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These stories were published Tuesday, March 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 43
Jo Stuart
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U.S. says Costa Rica is a major laundry
Money laundering report raps banks, gaming
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is vulnerable to money laundering because of Internet gambling and offshore banks that are not fully supervised, according to the U.S. State Department.

In addition, key government units designed to fight illegal money transfers lack funds, the State Department said.

The assessment is contained in the department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, published Monday. The report devotes an entire volume to money laundering and financial crimes and to the intensified crackdown on global crime networks following the September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Text of Costa Rican assessment

Costa Rica is one of 54 major money laundering countries that the U.S. government considers to be a "jurisdiction of primary concern." 

A major money laundering country is defined as one "whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking," the report said.

However, the complex nature of money laundering transactions today makes it difficult in many cases to distinguish the proceeds of narcotics trafficking from the proceeds of other serious crime, said the department. Moreover, financial institutions engaging in transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds of other serious crime are vulnerable to narcotics-related money laundering, it added. 

The report said that eight offshore banks maintain correspondent operations in Costa Rica, including three from the Bahamas, three from Panama, one from the Cayman Islands and one from Montserrat. But the licensing procedure for foreign-domiciled banks remains inadequate and reports of transactions are not available to Costa Rican regulators, it said.

However, the report did note that the black market Colombian peso exchange through private banks had declined dramatically in 2003  to a trickle. 

"These exchange schemes permitted the transfer of $225 million between April 2002 and December 2002 by Colombian international credit card holders and currency exchange houses who carried large sums of declared currency (often between $100,000 and $300,000) to Costa Rican banks," the report said. 

"The U.S. dollars were transferred to U.S. banks and then to Colombian banks, where account holders profit from arbitrage exchange rates" it noted, adding:

"The flow of money to Costa Rica dropped to approximately $40 million in 2003. Since August, the flow of money via couriers has slowed to a trickle. It is not yet known if the capital flow has shifted to other countries or if different transaction schemes are being used in Costa Rica." 

At least the investment operation run by Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho was involved in arbitrage with Colombian pesos. Other similar operations that also sought investments from citizens might have had similar interests.

The Villalobos operation and an associated money exchange house closed down in October 2002 after a police raid July 4 of that year. Although the U.S. report did not mention these developments, this is one reason for the decline in Colombian peso exchange.

The report concluded that "Costa Rica needs to improve its supervision of the offshore banking sector located in the country and should extend its anti-money laundering regime to cover the Internet gaming sector and other non-bank financial institutions such as jewelry or gem dealers and casinos. Costa Rica should also criminalize the financing and support of terrorists and terrorism."

The full text of the report is available on the Internet HERE!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A United Nations commission released a bombshell report Monday in which it said "countries mired in poverty are almost always victims of their own bad domestic policies." The panel endorsed entrepreneurship as a key to eradicating poverty in developing countries.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan backed the findings. The panel was headed by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo. The report says the eradication of poverty is dependent on domestic policy reforms that would spur local business.

The report suggests a major change in policy by the United Nations, which frequently has been seen as a bastion of socialism and anti-capitalist sentiment.

The story is HERE!

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Unlicensed drivers block main street at rush hour
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

About 200 so-called informal taxi drivers blocked Avenida 2 with about as many vehicles at 5 p.m. Monday, the start of the rush hour. The resultant tie-up stretched as far west as Parque La Sabana.

A heavy riot squad presence prevented any serious fighting, but protestors scuffled with officials after police got a telephoned tip that one man had a firearm in the trunk of his car.

José Manuel Echandi, the Defensor de los Habitantes who was at the scene, intervened to quiet the protestors.

Officers finally forced their way to the vehicle and found a .22 pistol in a vehicle owned by a Nicaraguan man with the last names of Martínez Moreno. However, police said they did not think that he was the owner of the weapon.

A small traffic accident that damaged a front fender also marred the demonstration.

Avenida 2 was blocked just west of Parque Central. The street is a main west-east route and

carries much of the city’s bus traffic. Transit police did little to divert traffic, and vehicles were stuck on Paseo Colon for more than a hour.

The protesters, unlicensed drivers, are seeking some kind of compromise from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes that would allow them to continue as taxi drivers. They reject the name "pirate taxis" and prefer the Spanish word portero, that can be translated as one who carries things.

The informal taxi drivers claim that they have a right to work even if they do not have a government license. They say that they make individual deals with those they transport. Some even carry signs calling their operations a private transportation service. 

However, Javier Chavez, the minister of Obras Públicas, said in an interview that the law is clear that in order to carry citizens a driver and his taxi must be licensed.

The unlicensed taxi drivers plan to meet with Ricardo Toledo, minister of the Presidencia today at 4 p.m. to press their case further.

Coast Guardsman dies
when launch flips

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A member of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas died Sunday when the launch on which he was riding dumped him into the Caribbean Sea.

The dead man is Saúl Araya Paniagua, 34, said to be an outstanding coast guardsman. He was attached to the Barra del Colorado station.

Two other officers, Luis Guzmán y Fabio Alcázar, suffered injuries in the same mishap, believed caused by the launch hitting a hidden island in the sea some 200 meters from the mouth of the Tortugero Canal.  A fourth officer, José Peña, got wet but was not hurt. The injured men were being treated at the Hospital de Guápiles.

The launch is the Jaguar 1 and the weather was bad at the time, the service said in a report.

The coast guard said that the four men went in search of a comrade Sunday. The missing man had been part of a police raid on illegal logging Saturday, and he had been forced to spend the night in the forest after it became dark and the weather worsened.

The man was located, and the accident happened while the four men were returning.

Araya, who was married with four children, entered the Fuerza Pública in 1996 and joined the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas in 2001. He was from Cartago.

Casa Alianza to back
youth gang rights

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza, the child advocate group, says it will go to bat for youth gang members in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in a session before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The child advocate group says it considers new anti-gang laws promulgated by Honduras and El Salvador to be contrary to the rights of children. The laws allow police to arrest youngsters they believe are gang members on a charge of elicit association, said Casa Alianza in a release. The penalty can be up to five years in jail. Proof can be as simple as a gang taboo, said the organization.

Casa Alianza, citing figures from authorities, estimates that there are 60,500 gang members in Central America. Honduras may have as many as 36,000 and Guatemala 14,000, the release said.

Costa Rica has 2,600 gang members, according to the release.

"The presidents of Honduras and El Salvador have said that all the gang members are murderers, thieves and rapists. There are laws against murder, theft and rape, so why, if they are so certain, do they not investigate the perpetrators and judge them under the current law? The anti-gang laws lower the level of proof that the government needs to lock up a child to simply having a tattoo," said Bruce Harris. He is regional director for Latin American programs of Casa Alianza.

Casa Alianza has been fighting what it says are extra-judicial murders of children in Honduras and Guatemala. Some 557 individuals under the age of 23 were killed in Honduras in 2003, and 747 persons died in Guatemala, said the organization. The group blames police for many of the murders.

Casa Alianza also said that the rights commission will hear of the murders of four Honduran individuals, from 15 to 32, who were taken from their cells by policemen and later found dead. The courts in Honduras have been less than anxious to investigate the case, Casa Alianza said.

The group will be joined in its presentations by the Washington-based Center for Justice and International Law. The Inter-American Commission on Human rights is an agency of the Organization of American States.

Well-known rock band
will play this Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rock music fans will be able to see one of the top Costa Rica bands Friday as part of the summer program of the Ministerio de Cultura, Deporte y Juventud.

The band is Gandhi, which has been making records since 1997. The show is at 8 p.m. in the Centro Nacional de Arte y Cultura, the ministry, just east of Parque España, and southeast of the towering building of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. Admission is 1,000 colons, about $2.35.

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Major shift in policy seems likely
U.N. report backs entrepreneurship to end poverty
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. —  A United Nations Commission has endorsed entrepreneurship as a key to eradicating poverty in developing countries. Secretary-General Kofi Annan formed the commission last July to study how private sector potential might be unleashed to alleviate poverty. 

It is an idea that might have been ridiculed in the halls of the United Nations a few years ago. A report issued Monday at U.N. headquarters concludes that the primary responsibility for achieving growth and equitable development lies with the developing countries. 

The report, written by a panel of internationally recognized leaders in business, development economics and government from both the industrialized and developing world, says countries mired in poverty are almost always victims of their own bad domestic policies. 

The panel, headed by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, says the eradication of poverty is dependent on domestic policy reforms that would spur local business. 

In unveiling the report, Prime Minister Martin called it an example of fresh thinking on ridding the world of poverty. "Make no mistake, this is a new pillar of development. Unleashing local private enterprise supported by strong indigenous domestic and democratic institutions," he said. 

The Canadian leader said new solutions are needed to attack poverty because, despite great progress over the past 50 years, a fifth of all people on earth are living on less than $1 a day. "For too long, development specialists have overlooked or downplayed the role of indigenous entrepreneurship in creating badly needed economic growth, providing employment, and increasing the quality of life in many countries," he said. 

Former Mexican President Zedillo, an economist who is currently director of the Center on Globalization at Yale University, says unless 

entrepreneurship is allowed to blossom, progress in alleviating poverty will be impossible, even when all other ingredients for economic growth are in place. "In many developing countries, the private sector fails to rise to its potential in creating wealth and defeat[ing] poverty because property rights aren't truly protected, and government regulation of businesses is excessive and of bad quality," he said. 

The panel's conclusions are certain to be controversial. They sparked a barrage of questions from skeptical journalists, many of whom openly disagreed with the findings. 

Lending his full weight to the conclusions, however, was Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who sat between the co-chairman during their press briefing. In brief remarks, he congratulated the panel for outlining a series of concrete steps for eradicating poverty in developing countries. 

Mark Malloch Brown, U.N. Development Program administrator and a driving force behind the panel's work, said the conclusions were evidence of secretary general's influence in changing the world body's ideological outlook. "I think this is part of the continued intellectual revolution you have led at the United Nations. This wouldn't have happened a few years ago," he said. "A group sitting around you at the podium in the press room, announcing a report on the private sector. Ernesto [Zedillo] would, at different points in our deliberations, say 'it's almost as extraordinary where we're sitting to be talking about these issues as what we're saying.'" 

The panel concludes that while there is no one solution for all poor countries, the primary responsibility for eradicating poverty lies with local governments. In saying so, the panel members seem to be suggesting a shift in the world body's economic philosophy. 

In his summary, co-chairman Ernesto Zedillo said the message is precise, and should be compelling: poverty will remain intractable in countries lacking a vigorous private sector. Therefore, impediments to its development must be removed. 

Powell says Aristide is the blame for Haitian crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell says exiled former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide bears a large, if not the major, part of the blame for the political crisis that forced him out of office. At a news conference Monday, Powell provided further details of the weekend negotiations that led to the Haitian leader's departure, which the secretary stressed was voluntary. 

The secretary's comments at a news conference with European Union officials reflected U.S. frustration with Aristide's performance in office, especially in the critical final days, and were the most detailed statements offered by a senior U.S. official about the circumstances of his departure.

Powell rejected as "absurd" and "unfortunate" reports cited by two Democratic members of Congress, among others, that Aristide had been kidnapped or removed from Haiti against his will by U.S. troops. 

He said the Haitian leader initiated contact about leaving late Saturday with U.S. assistance, and had posed several questions about, among other things, the protection of his personal property and whether he would have a choice about his place of refuge.

Powell said in a series of phone conversations, Aristide was given the answers he sought, discussed the matter with his wife, and reported back that he had decided to leave office based on the recommendation of his security people about the "deteriorating situation" in the country.

"He wrote a letter of resignation. I think he might have been in touch with other people. A leased plane was brought in and he departed at 6:15 [a.m.] or thereabouts on Sunday morning," Powell said. "He was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth. And it would have been better for members of Congress who have heard these stories to ask us about the stories before going public with them, so that we don't make a difficult situation that much more difficult."

Powell said Aristide's preferred country of destination, understood to have been South Africa, would not receive him and that negotiations  continued while the chartered plane was in the air.

He said the United States is "very pleased" that the Central African Republic agreed to accept him on "an interim basis" and that he went there accompanied by, among others, some 15 members of his personal security team.

Powell said the task now before the international community is to help Haiti build basic political institutions that function and are answerable to the people. He lamented Aristide's conduct in office following the 1994 U.S. military intervention that put him back into power after his ouster by the military.

"I saw a man who was democratically elected, but he did not democratically govern, or govern well. And he has to bear a large burden, if not the major burden, for what has happened," he said. 

"And now we are there to give the Haitian people another chance, and we'll be working with Haitians to help Haitians put in place a political system, and will support it to the best of our ability, and I'm pleased that the international community has responded so quickly with a unanimous U.N. resolution."

A senior diplomat here said it had become apparent in recent days that Aristide had become too much of a polarizing figure to be part of a peaceful resolution of the country's political crisis, hence the suggestions by Powell and French Foreign Minister Dominque de Villepin, among others, last week that the Haitian leader should reconsider his political future.

He said the Bush administration came to believe that it could not send troops into Haiti while Mr. Aristide remained there without being seen as propping up his repressive rule, and that his position became even less tenable Saturday when his supporters went on a looting rampage in Port-au-Prince.

The official said Secretary of State Powell was on the phone all night Saturday to Sunday on arrangements for Mr. Aristide's departure, including a call to Central African Republic President Francois Bozize.

Aristide reportedly told an American human rights activist, Randall Robinson, that he had been kidnapped at gunpoint by U.S. soldiers. Aristide reportedly claimed he was being held prisoner in the Central African Republic's capital city of Bangui.

U.S. official says Colombian hostages not forgotten
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration says it has not forgotten three Americans who are being held hostage in Colombia.

U.S. State Department official Marc Grossman said in a letter published Monday in The New York Times that ever since the hostages were seized in February 2003, the Bush administration has used "every resource" it can to bring the Americans home alive, including a $5 million reward for information leading to their release.

Grossman, the department's undersecretary for political affairs, was responding to a Feb. 14 Times news article that he said implied the U.S. government had forgotten the hostages, who being held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The State Department has designated FARC as a foreign terrorist organization, responsible for much of the violence stemming from Colombia's 40-year civil war.

Grossman said the Colombian government is also committed to gaining the freedom of hostages held by terrorist organizations in the Andean country. He said that in the case of the American hostages, Colombia's military "has taken action and suffered casualties to search for them."

The official said the State Department hosted a day

of briefings Feb.10 for the families of the hostages "in our efforts to remain in close touch with them." The photos of the hostages, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes, are on display at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, with the caption "You Are Not Forgotten," said Grossman.

In both Colombia and Washington, the United States continues to devote resources and action to give meaning to those words, Grossman said.

Peter Pace, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Bogota Feb. 25 that the United States is working very closely with Colombia on resolving the hostage situation of the three U.S. government contractors who were kidnapped the previous year by FARC. The hostage situation is a "very high priority" for both the United States and Colombia, Pace said.

The State Department says the reward for information leading to the release of the hostages is being administered by the Department Office of Diplomatic Security's "Rewards for Justice" program.

The reward will expand on an existing initiative to assist the U.S. citizens being held in Colombia, which was launched in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

Text of U.S. money-laundering report on Costa Rica
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

This is the section on Costa Rica from the U.S. State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that was published Monday.

Costa Rica remains vulnerable to money laundering and other financial crimes, due to the narcotics trafficking in the region. Costa Rica is a haven for Internet gaming companies. Despite 2002 reforms of the Costa Rican counternarcotics law to expand the scope of anti-money laundering regulations, the government's licensing and supervision of the offshore sector and nonbank financial institutions remain inadequate. 

Gambling is legal in Costa Rica, although the currency that is subject to Internet gaming operations may not be transferred to Costa Rica. Consequently, over 100 sports book companies operate in Costa Rica by paying administrative costs locally and accepting bets to accounts located outside of Costa Rica. 

Low taxes and strong secrecy laws have created an offshore sector in Costa Rica that offers banking, corporate, and trust formation services. These foreign-domiciled offshore banks can only conduct transactions under a service contract with a domestic bank, and they do not engage directly in financial operations in Costa Rica. Instead, these banks receive or transfer funds in foreign currency, generally using correspondent accounts in other countries, thus avoiding most of the financial rules and laws of Costa Rica. 

Currently, eight offshore banks maintain correspondent operations in Costa Rica, including three from the Bahamas, three from Panama, one from the Cayman Islands and one from Montserrat. In all cases save the Cayman Islands, the Government of Costa Rica (GOCR) has signed supervision agreements with its counterparts, permitting the review of correspondent banking operations. Costa Rican authorities admit that these agreements are restricted and prevent, for example, the review of current liabilities in the Bahamas. 

The licensing procedure for foreign-domiciled banks remains inadequate. The Central Bank approves applications for foreign-domiciled banks to operate in Costa Rica by relying on a foreign jurisdiction’s certificate of good standing. Foreign-domiciled banks are required only to provide monthly balance statements and year-end audits to the General Superintendent of the Financial System (SUGEF). 

In 2003, SUGEF reviewed the operations of all seven offshore banks in countries where a supervision agreement exists. However, SUGEF only has authority over the domestic activity of these foreign-domiciled banks. All other activity of the offshore banks is beyond SUGEF supervision. 

Evidence of black market Colombian peso exchange through private banks in Costa Rica declined dramatically in 2003. These exchange schemes permitted the transfer of $225 million between April 2002 and December 2002 by Colombian international credit card holders and currency exchange houses who carried large sums of declared currency (often between $100,000 and $300,000) to Costa Rican banks. 

The U.S. dollars were transferred to U.S. banks and then to Colombian banks, where account holders profit from arbitrage exchange rates. The flow of money to Costa Rica dropped to approximately $40 million in 2003. Since August, the flow of money via couriers has slowed to a trickle. It is not yet known if the capital flow has shifted to other countries or if different transaction schemes are being used in Costa Rica. 

In January 2002, Costa Rica expanded the scope of Law 7786 via Law 8204 to criminalize the laundering of proceeds from all serious crimes. The newly expanded law nominally obligates domestic financial institutions (not offshore banks) and other businesses (such as money exchangers) to identify their clients, report currency transactions over $10,000, report suspicious transactions, keep financial records for at least five years, and identify the beneficial owners of accounts and transacted funds. 

While law 8204, in theory, covers the movement of all capital, current regulations based on 8204, Chapter IV, Article 14, apply a restrictive interpretation that covers only those entities involved in the transfer of funds as a primary business purpose. 

The 2002 law does not cover casinos, jewelry dealers or Internet gambling operations whose primary business is not the transfer of funds. 

The reforms to Law 7786 do not grant SUGEF the authority to conduct on-site money laundering inspections or to incorporate money laundering compliance testing into the inspections it does conduct, such as the prudential safety and soundness inspections that are carried out under Law 7558. Costa Rica has yet to prosecute anyone successfully under its anti-money laundering law. 

Costa Rica’s financial intelligence unit (FIU), the Centro de Inteligencia Conjunto Antidrogas/Unidad de Analisis Financiero (CICAD/UAF), became operational in 1998 and was admitted into the Egmont Group of FIUs in May 1999. Despite commitment and expertise, the FIU is ill equipped to handle its current caseload (currently more than 230 cases) and to provide the information needed by investigators. 

Nevertheless, the unit’s analysis of the rotation of currency with no evident means of income led to the arrest in June 2003 of eight suspects in a narcotics distribution case. Another case involved the transfer of capital between Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala that led to the arrest of six suspected narcotics traffickers in December 2003. 

The unit has also collaborated with the FBI on a suspected sweepstakes fraud in which the winners pay an administrative fee of up to $1,000 to various Costa Rican accounts through wire transfers. A new SUGEF regulation permitting regulatory entities to send incomplete Suspicious Activity Reports back to the drafting bank may reduce the number of inadequate reports and give the FIU better information to analyze. 

Costa Rican authorities continue to lack the ability to block, seize, or freeze property without prior judicial approval. Thus, Costa Rica lacks the ability to expeditiously freeze assets connected to terrorists and terrorism. 

Regarding terrorism and terrorist financing, Costa Rica has ratified all major antiterrorism conventions. A government interagency Task Force recently completed drafting a comprehensive antiterrorism law with specific terrorist financing provisions. 

The draft law would expand existing conspiracy laws to include the financing of terrorism. It would also enhance existing narcotics laws by incorporating the prevention of terrorism finance into the mandate of the Costa Rican Drug Institute. The antiterrorism legislation will be introduced during the December 2003 to May 2004 extraordinary session of the Legislative Assembly. 

Costa Rica is a party to the 1988 U.N. Drug Convention, the U.N. International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Costa Rica has also signed the OAS Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. Costa Rica is a member of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the aforementioned Egmont Group. 

Costa Rica needs to improve its supervision of the offshore banking sector located in the country and should extend its anti-money laundering regime to cover the Internet gaming sector and other nonbank financial institutions such as jewelry or gem dealers and casinos. 

Costa Rica should also criminalize the financing and support of terrorists and terrorism. Greater attention should also be given to the needs of the FIU, which is currently unable to adequately support the needs of law enforcement. 

These are major deficiencies in Costa Rica's anti-money laundering regime that need to be addressed if the country is to build on the progress it has made in this area. 

EU punishes U.S. for its foreign trade tax breaks
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRUSSELS, Belgium —  The European Union has imposed trade sanctions on the United States over tax breaks the U.S. companies get when they export their products. The dispute could cost American exporters hundreds of millions of dollars. 

American exports to Europe ranging from jewelry and steel to farm products will be hit with a 5 percent punitive tariff that will increase by 1 percent each month until Congress acts to end the tax breaks. 

The World Trade Organization has ruled that the tax breaks for American exporters amounts to an illegal subsidy under international trade rules. Legislation to end the tax breaks is before the U.S. Congress, but has not been enacted. 

European Commission spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez says the United States has imposed similar tariffs on EU exports before, but the European Union has never before levied punitive tariff on U.S. companies. 

"This is the first time that the European Union is imposing countermeasures, trade sanctions as you would like to call them, on U.S. goods," she said. 

The dispute over the U.S. export tax breaks is just one of several transatlantic trade rows. One of the biggest disputes between the European Union and the United States now pending before the World Trade Organization is over the EU ban on genetically modified food. 

Officials on both sides have sought to downplay their differences. As one U.S. official put it, "It is like a marriage. Things get worked out." 

Jo Stuart
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