By Michael Krumholtz of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The long-running legal battle between expat Sheldon Haseltine and a team of local businessmen continued Tuesday in a nearly empty courtroom in San José. Haseltine is being accused of defamation by business magnate Armando González Fonseca because of the now-famous YouTube video that detailed a dispute involving land he purchased in Puntarenas in 1977.
Although Haseltine removed the YouTube video recently, the effects are disputed in these court proceedings. The British-American expat has spent the last 16 years in various legal disputes over the land, most recently with González and his associates. The accusations of slander stem from the video that went viral and had more than 30,000 views.
Land developers Ricardo Jiménez and Fuad Farach Abdalah have been with this case before, as the two were also featured in the video. Both were called in as witnesses Tuesday on behalf of the prosecution. During their respective testimonies, they were shown replays of the video in which Haseltine talks about them and González. Jiménez and Farach Abdalah defended the integrity of González and said that some of Haseltine’s claims were lies.
The expat spent much of the time in his video repeating what was in news stories from the Spanish-language La Nación.
González took to the stand himself, commenting that he decided to take up slander charges against Haseltine after the video became popular and media reports began putting his name under a shady light. He was also made to watch the seven-minute video again and shook his head.
Before González went through his direct and cross-examinations, a television journalist and his cameraman came to the courtroom. Though they said they had a special approval, Judge María de Los Angeles Arana would not allow them to tape the proceedings.
Haseltine’s tale has long been seen as a cautionary one for foreign land investments into Costa Rica. After hundreds of thousands of dollars and mounting hours spent in courtrooms, Haseltine has said he is fighting for more than the land – he proceeds through this tiring saga in hopes of helping out future real estate investors from abroad. “We’re not going to back down,” he said. “It’s far too late for that.”
The trial will reconvene today at 8:30 a.m.
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