and all signed a request to CONASSIF, the government entity that controls both SUGEF & SUGEVAL, to distribute funds as SUGEVAL had promised and not to send the liquidation to court, but the decision of 100% of the investors was rejected.
Some investors were desperate to get their money by this point, so a letter was sent to the public defender requesting help. Proposals were requested from top lawyers to take criminal action against SUGEVAL, but as the legal costs were in the $330,000 range it was beyond the ability of the investors to pay. This whole fiasco involved only about 20 investors and the regulators arrogantly disregarded their unanimous wishes!
In spite of investors doing everything in their power to prevent a long, costly liquidation, it went to court. A letter from the public defender stated that CONISSIF had made the final decision against distributing what was left of the funds to the people who owned them.
As seems standard procedure, neither the court nor the appointed liquidator did much of anything. Unlike banks, only a single court appointed liquidator is involved for securities dealer bankruptcies. The judge refused to hear from investors, the liquidator did not communicate or even bother to pick up cheques for over $220,000 as part of the Banco ELCA distribution to Financorp – a letter from Casa Canada brought that to her attention. In addition Casa Canada launched various constitutional court actions to try to get information that the liquidator was required by law to provide. Of course, liquidators and courts received fees and costs from the remnants of the investor’s funds.
On January 15, 2009 Casa Canada representatives finally met with the liquidator. She had received a permanent position on the Election Tribunal and wanted to terminate her liquidator position as soon as possible. In February investors received their first funds, 21% of investment, 4 ½ years after the totally unnecessary SUGEVAL intervention. A new liquidator, who wants to bring this to an end and pay investors, could not get information or the computer with the data in it for over 3 months – and the previous liquidator would not return his phone calls, something we were very accustomed to from this woman.
We finally received another distribution on Feb 11, 2010, but because the court would not make a necessary decision, he was prevented from disbursing additional funds. At the time of writing in January 2016 were still awaiting final payment.
The process goes on, large amounts of money appear to be missing from the new balances and the investors remain helpless.
IF YOU PLAN TO INVEST IN COSTA RICA, CONTACT CASA CANADA. WE OFFER FREE ASSISTANCE AND COUNSELLING WITH NO OBLIGATION TO HELP PEOPLE AVOID THE PITFALLS FACED BY INVESTORS IN THIS COUNTRY.