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These stories were published Friday, March 5, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 46
Jo Stuart
About us
Anderson Ark victims asking about the cash
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Participants in the Anderson Ark & Associates investment scheme want to know if there is any money left. Their concerns were heightened two weeks ago when the de facto head of the Costa Rican operation killed himself while in judicial custody.

The man was identified as Jim Cody, but his real name may have been George Kof or George Burke. Investigators say that the man hung himself shortly after he was arrested and brought into a judicial holding cell in the Primer Circuito at the Tribunales building in the center of San José.

The Judicial Investigation Organization and court spokespersons are tight-lipped, perhaps reflecting the embarrassment of the agencies that someone could have hung himself with his own belt less than two hours after having been placed in the cell.

A source confirmed that the man arrived at the court in custody at noon and was found by jailers at 1:45 p.m. Emergency workers took him to Hospital Calderón Guardia where he died about 7 p.m. from what doctors listed as heart failure. The death was generally overlooked by the news media because it happened late on a Friday night.

Kof lived in Escazú and was in court either to face a request for extradition from the United States government or to be interviewed by investigators for the Sección de Fraudes. Reports vary on this point.

Anderson’s Ark was a method of avoiding taxes developed by Keith Anderson, who also lived in Costa Rica until he was taken back to the United

States in December 2002. Kof was believed to be the man left in charge after Anderson was arrested in February 2002.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the tax collecting agency, claimed Anderson actually was helping people evade taxes and put 300 agents to work on the case. Anderson said he was involved in free enterprise and that U.S. tax laws were illegal.

Kof was listed in a federal indictment last December. The indictment also named Anderson and two associates. At the time the U.S. government noted that Kof had not yet been arraigned. He faced charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to launder money internationally, and money laundering.

Anderson combined aspects of religion and multi-level marketing with his program that involved selling instructional cassettes, holding seminars and eventually encouraging clients to invest their money with him in offshore trusts in Costa Rica. 

Those who gave him money, and there were many, believe that much of the Anderson assets are in offshore trusts, supervised until Feb. 20 by Kof.

The U.S. government seized a number of Anderson assets after they raided his compound Feb. 28, 2001. These items were sold at auction later.

The Kof case is similar to that of the death of Roy Taylor last June 24 after he had been taken into custody and handcuffed in his financial services firm office in downtown San José. Taylor managed to shoot himself during a bathroom visit.

The taxis are among the bargains found here
I take taxis quite often. My fare is seldom more than 450 colons. So the times I find myself waving futilely as taxi after empty taxi drives past me I have to struggle not to think they are purposely ignoring me because they know me and decide I am not worth their effort (450 colons is less than $1.10). But that seldom happens and I almost never have waited more than five minutes to hail a cab successfully. 

I used to raise my arm high like I did in New York City until a Tico informed me that here you hold your arm no higher than three o’clock. I don’t think a raised arm is considered rude. I think they just can see you better, or maybe it’s just less confusing. I am always careful not to slam the door when I get in a taxi, even at the risk of not closing it completely. I would rather have the cab driver tell me to try again than hear him sigh or mutter about Gringos slamming doors just because they have big heavy cars in the U.S. 

Many people sit in the front seat with the driver. I usually sit in the back, mainly because I don’t like to struggle with a seat belt. A proposed law would require that only the driver must wear a seatbelt, but being from the U.S., I wouldn’t dare not wear a seat belt.

Sitting in the back seat does cut down on conversation. But sometimes the radio does that. Occasionally I will ask a driver to turn down the volume. But my biggest struggle is to resist telling him how to best get to where we are going. I feel like Holly Hunter in that movie where she gives every cab driver in Washington, D.C., directions on the best route to take and why. 

Many times I think the taxistas here unthinkingly take the same route no matter the time of day or the traffic. It is seldom useful to give a taxi driver a direction based on the name of the street or avenue. Here we still use landmarks like a well-known building or a spot where a famous tree once stood.

There are pirata taxis (literally pirate taxis). These are unlicensed cars that drivers have attached a taxi sign to, and some even have a

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

maria (the odometer that tells you the price), but I avoid them. Although rare, most of the taxi crimes against passengers occur in pirate cabs. 

Once in a while a taxi driver will start asking me questions about how long I have lived here, am I married, etc. More often the two of us are preoccupied with our own thoughts. 

There are some rude drivers — if I had to drive in this traffic I think I would be a bit short at times — but most often drivers are pleasant and kind. The other day, I was in a taxi on 8th Avenue, stalled in traffic and it was an unusually hot day with the sun blazing. My driver pointed to a woman on the corner with a small baby trying to get a cab and asked if it was all right if he offered her a ride. I said, of course. She was very appreciative and he told her it was my kindness that was responsible. I hadn’t even noticed her. 

Other times, when I have two heavy bags of groceries or luggage I have asked, with the offer of a tip, for help to my third floor apartment. I have never been refused. When I first came here I was told that it is not the custom to tip taxis. Usually I don’t, but if I have called a cab from the house or if the driver does not start the maria until after I get in the taxi, I do tip. They are supposed to do this but the maria usually is already going and one must assume it was turned on just a second before you entered. 

If the driver says his maria is broken I always ask, "Cuanto va a costarme?" (How much is it going to cost me?) before we go anywhere. When I first came to Costa Rica the base price for a taxi was something like 80 colons. Today taxis start at 240 colons, but with the exchange rate adjusting almost daily, it really costs no more. All in all, taxis are one of the best bargains in the city. 

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Money laundering report
brings legislative action

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators have expressed their concern about a U.S. report that says that Costa Rica is vulnerable to money laundering because of Internet gambling and offshore banks that are not fully supervised.

To find out more, the Comisión Permanente Especial de Narcotráfico of the Asamblea Nacional has invited a representative of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to appear before the panel. He is Vance Stacy, and lawmakers believe that he was the source of much of the information that appeared in the U.S. State Department report that was released Monday.

The State Department report also said that key Costa Rican government units designed to fight illegal money transfers lack funds. 

Stacy is the former area director for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He last was in the news as the director-designate of the proposed police training school here. That project needs legislative approval, but it still languishes in the assembly.

Laura Chinchilla, who heads the commission, urged her fellow lawmakers to take seriously the U.S. report and to implement legislation quickly that may fill the loopholes that the report has pointed out in money laundering and electronic financial transactions.

Although lawmakers may believe that Stacey was the source of the information, a summary of the committee meeting did not say why they thought this. A.M. Costa Rica published the text of the U.S. report relating to Costa Rica Tuesday. However the report seemed to lack the depth that Stacey would bring to such a project. instead, the report seemed to be a summary of newspaper headlines.

Double taxation pact
signed with Spain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica tightened up a few loose ends with Spain Thursday when Alberto Dent signed a treaty that eliminates double taxation of Spanish citizens with interest in Costa Rica and of Costa Rican citizens in Spain.

Costa Rica does not now tax the foreign earnings of its citizens, but a massive tax plan that will be considered by the Asamblea Nacional next week would do so.

Dent is the minister of Hacienda, the financial and budgetary agency. Cristóbal Montoro, his Spanish counterpart, also signed the document.

Dent and President Abel Pacheco met in Madrid, the Spanish capital, Thursday with businessmen there and chamber of commerce members. They hope to increase the flow of Spanish investments into Costa Rica, according to a statement by Casa Presidencial.

Such investments would be affected by double taxation.

Pavarotti passes
still generate talk

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is under fire because officials accepted and then distributed expensive free passes to the Luciano Pavarotti concert Jan. 31.

Even two legislators from the government’s party, Ligia Zúñiga and Olman Vargas Cubero, came out Thursday and asked the institute investigate before making the payment of sponsorship. The pledge of sponsorship resulted in the gift of about 60 free passes to the concert, and some of these were price seats.

They are members of the Comisión de Ingreso y Gasto Público and also of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the same party as president Abel Pacheco.

Several legislators from opposing parties this week called for Rodrigo Castro, the tourism minister, to resign along with the whole board of directors of the institute. But the committee Thursday only went so far as to pass a motion that such free passes must be handled in the open in the future under strict control. The committee also suggested that such tickets could be given to social institutions.

Mexico will accept
beef from U.S. again

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C.—  Mexico has announced it is reopening its borders to U.S. beef products, says U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

Veneman said in a statement that U.S. officials have worked closely with Mexico to inform them "of all the actions" the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken "to further strengthen our food safety and animal health systems" since the discovery of an animal that tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy last December.

Mexico was one of a number of other countries, including Costa Rica, that temporarily banned U.S. beef imports following the case what is better known as mad cow disease, in the western U.S. state of Washington. Mexico is the second-largest importer of U.S. beef after Japan.

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Now it's time for readers to have their say
TV show criticized

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I see that on CTV Network this Saturday that they are airing a program about "Costa Rica's Ugly Secret." Namely about sex tourism and underage females. They are also going to highlight the Villalobos scandal, and the failure of the CR government to regulate criminal banking activities.

As a frequent annual tourist to Costa Rica, I am apalled at this Canadian network for tagging along on a pair of tired old stories about a wonderful country. Costa Rica doesn't deserve this kind of attention over and over again.

I can only assume that some reporters from the cold north needed a couple of weeks in the warm sun, and can now charge it up to the company for a free holiday, and CTV can expense the cost as a tax deduction.

Toronto has roughly the same population as the entire country of CR and has problems far exceeding those of CR. Take a hard look in your own backyard, CTV, before dragging up some old stories that can only harm our Central American friends!

Dave Templeton 
Midland, Ontario, Canada
He says its about money

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I read with great interest the article and subsequent report from the AmeriKan government on money laundering, narco-terrorism and the like. 

What strikes me after reading the complete International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume II: Money Laundering and Financial Crimes is, not once do they mention the security of the citizens of the USA or the problems that drug use causes in the USA. But they do state in the following direct quote: 

"The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (CID) has an Illegal Source Financial Crimes Program that recognizes that money gained through illegal sources is part of the untaxed underground economy. The underground economy is a threat to the U.S. voluntary tax compliance system and undermines the overall public confidence in the tax system. The Internal Revenue Code generally states that all income is taxable, from whatever source it is derived. The IRS Narcotics Related Financial Crimes Program seeks to reduce the profits and financial gains of narcotics trafficking and money laundering organizations that comprise a significant portion of the untaxed underground economy. In the case of BMPE investigations, the IRS and other law enforcement agencies, such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration, seek to disrupt a trade-based money laundering methodology that aims to legitimize the proceeds of narcotics trafficking by exchanging funds for trade items often found in the untaxed underground economy. U.S. and Colombian law enforcement and regulatory officials are continuing to cooperatively seek system-wide solutions to this problem that would break the importers’ reliance on drug dollars to pay their international debts." 

That's right....it's ALL about the TAX DOLLAR !!! Thats what really bothers them...somebody is beating them outta their $$$'s that keep them in those cushy "self-perpetuating industry"(BIG GOVERNMENT AT ANY COST) jobs. The "cashless society" is just around the corner. 

Maybe if the government did what it Constitutionally is mandated to do and NOT try to police the world, which pisses off a lot of people or what we do morally, sexually, personally or financially with OUR lives, they wouldn't have the problems they have today. You can only push people so far before they start to rebel and get really creative or, like the "hankie heads", take violent terrorist action against the offending party. 

Let's face it...it's always been about the money. The AmeriKan government is always quick to label ANY country a "narco-terrorist, money laundering, terror supporting state" if they don't toe the AmeriKan line. You saw what happened when Costa Rica started to balk at the [free trade agreement]. All of a sudden it was "funneling drugs and laundering narco-terrorist money and supplying arms to terrorist organizations". 

A. U. Forrester 
Plantation, Fla.
She liked letter on rights report

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

THREE CHEERS FOR  Robbie Felix 2/27/04!! and WELL SAID! The hypocrisy of the United States has become nauseating to say the very least! When was it that God died and left the U.S. in charge of the world's destiny?   Robbie!! I salute you!! Couldn't have said it better myself! 

Pat Schmit 
Perez Zeledon
He blames U.S. for woes

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The U.S. Department of State's analysis of 'money laundering' in Costa Rica angers me.

The U.S. dollar is the currency for illegal drugs in our part of the world and the single largest marketplace for illegal drugs continues to be the United States. I'm sure like most countries, money is 'laundered' in Costa Rica, nobody including the State Department knows the exact details but in comparison with how much 'money laundering' must be done in the U.S. it's got to be miniscule...

The point of this article is not to condone money laundering but merely to point out that on occasions, the people that complain the most about things are often the ones that need to look at the problems in their own system before they start pushing around other countries to change their 'evil' ways. 

You may recall, a few years ago it was the Bank of New York that was found to be involved in 'laundering' hundreds of millions of dollars for various Russian groups. There had been a huge uproar in the international financial press because many of the big Swiss Banks had accepted more than US$700 million from the sons of Nigeria's dictator Sani Abacha and it may surprise you to see which banks were held responsible for helping the Nigerians to move their money outside the country. 

In the ensuing 'Swiss Federal Banking Commission' investigation, the following banks were listed as banks that behaved "irreproachably" - Banco del Gottardo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs and Co. Bank, Merrill Lynch Bank (Suisse) and UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland). As you can see, these are well known financial institutions and some experts suggest that more money is laundered through New York City than any of the 'traditional' offshore financial centers and certainly more than in Costa Rica. 

According to the 'Drug Enforcement Administration' Web site in the year 2002 just in the single state of Florida 26,258.2 kgs of cocaine was seized - According to the same source, 3,547 kgs of cocaine was seized in Costa Rica, most of which was probably on the way to the US. 

More illegal drugs are sold and consumed in the U.S. than any other country in the world, with illegal drug sales in the USA estimated to be more than US$100 billion per year . 

So surely the question the U.S. State Department should be asking is which U.S. financial institutions are helping these drug dealers in the U.S. with their finances? 

Which U.S banks in U.S. cities are helping the Colombians, Mexicans and other drug dealing scumbags to transfer their U.S dollar drug money out of the USA? 

Which U.S. immigration officials at the U.S. borders and U.S. airports 'inadvertently' allow cars, trucks & passengers loaded with millions of U.S. dollars to drive into Mexico?

After delving into the facts & figures for no more than 15 minutes, with US$100 million + laundered in New York and US$100 billion annually in illegal drug sales in the USA before you know it, you're talking about 'serious' money.  This can only lead you to the inescapable conclusion that Costa Rica does have its problems but the USA is undoubtedly the worlds' largest money launderer. 

Scott Oliver 
Disconnect those computers!

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In an era where a 12 year old schoolboy can shut down a power system by hacking into a computer controlled grid has the computer industry in a tizzy trying to find answers to this grave problem.

Prolonged power outages mean millions of refrigerators warm up. Air conditioning to cease and other problems we are all too familiar with.

But there is an answer. Before the computer control, the computer in a closed system was an excellent tool for the design of power systems. It was unassailable by hackers.

It was when the computer was used for CONTROL that it opened the door to outside manipulators.

Years ago a power system was protected by relays with settings designed to segregate a faulted portion from the rest of the grid. Of course it was only so good as the coordination between the relays themselves.

What to do?

Take control away from the computer hackers by disconnecting the computer control. At least until the industry comes up with a hacker-proof control.

Is this a retrogressive step? It is. Anyone with a better idea? 

 John Whiley

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Creditors await Canadian TV show with uncertainty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Villalobos creditors are feeling betrayed these days. The creditors were expecting a favorable news story on a Canadian television network, but now it seems the story will be partnered with sex.

Then they learned that their champion, the lawyer José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, has confirmed again that he will run for president. This is the man nearly 500 creditors paid about $120,000 to  ferret out alleged conspirators in the Costa Rican government who unjustly detailed the high interest borrowing operation.

A report on the Web site of the CTV.ca television network revealed this week that the much awaited show Saturday night about Costa Rica also will contain a segment about foreign tourists seeking sex with underage girls. The creditor problems with the failed Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho high interest operation takes second billing. 

"I can only assume that some reporters from the cold north needed a couple of weeks in the warm sun, and can now charge it up to the company for a free holiday, and CTV can expense the cost as a tax deduction," wrote one Canadian reader who professed a love of Costa Rica.

When the Canadian show W-Five expressed an interest in the Villalobos Brothers story late last year, creditors were helpful because they thought that exposure of their plight would generate support among Canadian officials.

The clientele of the Villalobos Brothers operation was predominately Canadian and U.S. citizens, although some Costa Ricans and foreigners from other lands gave them money. 

Another Canadian reported via e-mail that in that country the Saturday show is being advertised there as "Costa Rica's Dirty Little Secret."

Jeff Silverstein, associate producer of W-Five, confirmed via e-mail Thursday that the show will have two unrelated segments. But some creditors still feel that running the two stories together, both about Costa Rica, will give the impression that Villalobos investors are child molesters.

The lawyer Villalobos appeared at a meeting of creditors a year ago and made a presentation in which he promised to unveil those public officials who were trying to destroy the Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos operation.

The story went down well because a basic tenet of a group of creditors is that Costa Rican officials conspired against the two brothers who were running a legitimate business. The conspiracy allowed dishonest prosecutors to turn a simple 

request for information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police into the July 4, 2002, raid that signaled the downfall of the Villalobos empire, according to the story.

So when the lawyer Villalobos basically said that they should give him money and he would unmask the crooked politicians, enough creditors complied to generate more than $120,000, according to the Web site of the United Concerned Citizens & Residents of Costa Rica.

That group, United Concerned Citizens, presented plans at the meeting with creditors that it would be incorporated. But after a series of changes in the board of directors, it appears now that the lawyer and an associate are in charge. Those who send money do so directly to the lawyer.

Shortly after he was hired by the creditors, lawyer Villalobos took off on a tour around the country in which he said he was seeking to assess the degree of support he might have in a presidential run. At the time most creditors who have sent money were happy because they thought that by gaining political clout, the lawyer would be able to help them.

Now, more than a year later, there has been no obvious favorable results from hiring the lawyer.

The strategy of the unincorporated United Concerned Citizens and the lawyer was to somehow crush the allegations of money laundering and fraud that are facing Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos. Once that happens, this group of creditors expected Luis Enrique, who is a fugitive, to return and begin handing out the cash that the creditors are sure he is holding on their behalf.

Lawyer Villalobos supported this strategy and the United Concerned citizens encouraged investors who had filed legal complaints against the Villalobos Brothers to withdraw them. The strategy seems to overlook the back taxes and other problems that would still confront the brothers. And it overlooks the probability that U.S. officials also are planning action, both against the brothers and against U.S. citizens who did not pay taxes on the 3 percent monthly interest that the brothers paid them.

The strategy also overlooks the fact that the prosecutors have not said they would drop any charges. Oswaldo Villalobos is back in prison after months of home detention. 

The lawyer Villalobos has not revealed his strategy. He was fired by President Abel Pacheco as minister of Justicia because he thought a proposed maximum security prison cost too much. 

Former president Oscar Arias and populist Ottón Solís are expected to be in the presidential race.

Venezuela's U.N. ambassador quits in disgust
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations has resigned to protest the policies of President Hugo Chavez. In his resignation statement, the envoy was equally harsh in criticizing both Venezuela's government and its opponents.

Venezuelan Ambassador Milos Alcalay surprised the U.N. diplomatic community Thursday. At a hastily called news conference, he announced he was walking away from a distinguished 34-year career to protest human rights violations and threats to democracy in his country.

The decision was all the more surprising because only two days earlier, he had been named Caracas's ambassador to London. But Ambassador Alcalay said after what he called "the sad events" taking place in Venezuela, he could no longer defend the country's human rights records.

"Especially being in a house like this, the United Nations, where we deal every day with this priority, the Venezuelan ambassador cannot continue going to a committee of human rights defending the human rights situation, and seeing sadly the situation that, in the press, in the news, you can see every day in my country," he said.

The ambassador's resignation came as Venezuela's opposition announced it would press ahead with street demonstrations to gain support for a recall 

vote on President Chavez's policies. At least seven people have been killed in recent days as Chavez opponents demonstrated in favor of the recall referendum.

Ambassador Alcalay had harsh words for the opposition leaders, saying their actions had, in his words "robbed Venezuelans of the right to affect change through the democratic process".

He also said he believes President Chavez has the legitimacy of votes behind him. But the ambassador said he had been hurt to see Venezuela suffering from what he called a violation of the fundamental principles for a civil servant working in diplomacy.

"There are ways to maintain order, but without killing people and putting people in jail, without putting politicians out, without torture, and this is why we fought in Latin America for democracy," he said.

Venezuela's Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel this week defended the government's tough response to opposition protests, saying the government was trying to restore order. He denied there had been any cases of torture.

President Chavez, who survived a coup attempt in 2002 and a general strike that crippled the economy last year, has warned he won't tolerate attempts to destabilize Venezuela, which is one of the world's biggest oil exporters.

Jo Stuart
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