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These stories were published Monday, Jan. 27, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 18
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A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
Some 300 motorcyclists take off from Gimnacio Nacional in La Sabana to join with more than 1,000 of their brethren at the IX  Convención Internacional de Motocyclismo, which attracted bikers from all over Latin America Sunday.
Escazú salon owner faces old fraud charge
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman charged with engineering a $2 million fraud in Chicago more than 15 years ago was found Friday running a hair salon in Escazú.

Fuerza Pública officers and Interpol agents arrested the woman who is English at her place of business in connection with a series of charges dating back to the mid-1980s in the United States.

Identified by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública as Elaine Phillips Chalmers, 55, the woman was arrested at her hair salon — Beautyclub Petite Spa — in Country Plaza, Escazú. Friends and individuals contacted in the immediate area of the salon knew her simply as Elaine Phillips.

The ministry also said that Ms. Chalmers used various identities, among them Elaine Kale and Elaine Payton.

The charges relate to Ms. Chalmers’ time at a PaineWebber office in Chicago, said a ministry official. He said that Ms. Chalmers was "close" to the vice president. The firm is a well-known stockbroker and investment services operation in the United States.

The charges are conspiracy, cable fraud, money laundering and involvement in illegal financial transactions, said the ministry official.

The official added that Ms. Chalmers is accused of defrauding over $2 million between the years of 1985 and 1988.

They allege that she did so by authorizing payment of bills for companies that were controlled by accomplices. An arrest warrant was issued by a Chicago court in 1994.

One local bar owner contacted Sunday identified the woman as Canadian. He said that a onetime close friend who had worked with Ms. Chalmers had said she was Canadian.

This was around two years ago, he said. A  security guard at the Country Plaza also identified Ms. Chalmers as Canadian. The ministry identified the woman as British.
 
Elaine Phillips Chalmers
Photo courtesy of Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía 
y Seguridad Pública

Friends said Ms. Chalmers lived in Canada for around 35 years. They also said that the woman is originally from Newcastle in England.

The ministry official said that Ms. Chalmers apparently entered Costa Rica in July 1999.

Ms. Chalmers is said to have a husband here. His name, though, could not be determined.

Friends are said to be "very shocked" at learning of Ms. Chalmers’ arrest.

The British Embassy had not been contacted at least until Sunday evening by Costa Rican authorities or Interpol regarding the arrest, according to Oriel Willock, second secretary at the embassy. Willock said he had no knowledge of the woman or the arrest.

Ms. Chalmers’ salon was open Saturday as normal according to several clients.

Tourism down nearly 3 percent for first 10 months of 2002
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Travel to Costa Rica by foreigners is off 2.8 percent for the 10 months ending in October, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. That number represents 25,932 fewer visitors, mostly tourists, in 2002.

According to numbers provided by the tourism institute, 911,165 persons arrived in the country as tourists from January through October last year. That includes arrivals by air, boat and at border posts.

Nearly half the decrease was caused by reductions in entries from financially strapped Argentina (-3,772) and from trouble-plagued Colombia (-8,227). Costa Rica moved to require visas from Colombians. 

Canadians registered an 11.8 percent decline in the 10 months. Some 4,982 fewer Canadians came in 2002 than in 2001.

U.S. citizens totaled 348,110 for the 10 months in 2002, down 12,264 from 2001.

The 2001 figures include the disastrous September when travel was halted for five days after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. 

The totals suggest that the goal of President Abel Pacheco to engineer a 5 percent increase each year in tourism will not be met for 2002.

Nicaraguans were up 2,522 in 2002 for a total of 143,633. The inclusion of Nicaraguans and citizens of some other Latin nations in the tourist totals have skewed the figures for years because most are arriving here for employment or future residency even though they enter the country on tourist visas.

Some 654,538 tourists came by air during those 10 months of 2002, a 3 percent decline in arrivals at Juan Santamaría Airport.

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Start of free-trade talks is a magnet for protest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Diplomats from the United States and five Central American nations will meet at the Hotel Real Intercontinental this morning to begin a year-long process to craft a free-trade treaty.

Although the first week here is largely to set up an agenda for future talks, the opening of discussions will attract a wide range of protesters.

In an attempt to cut down on dissent, officials from Casa Presidencial and the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior have been meeting with various groups. President Abel Pacheco met with 16 agricultural groups late last week, in part, to get them to hold their criticism until there is a proposed treaty to evaluate.

Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, took out a full-page ad in La Nación Sunday in which he promised transparency in the development of any treaty. He also outlined Costa Rica’s goals, which are to use commerce developed by any treaty as a means to increase development. The ad was a reprint of letters he sent to each national deputy. Deputies eventually will vote on any pact. 

The Pacheco government, as did the administration before him, favors a relaxation of trade barriers. Costa Rica will have the chance to gain more of a foothold in the rich U.S. market.

The United States and President George Bush strongly support free trade and view the Central American pact as a precursor to the free trade area of the Americas agreement that is supposed to be enacted by 2005.

Opponents here and elsewhere view the U.S. push as economic imperialism and point to the North American Free Trade Agreement as an example of U.S. exploitation of the third world, namely México. Costa Rica is nervous because it is a small country compared to the gigantic economic power of the United States.

Among those expected to protest today are investors with the failed Villalobos high-interest operation. They blame the government for shutting down Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho by freezing some of his assets.

They will urge that Costa Rica be excluded from any free trade pact because they say it cannot be trusted. Costa Rican officials say they raided the Villalobos operation July 4 because Canadian police asked them to do so and because they were investigating fraud and money laundering.  Villalobos is  fugitive and his brother, Oswaldo, is in preventative detention. The investigation continues.

Costa Rican and the United States had $5.4 billion in trade in the year 2000. Combined Central American-U.S. trade was about $20 billion the same year. Costa Rica principal exports are coffee, bananas, other agricultural products and microchips.

Certain to be represented today are union workers from the Instituto Costariccense de Electricidad. They worry that a free trade pact will break the monopoly their company has in Costa Rica with telecommunications.

Rice farmers probably will be out in force because they worry about the importation of cheaper U.S. rice. Farmers blockaded the streets near the Asemblea Nacional last spring when a freighter showed up in Caldera with 1,000 tons of U.S. rice. Eventually, the farmers staged noisy demonstrations and gained an agreement with the government to set up a rice corporation to maintain prices favorable to them.

Other local unionists probably will show up today, along with student supporters. They worry about the impact any trade agreement might have on the long-time social compact between workers and the state.

Environmentalist also have their concerns. Certainly several groups will be represented.

Other protestors will be those who generally nurse suspicions of the United States. Those who oppose the possibility of a U.S. war with Iraq also probably will be demonstrating.

Although a number of press conferences have been scheduled for the week, little concrete is likely to emerge so soon. The Costa Rican delegation is headed by Anabel González, special envoy for commercial negotiations.

Exports likely to suffer tariff fate, says ambassador
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It is highly unlikely that Costa Rica will retain its favourable export tariffs for certain agricultural products to the European Union, according to the British ambassador to Costa Rica.

The country’s graduation from the European Union Trade Preferences System's “Sector 5,” which covers fruit, nuts and ornamental plants, is now due to be invoked under the terms of the arrangement.

Although there is a split in opinion among European Union member states on whether the graduation should occur, it is highly dubious whether a decision to allow Costa Rica to retain its current zero tariff would be made, said Georgina Butler.

It would take all member states to agree to support Costa Rica’s case for it even to be considered, said Ms. Butler. 

Moreover, Ms. Butler said that the terms of the arrangement were clear when it was initiated.

The ambassador said that Germany and Holland are the two biggest importers of Costa Rica’s “Sector 5” products. They are also both supporters of Costa Rica retaining the tariffs.

Ms. Butler would not divulge on Britain’s stance, but did indicate her country’s sympathy for Costa Rica’s predicament.

She said that it does seem unfair for the tariffs to 

be imposed when the country has done so well.

Ms. Butler said that “re-imposing a tariff” would seem like “a backward step.” She added that Britain had voiced its concerns about such a trade preference arrangement at the sytstem’s outset in anticipation of a situation like the one Costa Rica finds itself in now.

Costa Rica, like other Central American and Andean countries, also benefits from a special arrangement that provides an even lower tariff than other countries in exchange for their continued tough stance on the production and trafficking of drugs.

The World Trade Organization has lodged a complaint about this because of its bias toward Central American and Andean countries, said Ms. Butler.

Colombia is in a similar predicament under the same “Sector 5” section of the arrangement. Argentina, so devastated by its crippled economy, is currently under review for that sector, too. A European Commission official said recently that extenuating circumstances might be extended to Argentina, though a decision has not yet been made.

Costa Rica’s “Sector 5” exports are worth an estimated $300 million to its economy. It is thought that 45,000 jobs could be affected by the tariff’s imposition. 

Unemployment currently sits at 6.4 percent, according to the Ministry of Work and Social Security. Most of the jobs that could be affected are in areas where there are few alternatives.

Street kids foundation finds new home in west
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gail Nystrom, executive director of the Fundación Humanitaria, reports that she has found a new home for youngsters she has rescued from the street.

In an e-mail message she said that she had found “a very nice and comfortable house in San Antonio de Belen for our kids.”

Ms. Nystrom and her young charges had to leave a Ciudad Colón home on short notice at the request of the owner who was concerned about damage.

The new home is with a family that operates a foundation that works with “values clarification and education in schools throughout the area so they are interested in helping out our kids as a hands-on experience for their theories,” said Ms. Nystrom. 

The house has enough living space for both the kids and the couple who will take care of them along with their three kids, she said. In addition, there is a basketball court, a soccer field and a Catholic Church right out front, she reported.

Said Ms. Nystrom:

“I would like to clarify also that we left the previous house in Ciudad Colón by mutual agreement between the owner and ourselves. 

Although it was difficult for the owner, myself and the kids, we were all courageous and courteous enough to realize that our expectations were not the same. 

“We are enormously grateful to our donor for all that he has done for us, including financial support since April, a wonderful time at a beautiful house and a very special Christmas. 

“These kids have so much emotional damage and they are very difficult to be around sometimes so I especially appreciate all the understanding and patience that our donor had with them. 

“So, we will be soldiering on with our project — five kids living in the house in Belen, three living semi-independently in a small house in Ciudad Colón, a young couple with their newborn baby  living in a soon-to-be discovered place (We're looking for a small apartment or house perhaps as a nighttime caretaker situation for them), four kids in prison and about five more on the street. 

“There are also five kids in a shelter run by the PANI [Patronato Nacional de la Infancia] who have lived with us previously that we are helping out. 

"We are very grateful to your readers for their phone calls and letters of support regarding our situation.  Your article helped to get the word out at just the right moment.  It has meant a lot to us.”


 
Brazilian premier calls
for hunger fund

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is calling on the major industrialized nations to set up a new international fund to fight poverty and hunger. 

Da Silva made his challenge Sunday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He hopes it will be a major topic during the many meetings and conferences scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, the final day of the Davos forum. 

In his first major speech before world leaders, da Silva said poverty, hunger, and misery can trigger fanaticism and intolerance in the developing world. 

He said industrialized nations are spending billions of dollars on weapons while millions of people in the developing world die of malnutrition. 

Da Silva proposed an international hunger fund similar to a scheme he has already proposed for his country, one, he says, that would assure that every citizen can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The new leader also blasted economic protectionism by wealthy countries. 

He said developing countries efforts to increase exports will be useless, if stronger nations, in his words, "preach free trade on one side and practice protectionism on the other side." 

Da Silva is the country’s first left-wing leader in decades and has raised hopes for social change in his country. The former trade union leader won a landslide election victory in October. 

Da Silva said Brazil cannot continue to be a "sleeping giant," and must get out of the vicious cycle of getting new loans to pay for old loans. He spoke on the same themes earlier in Porto Alegre to the World Social Forum, an anti-globalization meeting seen as an alternative to the annual event in Davos.

Chavez to tighten
currency exchange

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez says he will impose currency controls as nervous Venezuelans scramble for U.S. dollars. 

Over the last eight weeks, the value of the bolivar has plunged by 30 percent. The sharp drop has coincided with a long-running opposition general strike aimed at driving Chavez from power. 

Chavez did not say on Sunday when the currency controls would take effect. But a government suspension of currency trading ends Wednesday. 

Also Sunday, Chavez announced unspecified price controls he said will protect the poor from inflation. And Chavez said he is considering a tax on foreign currency trading. The opposition says government policies are ruining the economy. 

The strike has disrupted oil production and caused a severe shortage of many goods. Economists say nearly $2 billion in capital has been sent out of the country since the strike started. 

Chavez said at an economic conference in Brazil Sunday that despite the strike, the country’s oil production now exceeds one million barrels a day and is growing. 

Chavez and strike leaders have given a positive response to a plan by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to end the country's political crisis. The Carter plan would amend the country’s constitution and shorten the president's term in office, leading to early elections.

U.N.: Indigenous peoples
flee homes in Panama

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — The United Nations refugee agency says hundreds of Panamanian indigenous people have fled their homes in the face of attacks this week from Colombian paramilitaries. 

The refugee agency says 472 Panamanian indigenous people, including 324 children, fled in search of protection after their villages were attacked by Colombian paramilitaries. They went to Boca de Cupe, in the central Darien region of Panama.

The agency says four indigenous community leaders were killed during the attack, and three foreign journalists were kidnapped. The journalists have since reportedly been released.

Agency spokesman Kris Janowski says the villages that were attacked are only a few kilometers from the Colombian border, in what is considered one of the world's most inaccessible regions. 

"The attack is an illustration that there is a growing impact, a negative impact of the conflict inside Colombia [and] Panama and other countries bordering Colombia," said Janowski. 

"It is not the first time that there has been an attack. There have been smaller scale attacks and people would be abducted or individuals would be attacked by people crossing over from the Colombian side. But, according to our people, this is the worst they have seen so far in terms of an attack on Panamanian territory, obviously from Colombia," he added.

Janowski says it is not clear why the Colombian paramilitaries attacked the villages. But, he says, it may be because they are angry with the villagers for sheltering Colombian refugees.

Panama hosts more than 1,500 Colombian refugees, and many of them are found in the Darien region, which was attacked. Janowski says the displaced people reportedly have begun returning to their villages with the assistance of the police and military forces.

He says the Vicariato del Darien, a partner agency, is helping to coordinate the emergency relief efforts, together with the United Nations agency and the Panamanian Red Cross. 

Argentina handed $6.8m
boost by monetary fund

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The executive board of the International Monetary Fund Friday approved a controversial $6.8 billion loan for Argentina that will allow the cash strapped South American country to avoid further default on its foreign debt. 

The loan gives Argentina a breathing space while a new president is elected and the authorities seek to reactivate a stalled economy. The fund calls this emergency loan transitional financial support and not an approval of recent economic moves by Argentina. 

Buenos Aires defaulted on much of its huge foreign debt in December of last year. An ensuing financial crisis thrust the country into its worst post-WW-II recession. The economy shrank by a stunning 12 percent last year. Elections are planned with a new president due to take office in May. 

Argentina's current president says he is unhappy with the fund despite the new loan. He told the country’s La Nación newspaper that the fund failed to help during Argentina's worst time in history. 

Financial analysts say the new loan will allow Argentina to avoid default on its loans to the fund and safeguard its shrinking foreign exchange reserves. Argentina's troubles are blamed on a chronic failure to rein in government spending and an overvalued exchange rate. 

The one to one currency peg with the dollar was abandoned 13 months ago and borrowers were unable to pay back their foreign loans.

U.S. Mexican immigrants
donate to disaster cause

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOS ANGELES — U.S. relief organizations are collecting donations for earthquake victims in Mexico, where a major temblor Tuesday killed more than two-dozen people and injured hundreds. Many Mexican immigrants here have ties to the stricken region and are offering help.

Officials at the Mexican consulate here say nearly half of the Mexican immigrants in the United States who come from the stricken region live in Southern California. The consulate is helping coordinate their donations. 

The relief group Operation USA is also soliciting aid. It has several million dollars in supplies already on hand, which pharmaceutical companies had provided earlier for general relief work.

Thousands in Western Mexico are homeless in the aftermath of the quake. Aid worker Neil Frame of Operation USA is awaiting word from the Mexican government on what supplies are needed. 

"They have some seven temporary centers they've set up, shelters, to deal with the people, primarily in the state of Colima, so we will be looking at those centers to supply, if they need it," he said.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the American Red Cross are also collecting donations for the relief effort. 

Rick Radillo, a Red Cross spokesman, said Mexican immigrants here are responding to the disaster. "The ethnic populations of Los Angeles have historically been extremely generous in donating when there are disasters in their home country. Consequently, we are getting a lot of calls from Los Angeles residents asking how they can help," he said.

He missed the boat in Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug agents arrersted a cruise ship employee Saturday morning when he tried to leave his vessel. Agents said he had more than a kilo of heroin in his shoes.

The boat had arrived in Limón from Belize and departed later Saturday for Panamá.

Agents identified the man by the last name of Castro Gómez and said he was a Colombian.
 

Dutch woman dies in river

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Dutch woman died in the Río Sarapiquí Saturday, the Fuerza Pública reported. She was identified as María Adriana Elizabeth Vanteeffelen, 23. 
Further information was not available. The scene was near la Virgen de Sarapiquí. 

Nicaragua awarded 
housing market loan

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Overseas Private Investment Corporation has agreed to provide a $30 million direct loan "to help establish a mortgage loan market in Nicaragua, assisting that country's effort to address a serious shortage of middle-income housing," according to a corporation statement issued Wednesday.

Nicaragua’s President Enrique Bolanos and Barbara Moore, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, attended a signing ceremony for the agreement.

"By helping Nicaragua develop a reliable record of mortgage loan payments and defaults-and-recoveries, which in turn will attract future investors, [the corporation] is applying a successful U.S. housing finance model to stimulate the creation of a primary and secondary mortgage loan market in the country," said the corporation statement.

For the corporation, "this project represents an innovative approach to enabling Nicaragua to develop a mortgage loan market, which in turn could stimulate tangential economic growth in the country," said Dr. Peter Watson, president and chief executive officer.

U.S. firm to reduce poor nations' AIDS drug price 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S.-based pharmaceutical company has announced the launch of a pilot program designed to make its AIDS drug available at a lower price to poor countries stricken by the AIDS epidemic.

In a release Friday issued at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Pharmacia Corporation said it would transfer licenses and manufacturing information for the AIDS drug Rescriptor to the International Dispensary Association, a Dutch non-profit organization that works to get generic drugs into developing countries. 

The association will then allow makers of generic drugs to sell cheaper versions of Rescriptor — known generically as delavirdine — in countries where the annual per capita income is less than $1,200 or the HIV infection rate is above 1 percent.

Up to 78 countries could be covered by the program, including all of sub-Saharan Africa, Pharmacia said.

The program is based on an approach outlined by representatives of Pharmacia, the association and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in the current issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

Leading drug makers have generally resisted awarding non-exclusive licenses to generic firms, fearing that cut-price drugs would be smuggled back into rich countries and thus undermine their primary markets.

"This is an innovative approach to the complex access issue that we believe deserves to be tested in real world conditions," said Fred Hassan, Pharmacia chairman and chief executive officer, in the release.

Benefits of this approach include its protection of companies' intellectual property rights, which Hassan described as "essential to foster continued investment in the research that will generate new medical breakthroughs."

Downtown sweep nets 32
document-less people

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 32 persons without adequate documentation found themselves in the hands of immigration officials Thursday night, the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública reported.

The sweep centered on the Plaza de la Cultura but extended to Parque Central and downtown bars and massage parlors, the ministry said. Some 25 of those persons apprehended were from Nicaragua, the ministry said. 

Among those captured was a man facing a warrant on a charge of armed robbery, said officials, who identified him by his last names of Muñoz
Artavia.

Some 259 foreigners have been taken into custody during the last two months during nine such surprise operations.

In yet another sweep, this one on Friday, the Policía Especial de Migración and the Fuerza Pública apprehended 23 Chinese in a casino in the center of Puntarenas. Officials said that the men were in the country without having made legal entries. They are believed to be members of a fishing boat crew.

The Vault fails to land 
trustee pact with Vinir

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Vault S.A. has been rebuffed in an effort to put $1 million into the Vinir Financial Group in Escazú that is experiencing difficulties.

Roy Taylor, chairman of The Vault, said he expected to enter into an agreement “to save” Vinir but Vinicio Esquivel, Vinir president, and Larry Gandolfi, a creditor, rejected the plan at the last minute.

Under terms of the agreement made available by The Vault, Taylor would have become one of three trustees of Vinir and would have had authority to operate the company for three months. Vinir officials could not be reached over the weekend.

The situation is of interest to some North Americans here because Vinir operated the Casa de Cambio Vinir that handled the deposit of U.S. pension and Social Security checks. Some ex-pats reported having significant sums of money on deposit at Vinir, which announced in September that it was experiencing financial difficulties.
 
 
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Offshore gambling operations here make the wires
EDITOR'S NOTE: What follows is a story that is being circulated around the world about Costa Rica's gambling operations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Many people in the United States gamble online through companies based in Central America or the Caribbean. Offshore gambling operations are becoming a matter of concern for law enforcement agencies.

For Costa Rica, the establishment of online gambling operations here has been both a blessing and a curse. The lucrative operations offer good jobs to many Costa Ricans and thereby help the nation's economy. 

Adriana is a college student who worked for a time at a sports betting house phone-call center. She says the work pays well and offers flexible hours.

"I think it was the best for young people because we had time to do whatever we wanted," she said. "I could study there. I could talk, I could do whatever I wanted there. All the other people, too. You could read or do whatever you wanted because the phones ring once every 10 minutes."

She says she never saw anything at her place of work that looked illegal, but that she did hear stories that concerned her. She is now seeking work at a customer service center with no gambling connections.

Law enforcement authorities in Costa Rica and the United States have also heard stories, and are concerned drug smugglers, Mafia families and even terrorists could utilize these operations. 

An article in the La Nación newspaper accuses an associate of one online betting company, a U.S. citizen named Frederick Kelch, of having ties to New York's Gambino family. 

The newspaper identifies Kelch as an ex-convict and also displays a portion of a court document from Florida that shows he was under investigation for illegal gambling and other charges in Florida and New York.

This online sports betting operation is based in one of San Jose's most popular commercial centers, the San Pedro mall. Shoppers wandering through the mall may not even notice that the gambling operation is there. 

For the most part, Costa Ricans are unaware of what these companies are doing.

Most of the more than 200 so-called "sportsbooks" operations are registered as data processing companies and call centers. U.S. officials say these companies have located in Costa Rica because of lax banking laws and even more lax enforcement. 

U.S. officials have expressed concern that such offshore operations could be used for money laundering schemes. The United States has several extradition requests in Costa Rica for fugitives with links to these offshore gambling operations. 

Costa Rican authorities are investigating possible illegal transactions such as transfers of millions of dollars from sports books companies through Costa Rican banks. 

But efforts to crack down on what some officials estimate to be a $6 billion worldwide industry could create new problems. A bill before the U.S. Congress would tighten restrictions on use of credit cards, electronic fund transfers, wire transfers, checks, money orders and other methods of payment for Internet wagering. 

But experts in international finance say this could lead to the creation of other payment schemes that would be very difficult to track and open the way for even more illegal activity. 

Spokesmen for the online betting industry say the creation of a global system of untraceable payments could help criminals and terrorist groups move money around. 

They say it would be far better for the Internet gambling industry as well as for law enforcement agencies to have a regulated and transparent money transfer system in place for those who wish to place bets online.

Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books. 

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.

More letters on Villalobos situation
He would protest
in the United States

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was interested to read the news of the U.S. investors group protesting Costa Rica’s desire for a free trade agreement with the U.S. Although I agree Costa Rica should be denied this trade pact, I am affraid their methods are a bit off.

Don't protest in Costa Rica, write and e-mail the U.S. government. And do not just write to the government, but also write to U.S. travel advisory, major travel agencies, state representitives, newspapers and press in the U.S., Intel Corp., NASA, and any other U.S. entity involved with Costa Rica. Tell them the truth. The truth is:

1. Costa rica is the number one source in the world for fraud and theft of money and property of U.S. citizens. Even more loss to fraud then the pariah state of Nigeria. Congratulations, Costa Rica, you are finally number one at something in the world.

2. Tell them that a simple Internet search in Google pulls up over 43,000 entries under the search of "Costa Rica Fraud".

3. Tell them no U.S. money should go to Costa Rica for any reason.

4. Tell them Costa Rica has defrauded U.S. citizens of over one billion dollars and destroyed many lives in the process.

5. Advise them against traveling to Costa Rica and do not even consider banking or investing there. They may well lose their belongings and investments.

Let Costa Rica’s president and tourist promotion groups explain again and again the incredible amount of fraud and theft of U.S. dollars. Let them explain why they should enjoy a free trade agreement with the U.S. when their corupt little government runs on state-controlled monopolies and has been known to steal millions of dollars in foreign infastructure development to protect these pathetic monopolies.

Costa Rica has achieved a reputation with U.S. citizens as a pariah state that should not be trusted. This is a reputation that Costa Rica will wear for many decades to come.

All of the ongoing scandalous financial fraud and the lives it has destroyed should not be forgotten for many, many years. I used to love Costa Rica, but I am so disgusted with the ongoing news, fraud , theft, and deaths that we have stopped our plans to return to live there again. I have removed all moneys I kept in Costa Rica banks, sold my property, and completely dis-invested in Costa Rica. I would advise all of the angry American citizens there to do the same.

Protesting to the Costa Rican government is an exercise in futility. There is no justice to be found in that route. The Costa Rican government will steal the rest of the investors money locked up in the VIllalobos bank accounts. 

It is time to stop trusting Costa Rica.

Sign me as one of the TAXPAYING U.S. citizens whose life has been destroyed by this pariah state and its citizens. It is a very sad state of affairs for an otherwise beautiful country. The current corrupt government is on a course of ruining the economy and setting a very negative view of Costa Rica which will outlive this failure of an administration for decades to come. 

David Laurence 
Seattle, Wash.
She says hypocrisy
and distrust rampant

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The first time I was in Costa Rica was in 1977. Over the years I watched as a beautiful and special country ascended to prosperity. It was based on the trust in the government and the safety that did not exist elsewhere. Huge amounts of foreign investments were followed by tourism. Until now! The descent has begun.

The government has exercised bad judgment in selectively applying laws to some and not others with little thought of the repercussions or the future. Now expatriates distrust the government. This serves to discourage everyone including foreign investors. Flamingo and Villalobos are just two examples that represent the outrageous hypocrisy of the government. The longer the Villalobos case goes unsettled and seventy million US dollars remain out of circulation, the deeper the crisis. Many jobs are being lost and huge amounts of capital continue to disappear as values plummet. Countless peoples lives have been devastated.

If that is not bad enough, crime is escalating. Now murders are frequent, robberies are very common, organized gangs roam uncontrolled and the worst is yet to come as the new unemployed become desperate. 

Many of the elements which originally made Costa Rica rise above the neighbouring countries are gone. Now foreign investors are mocked. Trust in the government to protect everyone is gone. Safety to walk the streets and beaches is gone. 

From the other side of their mouth the government has recently stated they want to increase tourism. When all the expatriates get home, guess what they are going to say about Costa Rica? 

Don’t go. It has become just another banana republic.

The governments unspoken policy is A new beginning for poverty and chaos. 

With a $633 million U.S., deficit law enforcement will not likely improve. I suggest the government negotiate a settlement with Villalobos quickly. Then phase in a levy of some sort against income interest that could go towards improved crime prevention.

Sharon Hamm

 
 
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