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(506) 2223-1327              Published Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 38      E-mail us
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Real estate failures leave many buyers out in cold
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fallout from the heady real estate bubble is getting grimmer as more and more would-be property owners realize that their money has vanished.

In case after case, buyers gave substantial sums to real estate developers. When the project failed, the buyers found out that their claims against the property had no weight because they were never listed as an owner.

In other cases, such as with Paragon Properties, the purchasers put up from a third to the full price for one or more building lots. It appears unlikely that the developers will provide the roads, water lines and other utilities that permit living on the land. Many purchasers are under contract to pay even more money and technically are in default.

Some Paragon purchasers and buyers in other projects were confused by the use of an escrow agent. Escrow is used widely in the United States to protect the interests of the buyer and seller. The seller does not get the money until the deal is final.

In the case of Paragon, the purchase contracts seen by reporters provided for an escrow agent to hold the money until the would-be property owners made an agreement with the developer. A reputable Florida lawyer held the money. That was good marketing because Paragon asked would-be buyers to put up money before they could benefit from a free vacation to Costa Rica.

In the case of a Playas del Coco project, an estimated $3 million was turned over to the developer by about 30 persons who made deals to purchase condos. Some buyers paid up to 90 percent of the purchase price. The contract called for an escrow agent to release the money to the developer as specific stages in construction were reached.  For example, after putting down ceramic tiles on the floor, the developer got 15 percent of the escrowed amount. Basically the developer was constructing the project with the buyers' money although they did not have an ownership interest in the condos yet.

So as the buyers tell it, when the developer defaulted on a loan with a state bank, the bank foreclosed, leaving buyers out in the cold. Some said they were unaware of the bank action for months.

It became a tradition in Costa Rica to build projects with buyers' money. At some projects, the developer just took the money on the strength of a promise to deliver the finished home or condo. Some did and some didn't.
condo cow


At one project in the central Pacific, some of the buyers banded together and managed to salvage the project with an additional infusion of cash after the original developer defaulted.

The full extent of the financial devastation may never be known. Many buyers live in other countries, do not speak Spanish and simply write off their losses. Others are trying to get help from local lawyers, who are not optimistic.

Paragon Properties of Costa Rica S.A. bragged in 2005 that it had sold out seven developments and more were on the way. The company was sending out 30 million e-mails a week seeking purchasers. At the time A.M. Costa Rica warned about letting developers tap the payments.

The economic downturn hurt many developers. The Playa del Coco developer told his customers that he could not finish their condos because the bank had frozen a loan he expected to get. That happened to many legitimate developers.

Other developers were just crooks who erected a gate and a welcome center at a former cow pasture, sold lots and dreams and never had any intention of living up to any contracts.

Costa Rican civil law being what it is, most of those who lost down payment money in the real estate crash have little recourse. The Playas del Coco condo buyers had an agreement with the developer and had no ownership interest in the buildings. That would have come on closing. So they may seek reimbursement from the developer. But he probably is low on cash now.

The escrow agent and the real estate brokers seem to have lived up to their obligations in the contracts, so there probably is no recourse there.

Frequently the real estate sales person or broker is working in Costa Rica illegally anyway and probably have left for other parts by now.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 38

Costa Rica Expertise
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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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Real estate agents and services

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4401-6/9/0
Arias at summit
Casa Presidencial photo  
  Óscar Arias Sánchez appears to dominate his fellow heads
  of state as he delivers a closing speech in Playa del
  Carmen, México, at a Latin summit. Arias pushed for
  strengthening democracy and rejecting ideological fights.



Tax fraud case involves
former customs worker


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A former customs worker is facing allegations of tax fraud and related crimes after his arrest Tuesday.

The man, identified by the last names of Fallas Segura, was an aide to a custom's agent. The Poder Judicial said he is accused of making false statements on the value of items coming into the country and the creation of false invoices.

The man was detained on the public roadway in Goicoechea by the Judicial Investigating Organization because he failed to answer citations to court, the Poder Judicial said.

The value of the fraud is about 180 million colons, which is about $335,000 in 2007, the exchange rate when the alleged crimes were said to be committed.

U.N. report laments lack
of telecom access for poor


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Prices for information and communication technology services are falling worldwide, and services continue to grow, propelled by mobile cellular use, but broadband Internet remains outside the reach of many in poor countries, the United Nations telecoms agency said Tuesday.

The U.N. International Telecommunication Union's "Measuring the Information Society 2010" report confirms that despite the recent economic downturn, the use of information and communication technological services has continued to grow worldwide,

All 159 countries featured in the report’s development index have improved their levels, and mobile cellular technology continues to be a key driver of growth. In 2010, the union expects the global number of mobile cellular subscriptions to top 5 billion.

“At the same time, the report finds that the price of telecommunication services is falling, a most encouraging development,” said Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, director of the union's Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Fixed broadband services showed the largest price fall (42 per cent), compared to 25 and 20 per cent in mobile cellular and fixed telephone services respectively, yet a person in the developing world is nearly seven times less likely to have access than someone in a developed country, the U.N. report said.

The world’s top 10 most advanced tekecom economies feature eight countries from northern Europe, with Sweden topping the index for the second year in a row. The Republic of Korea ranks third, and Japan ranks eighth.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain top the list of Arab States, with Russia and Belarus leading telecom development in the ex-Soviet Union. In Africa, only the Seychelles, Mauritius and South Africa are included in the top 100.

Given the close relationship between telecom development and national income, most poor countries rank at the low end of the index. In particular, the least developed countries, many of them in Africa, still have very limited access to technology, especially in terms of broadband infrastructure and household access.

Mobile cellular technology continues to be the main driver of telecom growth, especially in the developing world, where average penetration surpassed the 50 per cent mark in 2009. Today, more than 70 economies worldwide have surpassed the 100 per cent penetration mark, with developed countries averaging 113 per cent by the end of last year.

While high-speed Internet access is now available in almost all countries, fixed broadband penetration in the developing world remains as low as 3.5 per cent, compared to 23 per cent in developed countries.

Our reader's opinion
Highway is dangerous
and fault of government


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

On Thursday, Feb. 19, we all witnessed the news on yet another tragedy on the new San Jose-Caldera road. We never do anything about this kind of thing until it touches our lives on a personal level. In this case the person who died was a good friend of mine, dedicated father of two children, who were in the car the night of the accident. He was not drunk. No other irresponsible driver is to blame. The responsibility for two fatherless children and another wrecked family once again falls on government of Costa Rica, that opened a "highway" without the proper lighting, a "highway" with concrete walls in the middle of the road, right after a curve, with no warning signs or appropriate reflective markings.

It seems unbelievable that five people who have spoken to me since, have told me they were "this close" to have an accident at the same spot and in the same situation. It seems even more unbelievable yet, that the citizens and residents of this country are willing to pay the rather expensive tolls to use a road that was irresponsibly inaugurated: to win election votes.

This message is for everyone living in this beautiful country,  do not wait until tragedy strikes you on a personal level for you to wake up to the harsh reality of our country's road system. And if you are willing to pay the tolls of this new road, please drive through it very carefully, for it is very dangerous.

In memory of my dear friend and co-worker Travis Brutsche, because I am sure he wouldn't want another family to go through this ordeal.
Elena Arroyo
Manuel Antonio, Quepos.

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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages
A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds
Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

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A.M.
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third newspage

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 38


Gringo railroaded in Nicaragua wrote book on his case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eric Volz, the U.S. citizen most people believe was railroaded on a murder charge in Nicaragua, is coming out with a book on his ordeal.

Volz was the magazine publisher who was accused of the murder of his former girlfriend  in November 2006 even though cell phone records showed he was miles away.

The murder was in San Juan del Sur and Volz established with many witnesses that he was in Managua at the time. Other likely suspects in the murder had charges dismissed or were given immunity.

Eventually after a year in a Nicaraguan jail. Volz was freed by an appeals court in December 2007. His case was an international incident.

The case had political dimensions in that the judge was a Sandinista loyalist. Hatred of Americans and perhaps as effort to extort money were at the root of the conviction. The mother of the slain girl claimed that the Volz family offered her \$1 million to drop the charge, but the family denies this claim. The trial in Rivas took place amid hostility toward Volz and U.S. citizens in general.

Volz said he filed a petition in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, seeking a declaration of his innocence and protection under the American Convention on Human Rights from further persecution by the Government of Nicaragua.

HIs 300-page memoir will be released April 27, according to a press release from Friends of Eric Volz,

"In addition to the book," Volz said, "I have  just
volz book

completed an innovative project that has taken almost a full year to finish. The 'Exhibit Hall' is an online tool that interacts directly with my book using material such as: photographs and video from inside prison, headshots of main characters, audio tapes from trial, autopsy reports, government documents, witness statements, crime scene photos, original police case file, defense motions, court rulings, and newspaper articles. The Exhibit Hall was built primarily with the funds raised from the sale of Lady Justice t-shirts . . . ."

Volz holds a degree in Latin American studies form the University of California in San Diego and studied in guadalajara, México and in the Dominican Republic.

The book, "Gringo Nightmare," is being published by St. Martin's Press in New York.

There is a Web site about the ordeal.


Regulating agency displeased with 3G marketing ploys
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The telecommunications superintendent ordered the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad telephone unit Tuesday to cease some marketing tactics for its Kölbi 3G packages.

In particular, the regulator criticized a lack of detail in itemizing charges and the billing of services not requested by the customer.

The company known as ICE launched 3G service in December with the Kölbi brand, represented by a green frog with red eyes. Packages include phones and minutes with a 12- or 18-month contract, promoted with a monthly price
and not detailing charges or amortization of the phone or USB modem included.

Some customers with compatible phones were automatically switched to the new system, which in a press release the regulators, the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, said article 45 of the new telecom law explicitly prohibits. Any other changes without the express consent of the user are forbidden.

ICE was ordered to refund charges related to multimedia messaging and internet to all customers from the time the service was purchased until last week when Internet tariffs were approved, the Superintendencia said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 38


Coopemex depositors may face a long road to get money

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The case of Coopemex is beginning to look a lot like Banco Elca, which was taken over by regulators in 2004.

Coopemex, more correctly the Servicio Cooperativo Nacional de Ahorro y Crédito de los Trabajadores Costarricenses, came into the hands of regulators last week, mainly because the percentage of reserve funds held by the bank fell below the required 10 percent threshold.

The savings cooperative has 18 branches and nearly 90,000 depositors. Many are in areas populated by expats like Arenal.

Elca was taken over June 29, 2004, and depositors had a grueling period trying to get their money.

If Elca is any guide, Coopemex depositors with less than $10,000 on deposit can expect to get their money in a short time. Those with larger deposits will become involved in a committee of creditors, extensive meetings and a great deal of paperwork to prove who they are and that they had accounts at the institution.

A panel of overseers will be elected to sell off assets.
Foreigners who had funds at Elca had to provide the same form of consular validated paperwork that applicants for residency do.

Carlos Alvarado Moya, the president of Elca, faced trial on fraud. A three-judge panel found him guilty April 30, 2008, almost exactly four years after the institution was taken over. Elca, too, suffered from a shortage of funds.

Banking industry sources suspect that Coopemex will never again open its doors. They also express concern about other cooperatives, although those in the financial area of the government discount such fears.

Elca's Alvarado was convicted of playing fast and loose with the bank's money. Coopemex, on the other hand, appears to have been caught by extensive delinquencies from its 40,000 or so loan customers. There has been no suggestion of irregularity, even though these cases usually  are remanded to prosecutors for investigation.

The Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras did say in a statement issued last week that Coopemex was being administered in a way to affect the solvency, transparency and security.  Outside auditors who looked at the Coopemex books in December were unable to issue an opinion as to its stability, said the Superintendencia.



Chinese festival provides activities for the rest of the week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The international Chinese cultural festival already is underway at the Galería Sophia Wannamaker with an exposition of traditional and contemporary Chinese painting. The gallery is in the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses.

Today marks the beginning of the student cultural fair at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura east of Parque España. The exposition of Chinese-related traditions like calligraphy, cooking, martial arts and table tennis runs
through Thursday.

Friday and Saturday Avenida 4 pedestrian mall will be the scene of a cultural and commercial fair for China. The Dance of the Lions also will take place there.

The Gimnasio Nacional will be the setting for the Latin American regional martial arts championships Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Parque Central a concert of traditional Chinese music will be presented.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 38

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Lines drawn over new rules
for international whaling


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The international environmental group World Wildlife Federation has criticized a new plan on whaling released by the International Whaling Commission. It says the draft proposal would bring to an end a ban on commercial whaling that has lasted over two decades.

The proposal set out by the International Whaling Commission outlines how whaling can be regulated.

The plan would see whaling quotas set for Japan, Norway, and Iceland, the only three nations that currently hunt whales.

Environmental groups say the plan would pave the way for commercial whaling.
  
Wendy Elliott of the federation says the main concern is that whaling in the southern ocean, where Japanese harpoons are especially active, will be allowed to continue. "Essentially what the compromise would do is allow commercial whaling in the southern ocean. This is a designated whale sanctuary. It's one of the key places in the world for whales. If there is one place on earth where whales should be protected it is there," she said.

The proposed plan does not contain numbers on what the whaling cap will be, but Ms. Elliott says she fears quotas may be set that haven't received full scientific review. "There appears to be an intention to set quotas for whaling that are based on political discussions rather than science. That takes us absolutely back to the dark ages of whaling management," she said.

But Nicky Grandi from the whaling commission said the quotas will be based on science. Whaling would be under commision control and catch limits would be set by the commission on the advice of the scientific committees, she said.

She says under the new proposal whaling would be better regulated. She says the commisson would set up international observers to monitor whaling and would have full control over the quotas.

Right now Japan, Norway, and Iceland set their own caps.

She says in effect the number of whales hunted would go down.  "The idea is that the catches would be significantly reduced from current levels and they would be well below the levels that are considered sustainable," said Ms. Grandi.

The proposal will be discussed in March at a commission meeting in Florida. The commision has maintained a ban on all commercial whaling since 1986.  But the World Wildlife Federation says over 1,000 whales are killed for the commercial market every year.


For your international reading pleasure:


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 38


Latin American news
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Bus fare increases approved
with average of 5.1 percent


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency Tuesday approved a series of increases in bus fares. The average increase is a5.1 percent, but the increses per route range from a few colons to 380 colons.

The increses were based on a complex formula that relied on a study of the nation's bus lines and took into consideration administration, maintenance, repairs, salaries and fuel costs, said the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

Here are the old and new rates:

Route            Description             Old      New

San José
01    San José Barrio México                 110          115   
13    Sabana Estadio/ Cementerio           150          160
14    Pavas                                            245          250
50    San Pedro                                     200           200
70-73    Desamparados
                (cruceSanRafael)                  190           195
20-21    San José-Tibás                         165           175
30-35    San José-Guadalupe(yramales)   215           230
100    San José-San Isidro El General   2,655       2,705
145    San José-Puriscal                         670          710
   
Alajuela
200MB    San José-Alajuela                    400          425 
201    San José-Grecia                            855          870   
204    San José-San Ramón                  1,135        1,140     
202    San José-Palmares                        790           835
1239    San José-Naranjo                        720          735   

Cartago
300    San José-Cartago                          410            435
302    San José-Turrialba                     1,105          1,170
307A    San José-Volcán Irazú              1,820         1,930

Heredia
400B    San José-Heredia                        320          320
400BS    San José-Heredia
                   (buseta por pista)                430           435

Guanacaste
500    San José-Liberia                            2,750      2,915
570    San José-Playa Panamá                  4,480      4,565
503A    San José-Santa Cruz
            x Interamerica                            4,515      4,600
505    San José-Peñas Blancas                  4,325      4,580

Puntarenas
600    San José-Puntarenas                       2,115     2,125
612SD    San José-Golfito                        5,800     6,145
613    San José-Quepos (costanera)            3,450     3,530
655    San José-Playa Jacó                        1,970     2,095
601SD    San José-Ciudad Neilly               5,800     6,145
601    San osé-Paso Canoas                      6,095      6,455

Limón
703    San José-Limón (Braulio Carrillo)      2,600     2,645
700    San José-Valle La Estrella (pista)       3,935     4,170
750    San José-Puerto Viejo                       4,290     4,545
735    San José-Guápiles (pista)                   1,075     1,140






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