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These stories were published Monday, Jan. 31, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 21
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Property fraud problem getting recognition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The problem with property fraud is an abundance of notaries and a national registry that accepts the signature of a notary without additional checking.

This has been a central theme of a continuing series in A.M. Costa Rica, mainly written by Garland M. Baker. However, La Nación, the leading Spanish-language newspaper, seconded the opinion in a Sunday story.

The newspaper reported on the problems of a Costa Rican woman, Norma Aurtenechea, who has been fighting since 1998 to recover a lot in San Juan de Tibás which she inherited from a brother. He disappeared in a Panamanian airplane mishap in 1979.

The newspaper reported that the Registro Nacional accepted a phony deed bearing the name of the brother in 1998 even though he was legally dead.

The newspaper also said that the Registro Civil, where marriages are recorded, also blindly accepts the statement of the nation’s  10,658 notaries, and this has led to fake marriages by foreigners for the purpose of gaining residency even when the Costa Rican involved was unaware of the wedding.

There are repeated complaints from expats here about unknown persons obtaining title to their 

property.  In most cases, a notary has "given faith" that the document is genuine even though it is not. Frequently years of legal work are needed to clarify the ownership.

There is little punishment by an overwhelmed judicial and notary court system. However, in the case of Ms. Aurtenechea, three persons are expected to go to trial soon for the property transaction and false deed, the newspaper said.
For every expat who experiences problems with land poachers, many other cases involve Costa Rican victims even though A.M. Costa Rica has stressed the expat angle.

The typical technique is to prepare a false deed in the name of an elderly person or someone facing a fatal illness. Once the person dies, the heirs have a difficult time contesting the deed. Had Ms. Aurtenechea’s brother been alive when the fake deed was prepared, she probably would have lost the property.

The more valuable the property, the more likelihood of fraud.

Evidence also exists of complicity by employees at the various registries. A year ago, more than 100 employees of the Registro Nacional were fired because of suspicions of corruption.

Previous articles by A.M. Costa Rica have shown how certain legal techniques can be used to discourage property poaching. One such story may be found HERE!


 
Wednesday meeting to clarify tourism waivers
By Clair-Marie Robertson 
of the A.M Costa Rica staff

Tax waiver applications are still being accepted by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.  The Institute announced last week that it was suspending all tax waivers for tourism-related companies at the request of the Contraloria General de la Republica. 

The suspension of the waivers means tourism businesses have to pay more taxes.

Vielka Dharbandier of the department of Impuestos at the institute said that it was only tax waiver applications from tourism companies based in Costa Rica that are still being accepted. Ms. Dharbandier also said she expects a favorable resolution to the waiver problem at a meeting scheduled between the Contraloria and the Institute officials Wednesday.

The law titled "Incentives for Touristic development in Costa Rica" states that all 

tourism companies based in Costa Rica are eligible for a tax waiver. The law categorizes tourist companies as hotel services, air transport solely for tourists and water transport for tourists such as boats and rafts and tourism agencies that solely work in Costa Rica. 

Items that are included in the tax waiver must be used for the tourism business alone. Construction materials needed for the expansion of hotels are included in the tax waiver program as well at the purchase of computers and electrical equipment. The repair or modification of tourist buses and other vehicles are not. 

The law seeks to improve the tourism industry by freeing up finance to be spent on employment and the modernization of the tourist industry. Import taxes are reduced or eliminated based on complex formulas.

The law also authorizes hotels to function as money changers for currency conversion.

 
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Foundation will fight
decision on zoo contract

By Clair-Marie Robertson 
of the A.M Costa Rica staff 

The foundation contracted by the government to run the zoologico Parque Simón Bolívar will fight the decision that terminated the administration contract, said Yolanda Matamoros, president of La Fundación Pro Zoologicos. 

The foundation rejected the assessment carried out by the Minsterio de Ambiente y Energía on the condition of the animals in the zoo and the handling of financial resources. After its findings, the ministry announced that it would not renew the foundations contract. Since May 12, 2003, this decision has been disputed by the foundation. 

In a statement released Friday, the foundation denied that a firm decision has been made to remove it from the administration of the zoo in north San José and the Centro de Conservación de Santa Ana. 

The foundation said it has a right to put forward its case to the respective judicial authorities. The statement said that the contract of arbitration and the Law of Conflict Resolution allowed them this right. The agreement under which the foundation entered binding arbitration says that both sides agree not to respond to an adverse decision with a court suit.

In addition, the Foundation said it had a right to let the public know that there was a split decision when it came to voting for or against their administration. On one side, Cinthia Cavallini and Elias Soley Soler of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía supported the results of audit and the assessment of the conditions. On the other side Gonzalo Fajardo Salas, a legislative deputy, disagreed with the findings of the ministry, said the foundation. 

The foundation also blamed the ministry for withholding $500,000 in unpaid wages which it said has hampered the development plans of both the zoo and the conservation center.

Tourist falls from ledge
at site of waterfall

 By the A.M Costa Rica staff

An American tourist suffered serious injuries Thursday after falling 40 feet from a ledge that looked onto a waterfall. The tourist, Sue Nora Tingle from Louisiana, had taken a tour with her husband Mike Tingle. A tour guide and Mrs. Tingle's husband also were injured in the fall. 

When passing Santo Domingo de Savegre, Walter Lee, 37 the tour guide stopped the group to observe the waterfall. At approximately 2 p.m. Mrs. Tingle is believed to have lost her footing and fallen. Mr. Tingle and Lee attempted to help her, but they also fell. Mr. Tingle did not want to talk about the incident in depth to an A.M. Costa Rica reporter but said, "I am very distressed and upset by what has happened." He did not sustain any serious injuries from the fall. 

Javier Torres from the Cruz Roja said, "It was not a free fall, but a gradual one, this is what may have saved her life." 

Mrs. Tingle suffered a fracture on the base of her skull. "She was conscious although very disorientated. She was aggressive but that’s normal with these sort of injuries," said Jorge Benavides from the Cruz Roja. Lee suffered bruising to his left lung. A helicopter called in from San José transferred the injured to Juan Santamaría Airport. They were then taken to Hospital CIMA, Escazú by ambulance. 

Seattle motorist speared
in crash near Quepos

By the A.M Costa Rica staff 

An American has survived being speared by a metal tube in a car accident. The man, Jack Nesseth, 55, from Seattle, Washington, was in Quepos on holiday. 

The accident occurred on the bridge of Rio Paquita at 4 a.m. The car the man was driving left the road. Nesseth was then speared by a two-inch tube which went through the radiator of the car and through his chest. But the tube missed all his vital organs.

The wound was so spectacular that the sensational tabloid El Diario Extra featured the man in a front page news photo. The tube was seen protruding from his back about four inches below the shoulder and just left of the spine. 

"I wasn’t familiar with the road and remember just coming off at the bridge. I was conscious when they were trying to get me out, and I remember them cutting the tube so they could get me out easier," said Nasseth from his hospital bed.

Nasseth said that at the time he did not feel any pain and said he just went into shock. He was transferred to Hospital Max Teran Vallas where he was operated on by surgeon Pedro Gutiérrez and Doctor Krissia Díaz and their support team. 

"The hospital has been very good with me they are treating me very well here, they saved my life," said Nasseth. He said that they are currently carrying out bacteria tests to find out which antibiotics to give him to stop the spread of infection. 

Nasseth was on holiday in Costa Rica on his own. His daughter will be arriving from Washington in the next few days. "I am in a lot of pain now, but it’s a blessing that I am still alive and able to walk," he said. 

 Two win beauty titles
to represent Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

Miss Costa Rica 2005 was crowned Friday night at the National Auditorium inside the Museo de Los Niños in San José. 

Two winners were crowned. Leonora Jiménez was crowned as Miss Costa Rica Mundo and Johana Fernández was crowned as Miss Costa Rica. Miss Jiménez will represent Costa Rica in the Miss World 2005 pageant in Sanya, China. Miss Fernández will represent the country in the Miss Universe 2005 pageant in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Miss Jiménez and Miss Fernández beat out nine other Ticas to win their titles.

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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A saying that the accused will face the highest judge
El que esta libre Dios lo libra

"One who is free of guilt God will set free." Of course this goes along with the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty. These days, however, an accused person is often found "guilty" in the media — especially television — long before a jury or judges have had an opportunity to consider the evidence. 

But the idea behind this expression still remains that if you are not guilty, you don’t have anything to fear. You will be exonerated in the end, even if it’s before God himself.

Lately, we hear a lot about respectable citizens, and some not quite so respectable, who nevertheless loudly proclaim their innocence despite the mounds of evidence that seem to be piling up against them. This is a perfect time to say El que esta libre Dios lo libra.

Whether or not you’re a religious person, the basic idea here is that if someone is innocent eventually they will be set free. It’s also a way of giving hope to a person suffering from being falsely accused and to their family and friends that everything will be OK.

But most of us know it’s difficult to relax when you’ve been accused of something you didn’t do. Often, by the time the truth finally comes out a considerable amount of damage has been done, and there will be those who will always consider us to be guilty no matter the evidence to the contrary. 

It’s the accusation, in and of itself, that does the damage. 

It’s interesting that we have another dicho that expresses a similar idea. It is El que no la debe no la teme or "one who owes nothing has nothing to fear." But this expression does not really capture the notion that a person may be struggling with a false accusation the way the former does. 

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

Part of the work I do with Amnesty International is looking into accusations against people whom we suspect may be innocent. It is meticulous work, as each case must be very carefully documented in order to successfully prove that a person who has often already been incarcerated for a crime is actually innocent of that crime and should be released. 

In some cases however our research reveals that the accused actually did have some part in whatever crime was supposed to have been committed. So, getting at the truth can sometimes prove to be a double-edged sword. But more often than not, by the time a particular case reaches the attention of Amnesty International circumstantial evidence is already pointing pretty clearly to a person’s innocence. 

At times I have used today’s dicho when I am talking to the family of a person who has been wrongly apprehended by police in order to inject a bit of hope into the situation. I also often repeat it over and over in my mind like a mantra to give myself hope and to make my job a little less tense.


 
Lees will step down as rector of University for Peace
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United Nations has named a new rector for the University for Peace in El Rodeo near Ciudad Colón, and the current rector, the controversial Marvin Lees, will continue as a special adviser.

The new rector, announced Friday, is Julia Marton-Lefèvre, who will take over May 1.

The announcement came in New York. The University of Peace offers graduate studies in fields ranging from conflict prevention and human security to human rights and environmental security, the U.N. announcement noted.

Lees has been considered a serious businessman who was to bring order to the troubled university. He told university staffers to chain the entrance to Radio for Peace International July 21, 2003, beginning the successful effort to remove the international shortwave operation from the university campus. 

The United Nations release praised Lees, a British citizen, for his strong leadership and a remarkable expansion program.

After five years of highly successful efforts at revitalizing and developing the United Nations-affiliated University for Peace, Lees informed the Council of the University, at its last session in June of his wish to be relieved of his duties as rector, said the U.N. 

Lees is not an academic. He held a degree in mechanical engineers from the University of Cambridge and a 

post-graduate diploma in economics and politics from the College of Europe in Belgium, according to his resume posted on the university Web site. He also was an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations in 1984.

He will hold the additional title of rector emeritus, said the U.N.

Ms. Marton-Lefèvre, is executive director of Leadership for Environment and Development International, a 
United Kingdom-based global network of individuals and non-governmental organizations established on the initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation to foster leadership for environment and development through training, dialogue and research, said the U.N.

Ms. Marton-Lefèvre does not appear to hold a doctorate degree either because the U.N. release did not mention that. Typically heads of universities are accomplished academics.

The University for peace was established in 1980, in part with the help of former Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo Odio.

The dispute with Radio for Peace International generated many unfavorable headlines around the world. The station had constructed the building it occupied with donated funds. However, the university said the radio station owed back rent.

Eventually the radio station left the campus and set up an Internet transmission of its programs, largely devoted to what it describes as peace and social justice.


 
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Two years since last message
Oswaldo case still does not resolve the big question
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial action involving Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho in February is the center of attention for former investors with the high-interest operation run in San Pedro.

But there has been no progress in locating the missing brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos who has been a fugitive for more than two years.

The session this month brings the imprisoned Oswaldo into court for what amounts to a preliminary hearing. He is facing fraud and money-laundering charges. 

Some investors hope Oswaldo gets off because they think Luis Enrique will then return home to Costa Rica and pay them the money he took. Others, more pragmatic, have filed individual fraud charges.

But most have just gone on with life. The Villalobos failure changed the economic face of the Costa Rican expat community. But the overall economy remains subject to more traditional forces. 

More than 6,000 accounts were listed in the Villalobos records when investigators raided their Mall San Pedro offices July 4, 2002. The best estimate is that some $1 billion was on the Villalobos books when the office closed abruptly in November 2002.

That means the Villalobos brothers owed their depositors somewhere around $30 million a month. Most of that money was rolled over into new investments, although the local expat economy was fueled by the cash Villalobos and his employees put in envelopes and handed out to depositors who would call in person at the office.

The influx of new residents offset to some extent the loss to the expat community of the Villalobos monthly payments. Personal tragedies were ample, lives were disrupted and at least one creditor killed himself, in part, because of the financial disaster.

However, rents and sale prices on luxury properties in the Escazú area continue strong. Handfuls of creditors have moved on to other countries where the standard of living is lower. Expat businesses that were subsidized by Villalobos cash have closed or were bought out. Other creditors still live on handouts from friends.

Hundreds of residents here and in the United States have not yet come to terms with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. And the U.S. government has shown a profound lack of interest in the whole situation, even though the Villalobos operation accepted quantities of investor money at U.S. banks.

Information gathered by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami is expected to be part of the prosecution’s case against Oswaldo Villalobos. If Federal investigators had any interest in opening a case of their own, they have not made that information public. Several Villalobos creditors in Florida have reported that federal investigators have interviewed them, but there has been little of that activity for months.

A third Villalobos brother lives in Florida and is believed to have been involved in the family business.

The most troubling aspect of the case for creditors has been the lack of closure. Almost daily newspaper readers seek to know the status of the case. This is not the situation with another high-profile investment scheme that closed up around the same time as the Villalobos operation. That was Savings Unlimited. The principal is Louis Milanes, who destroyed most of the firm’s documents before he fled initially to Venezuela. No Savings Unlimited creditor has suggested that Milanes would return to pay his debts. He, too, is a fugitive.

Luis Enrique Villalobos is a special case. Hundreds of his creditors believe he has been victimized by a jealous banking establishment and a corrupt government. However, no one has offered specifics.

There are expats here who have known Luis Enrique Villalobos for 20 years or more. They have dined with him. They have visited his home. They are convinced the man will pay his debts, although they are troubled that he has made no contact with creditors for more than two years.

The last authenticated messages from Luis Enrique Villalobos came to A.M. Costa Rica. One was an announcement via FAX that the office had been closed. That was in November 2002. The following January an e-mail message came from a Guatemalan university account. This was the message in which Luis Enrique Villalobos warned that if he is arrested or jailed, no one will be paid. The first message was signed by Luis Enrique Villalobos. The second message came from the Internet account of a relative.

Periodically other messages attributed to Luis Enrique Villalobos appear. Some clearly are fakes. Some creditors accept others on faith. None appears to contain significant new information.

Someone has even opened an e-mail account in the name of Luis Enrique Villalobos and makes periodic mailings to Internet discussion groups.

Periodically, too, some creditors or someone close to the situation proposes to collect money and seek out the Villalobos in hiding. Creditors, however, show a disinclination to make themselves visible foes of Luis Enrique Villalobos on the off-chance that he will return and start distributing money.

Dec. 19, 2002, A.M. Costa Rica posted $500 rewards each for Luis Enrique Villalobos and Louis Milanes. The idea was to encourage creditors to add to the reward.

No one came forward to enhance the reward total, and a large number of creditors attacked the newspaper with nasty e-mails, telephone calls and even death threats.

The newspaper continued the reward offer for months until it became obvious that no one would add money to the pot. The reward was withdrawn.

Still uncertain is how the Villalobos brothers were able to pay such high monthly interest. Theories abound. A good case has been made by some creditors that the firm was involved in exchanging Colombian pesos. This may not have been illegal, but there are enough U.S. creditors who placed illegally earned funds with the brothers that a money laundering conviction is likely.

Money laundering does not have to involve drug money. Any illegally earned money could generate clean interest via the Villalobos operation, and there is a high probability that prosecutors will show that the firm actually did launder money, even if that was not the main purpose of the business.

A report by the Judicial Investigating Organization said that Oswaldo was a key figure in the borrowing operation in addition to running his well-known money exchange house. This is not what Luis Enrique Villalobos said. He told A.M. Costa Rica in a telephone interview before he closed up shop that the two businesses were independent.

Some creditors have argued that Oswaldo Villalobos  could not be convicted on a third charge, financial intermediation or illegal banking, because there was no record of the Villalobos firm reinvesting the money they received from creditors. Actually there are transactions where money from the firm was used to purchase publicly traded stock.


 
Teacher convicted of intent to make sex tour here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A federal jury in Miami has convicted a middle school teacher after the teacher made arrangements to travel to Costa Rica and have sex with two young girls.

According to an article published in the New Jersey Home News Tribune, the teacher, George Clarke, 44, of that state intended to travel to Costa Rica and have sex with two minors. Clarke, a former police officer and teacher faces a maximum of 30 years in prison after being convicted.

Clarke was arrested after boarding a plane in Miami that was San José-bound, Aug. 16. Local authorities caught up with Clarke after he made reservations with Ft. Lauderdale-based, Costa Rica Taboo Vacations.

Costa Rica Taboo Vacations specializes in sex tours 
 

that include minors. Their website advertises fully inclusive tours, including airfare, hotel stays and sexual relations with children under 12.  Their website features photos of the coast and of the Amón Plaza Hotel in San José.

Clarke’s attorney, David Marcus, plans to appeal the decision, arguing that his client never approached the girls. The Federal Protect Act of 2003, however, states that a person who travels with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct faces up to 30 years in prison. 

Local authorities apparently used Clarke’s purchase record at the sex tour travel agency to catch him in Miami. Why the police arrested Clarke and have allowed the web-based travel agency to remain in business remains unknown, however. 

Clarke faces sentencing April 1, before a U.S. District judge in Miami.


 
 
Our Readers write
Watch uses of ID devices, but not the technology
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thursday  Bob Jones wrote: "injected into the subdermal layer of human (or animal) skin where it receives it's electrical power from the living body. " 

 No, not true. Nothing magic here. RF-ID technology is not magic — this is exactly the same thing that retailers have been using for 15 years. I have "RF-ID" on a key fob. If the fob is not in the car, the car won't start; the chip "identifies" an authorized use of the car. 

Retailers have used tags on items that need a special gizmo to remove them at the checkout. Go thru the door with a tag from the store, and the alarm "IDs" the item as un-paid-for merchandise. Cats, dogs and kids are gettin implanted with the devices. The US government is tinkering with an "ID-TAG" inside U.S. passports, so that you can walk BY the imigration booth, instead of handing over the passport. 

How is it powered? NOT by the human body! There is a radio transmitter (at the imigration booth, in my car, or at the store door). This transmitter pumps enough energy into the chip to power it for a small fraction of a second. While powered up, the chip spits out its number. There is nothing bad 

about the technology. There could be very bad uses of this technology. Keep your eye on the USE, not the technology. 
Charlie Merritt 
San Isidro de Alajuela


Cost of rental vehicles
may keep him home

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I must agree with the letter of Jeff Blume lamenting the cost of rental vehicles in Costa Rica. I love the country, and have been traveling there for quite some time, but the cost of renting a vehicle (and the other taxes that will now increase costs to tourists) may preclude me from traveling to Costa Rica as much as I have in the past. 

While the citizens of Costa Rica are a proud people and deserve to be proud of what they have accomplished, legislative actions may harm the burgeoning tourist industry, and as a consequence, the economics of this beautiful country. 

Paul Rousseau 
Phoenix, Arziona 

 
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