Pollo Campero Feud May Head to Guatemala
Friday, September 1, 2006; 2:12 PM
MIAMI -- A seven-year U.S. legal feud between members of the prominent Guatemalan family that controls the popular Pollo Campero restaurant chain has reached a turning point that could send the bitter dispute over millions of dollars back to Guatemala _ where one side claims justice may be impossible to get.
The case pits Juan Arturo Gutierrez, who with his brother and sister helped launch what became the parent of Pollo Campero, against his two nephews who now control Guatemalan conglomerate Corporacion Multi-Inversiones.
Known by its Spanish acronym CMI, the company operates the fried chicken restaurant chain as well as poultry production and dozens of other businesses. About 18 Pollo Campero stores are in the U.S., with more on the way.
Arturo Gutierrez, who formed a company called Lisa S.A., claims he was cheated by the nephews out of millions of dollars since relinquishing his share of control over the conglomerate in 1982.
Arturo Gutierrez contends that the nephews _ CMI co-presidents Juan Luis Bosch and Dionisio Gutierrez _ siphoned profits from the company and stashed them away in Miami banks for their own personal use, including lavish homes and aircraft. Both nephews deny doing that.
The family members have declined interview requests, preferring to let attorneys do the talking about the court case.
Since 1999, Arturo Gutierrez _ who lives in Toronto, Canada _ has tried to persuade state and federal courts in Miami to consider his claims, arguing in part that the nephews' power in Guatemala means no court will side with him there.
Miami has increasingly become a favored forum for settling of legal disputes involving entities in the Caribbean and Latin America. Last year, for example, a federal jury found a powerful Dominican banker liable in a scheme to swindle Banco International, failed Dominican Republic-based bank, out of tens of millions of dollars.
At the same time, many similar cases have been sent back to Venezuela, Colombia and other countries _ and that's what U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ordered in the Guatemalan case.
Moore rejected Arturo Gutierrez's claims his lawsuit would be plagued by corruption and inefficiency in the Guatemalan courts and that judges and witnesses there are routinely subjected to intimidation. Moore also noted that almost all of the major players in the case are Guatemalan and concluded that country's laws should apply to the dispute.
"Guatemala is a far more appropriate forum," Moore wrote in his July ruling.
Lawyers for CMI said the lawsuit should never have been brought in the United States in the first place.