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(506) 223-1327            Published  Monday, March 5, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 45            E-mail us    
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The Gringo never even saw it coming
The legal right to steal: A valid power of attorney

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A U.S. citizen returned to Costa Rica in February 2003 to find his lawyers living in his Pacific coast villa.  They had taken all his possessions and burned them to complete the takeover.

A criminal court case ensued, and the lawyers won.  They got away with transferring millions of dollars in real estate to different companies to cover their tracks of plunder.

The shysters had so much audacity they offered the U.S. citizen a mere pittance to drop his case during the proceedings because they said they had buyers for his property and if he did not accept he would get nothing in the end.

They were correct.  He did not accept the absurd offer and now has nothing to show for his investment in Costa Rica.

How is this possible?  How did the lawyers win?

This scenario was possible because The U.S. citizen made the same mistake many newcomers and old-timers make.  They let lawyers put strangers on all the company paperwork that holds their property.

In many cases, people come to Costa Rica and buy a company from a legal professional where the attorney assigns his or her office staff to the important board of director positions.  The law office’s gardener could be the president, the maid is the secretary, and the messenger is the treasurer. Any one of them or all of them could hold a full power of attorney.

People do this for a variety of reasons. Here are two that top the list:  The legal professional talks them into this kind of arrangement because it expedites their work or they have ulterior motives.   Or the client is trying to hide assets from their home country’s tax authorities, wife, judges, or for other reasons.

The lawyers won because the law gave them the right to transfer the property using the full power of attorney they had in the company holding the property.

Most companies formed in Costa Rica give full power of attorney to the president and sometimes to the secretary and the treasurer.  Usually the power is not restricted in any way and is for use individually versus jointly with someone else.

Articles 1253, 1254, 1255 and 1256 of Costa Rica’s Civil Code regulate powers of attorney.  Mandate is another word used for a power of attorney, defined as a document giving an official instruction or command.


In the case of the U.S. citizen, his property was in a company that he bought from one attorney who used his office staff as the officers.  Later, the man picked up the company from the attorney and gave it to another who put his office staff in control.  

The new group devised and executed the transfer of the U.S. citizen's  properties without his permission.  The motive was money. Millions.

Someone other than the U.S. citizen was in control of his assets. He never had control over them, even though he was always under the impression, he was in control.  He had no stock certificates or company books or any other documents to show he was involved in the firm.

The professionals the U.S. citizen trusted took advantage of him. They turned out to be nothing but sharks.

A.M. Costa Rica not going to name anyone in this case because the lawyers would certainly sue even though the case is fully documented in the courts.

As property values skyrocket in Costa Rica, corruption has spiraled out of control as well.  The glitter of gold is changing this once simple paradise.

          
Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info.  Copyright 2004-2007. Use without permission prohibited.


Some go to prison for stealing property with a pen and paper
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who tried to steal a piece of property has to spend 10 years in prison as well as pay a 10 million-colon (about $19,200) judgment for moral damage and 810,000 colons in costs.

That was the judgment handed down in the  Tribunal de Juicios de San José. The press office of the Poder Judicial confirmed Friday that the Sala III criminal high court confirmed the sentence.

The individual, identified by the last names of Calvo Solano, is the latest to be convicted in a land fraud case. But the sentence was a long time in coming. Calvo, according to the allegations against him, appeared before a notary Oct. 13, 1991, to say that he had purchased a piece of property. In fact, the three owners, foreigners, were out of the country at the time, the Poder Judicial said.

Calvo had the property listed in his name in the Registro Nacional and then sold it 10 months later to a third party.
Feb. 23 another three-judge panel convicted three persons for a string of property frauds. A woman with the last name of Washington, who is a notary, got seven years in prison for fraud.

Also convicted in the Tribunal de Juicio de San José was a man with the name Porras and a businessman with the name Pacheco. Both men were sentenced to nine years.

They, too, had a long wait for a trial. They were arrested in 2000. A number of properties were transferred to a fourth individual who gave critical testimony against his co-conspirators.

The theft of properties took place because the Registro Nacional accepts documents without question from notaries, who have to be lawyers in Costa Rica.

After the sentence was read, the three, who had been on bail, were led away to jail because the judges thought that the sentences would be upheld on review.


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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 45

Costa Rica Expertise
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Violent weekend leaves
at least 16 persons dead


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation has had a violent weekend. Perhaps as many as 16 persons died in vehicle accidents, crimes and other mishaps.

A brand new Jaguar collided with a pole on the Autopista Próspero Fernández Saturday and burst into flames. Dead was the owner,  Jim Medrano Flores, 35. Traffic police said they thought the crash fractured the gasoline tank which allowed fuel to drip on a hot muffler.

In Liberia a man participating in the diversion of bull baiting was gored Sunday and died later at a hospital. The man, Henry Brenes, 37, was participating in the fiestas in Liberia. Among the events was the Costa Rican style of bull fighting where a number of individuals get in the ring and torment a bull.

Saturday night three young men stuck up a bread store or panadería in Barrio Fátima, Heredia, and shot a 61-year-old guard in the chest. The robbers stole the man's gun and some 80,000 colons in cash (*about $154).

The dead man was William Gutiérrez. A short time later investigators arrested three suspects.

At least two men died in workplace accidents, and at least six died in other highway accidents. Early Sunday morning a man died after he was stabbed in the back during an altercation outside a bar in Puntarenas. He was identified as Enrique García, 21.

Arias will meet rectors
in advance of protests


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will meet Tuesday with representatives of the Consejo Nacional de Rectores. The topic will be free trade, amongother topics.

Some of the rectors or university officials are members of the front against the free trade treaty, but Casa Presidencial made it clear that the meeting was not with the front.

Opponents to the treaty have planned a series of new  demonstrations in the country in an effort to derail the process. University students are a large component of such protests.

The Arias administration backs the treaty as do two-thirds of the Asamblea Legislative or 38 lawmakers.

Casa Presidencial has expressed its concern about more social confrontations over the treaty. A march a week ago was very peaceful, but the concern is that frustrated opponents will become more rowdy as a treaty vote nears.

Four are facing trial today
in environmental case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three employees of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and a fourth person will be going on trial today to face allegations that they were constructing a landing area for the Puntarenas ferry without proper permission.

The public employees are two men with the last names of   Serrano and Rodríguez and a woman with the last name of Vázquez. The fourth person, a man, has the last name of  Ocampo.

They face a specific charge of invasion of a protected area because they did not obtain permission from the Secretaría Técnica Ambiental of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía.

Puerto Rican group visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A delegation of buisness people from Puerto Rico visited Costa Rica en route to a trade show in Panamá. They were involved with the Compañía de Comercio y Exportación de Puerto Rico, a public entity there.  The Panamá event is called Expocomer, and it is billed as the biggest trade show in the hemisphere.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 45




Cruiseship tourists receive the benefit of strong protection
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cruiseship passengers who arrived Sunday received security befitting a head of state. The security ministry even had planes in the air.

In addition to the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea, Fuerza Pública officers were on foot, patrolling on bikes and in vehicles. The Policía Turística also was on patrol. The officers covered any part of the town where cruise ship tourists might go, according to Luis Hernández, regional director of the Fuerza Pública in Limón.

Costa Rica took a public relations hit in the wake of a Feb. 21 armed attack on 12 U.S. cruise ship tourists in Limón. The attack made international headlines because one of the attackers died.

Subsequently, Carnival lines, a company that brings thousands of tourists to Limón each year, said it was cutting
the city from its schedule of stops. The economic impact
would be substantial. A lot of vendors earn their living from tourist purchases.

Costa Rican officials prevailed on the line to retain Limón as a stop and promised heavy security for visitors. The minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, Fernando Berrocal, promised strong protection for tourists whenever ships arrive.

The heavy security was not the story Saturday in the tourist area at Avenida 1 and Calle 9 in downtown San José. Officials had met Thursday to install a security council to take back the city streets from the criminals. But no police were in evidence Saturday night around midnight in the section where street robberies are common.

Nor were any officers in evidence on Calle 11 from Avenida 2 to Avenida Central and then to Avenida 1.

However, there were several groups of young men loitering in the area for no obvious legal reason.


Concerns about crime in southern Limón province are topic of meeting
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What officials call the growing crime problem in southern Limón province will bring the top law enforcement administrators there Thursday.

They will hold a 6 p.m. presentation at the Casa de Cultura in Puerto Viejo de Limón,

Scheduled are Fernando Berrocal, the minister of security; Francisco Dall’anese Ruiz, the fiscal general or chief prosecutor of the country; Jorge Rojas Vargas, the director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, and Rolando Soto Jiménez, president of the Camera Nacional de Turismo.

The Poder Judicial said Friday that there is mounting concern over the crimes that take place there against tourists. Specifically mentioned were Puerto Viejo, Cahuita and Manzanillo. Although there were no statistics
given, a Poder Judicial spokesperson said that most crime happens on the weekends.

The tourism chamber will be donating a video system for use by the prosecutors in Bribri so that tourists who have been victims of crimes can be taped for possible use in a future trial. Most tourists decline to file complaints and simply leave the country, said the spokesperson.

The camera setup will be available in Puerto Viejo during the weekends, said officials.

The southern part of Limón province has been considered relatively free of all but petty crime. But like much of Costa Rica, urban criminals are finding a lucrative business in commuting. Thanks to an efficient public bus system, crooks can rob someone and be back home in the Central Valley in a matter of hours. Police protection and citizen security typically is less rigid in the countryside, and there is less chance of being caught.


This saying maintains that anger can result in a setback
El que se enoja pierde
 
“He who gets angry loses.” This dicho is fairly recent, but I think it’s a very good one. How many times, for example, do we encounter drivers who get mad at other motorists, for whatever reason, and put not only their own life but the lives of others on the road in peril with their maniacal maneuvers?
 
Actions of other drivers can indeed often be very annoying and cause one to take chances that place life and limb in jeopardy.  One of these is the guy who’s poking along in an old beat-up cacharpa (wreck) in front of you. But, as soon as on-coming traffic subsides enough for you to pass, the driver steps on the gas pushing his pile of junk to its limits in order to try and prevent you from overtaking him. I personally find this exasperating, and am inclined to press the “pedal to the metal,” as it were, in order to pass this idiot in a cloud of dust and exhaust. But, my annoyance at the other driver’s behavior also sometimes goads me into taking chances that I doubtless should not be taking.
 
This dicho takes on special significance in the world of soccer. If a player gets angry and insults a member of the opposing side, he can receive a penalty known as a yellow card. The accumulation of two of these yellow cards equals a red card, which means that the offending player can be ejected from the game.

Of course the easiest way to get thrown out of a game is by insulting a referee. A player on the Saprissa team, by the name of Centeno, apparently had to learn the hard way that allowing his anger to control his tongue is not always the wisest course. Centeno made a public threat against a referee in a game that Saprissa played with Pérez Zeledón by telling members of the press following the match that if this referee had a problem with him they could ". . . settle it in another kind of arena.” This remark garnered Centeno a two-game suspension.
 
Centeno was given the opportunity to apologize and hacer borrón y cuenta nueva or “turn over a new leaf,” but he refused. Of course the Saprissa management is very upset,

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto



but not with their recalcitrant player. Rather they have accused the International Soccer Association of Central America of acting in bad faith for sanctioning Centeno in the first place. So, we can see just how productive anger can be at resolving disputes.

Proof of the veracity of today’s dicho appears in everyday situations all around us. I live not far from the Paseo de las Flores mall, and there is a rather aggressive young woman who regularly panhandles at the stop light near the entrance to this shopping center. I usually give her some of the small change that we keep in the car for tolls and to tip grocery store bag boys. But one day recently the front-seat ashtray where we keep the change turned out to be empty. I told her regretfully that we didn’t have any change that day.

This infuriated her to no end, and she stormed off amid a flurry of oaths and obscenities. I had begun to notice that other drivers rolled up their windows when they saw her coming, and it was suddenly bluntly and abundantly clear to me exactly why. Now I do the same.
 
I’m sure her anger gave vent to many deep and abiding frustrations, but it also ensured her additional vexation by promoting her loss of future income.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 45

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Case against Oswaldo Villalobos is stronger in documents
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial of Oswaldo Villalobos has not yet removed all the mystery from the operations of the Brothers Villalobos. And a procession of witnesses has been mostly repetitive.

At least some creditors of the Luis Enrique Villalobos investment opportunity have been irked by testimony that said employees of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house who also were investors with Luis Enrique Villalobos got their money back shortly before the investment operation crashed Oct. 14, 2002.

Several former employees of the money exchange house testified to this.

Witnesses were predominantly Costa Rican. They invested relatively small amounts of $10,000 to $15,000, usually on the recommendation of friends. Their testimonies suggested that for them the Luis Enrique Villalobos borrowing operation and the Ofinter money exchange house were a single entity.

One woman,  Odilia Camacho of Heredia, testified Wednesday that she had extensive dealings with Oswaldo Villalobos on the matter of her investment of
$30,000, but it was clear that she could be confusing the two brothers.

Of the witnesses last week, Ricky Martin of San José was the person who had invested the most. The man said he gave $405,000 with Luis Enrique Villalobos while the investment guru still was located in Edificio Shifter downtown. That was in 1994. Since then he received 3 percent a month interest until the payments stopped in 2002.

Although he suffered from depression when the Villalobos operation closed, he said he does not blame the man and thinks he still has the money. Luis Enrique Villalobos is a fugitive.

Martin testified that he knows at least 50 persons who also had given money to Luis Enrique Villalobos. The Villalobos investment list contained at least 6,200 names. Only about 100 are active litigants. Many, like Martin, expect Luis Enrique Villalobos to return and distribute the money they think he has been safeguarding.

The prosecution is trying to tie Oswaldo Villalobos to the investment operation normally associated with his brother.

The sentiment of those observing the proceedings is that the prosecution is using a string of witnesses to generate sympathy with the three-judge panel. The prosecution also is trying to show that the money exchange house and the investment operation, which were in adjacent offices in Mall San Pedro, were considered one business by many persons who put their investment capital there.

Costa Rican trials involve substantially more documentation than do U.S. trials. The Perry Mason concept of witness confrontation is not something that is routine here, although there is a growing trend for more oral argumentation.
The documentation in the Oswaldo Villalobos trial contains evidence that he was closely tied to the investment operation. One document says he was one of only four persons who could accept investments from individuals who did not come with the recommendation of a current investment client. He also figured in a document that outlined steps the brothers would take if they had to shut down the investment business.

Then, too, is the fact that Oswaldo Villalobos closed the doors to his money exchange house at the same time that Luis Enrique Villalobos suspended his investment operation. Defense lawyers will have to explain why that happened if there was no connection between the two businesses.

Other evidence showed Oswaldo Villalobos making deposits of money that had been obtained by the investment operation.

Throughout the trial there has been no indication of any kind of business that would have justified the 3 percent a month returns Luis Enrique Villalobos gave his investors.

However, prosecution witnesses from the Judicial Investigating Organization admitted that they failed to raid some key administrative offices rented by one or more of the Villalobos brothers in Mall San Pedro. That raid was July 4, 2002, and led to a judicial freeze placed on some of the Villalobos bank accounts.

The investigators and auditors who testified also admitted that they were unable to crack the password protection on the computer disks that they did confiscate.

Three investigators testified that they followed three Canadians from Juan Santamaría airport eventually to the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house six months before the raid. 

However, they had no idea what the men did when they went inside. The identity of one of the men is
unknown. But two others subsequently admitted cocaine smuggling charges in Canadian courts. There was no explanation why the investigators here did not simply ask the men after they had been jailed.

It was Feb. 26 when Luis Guillermo Angulo, who worked as a manager of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house, testified about how employees had their investments returned shortly before the operation folded.

He said that even after the July 4, 2002 raid, investors in the Luis Enrique Villalobos enterprise who worked in the money exchange house were refunded their investments even though few investors outside the office got their money back.  Defense lawyers will have to show why this happened if the two enterprises were separate.

This took place from July to mid-October of 2002. Other witnesses testified that they were assured by persons at both the investment business and the money exchange house that no collapse was imminent, some even a few days before the businesses folded.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 45



Mexican kart racers cross the finish line one and two at the Guácima Autódromo
Two young Mexican drivers take top spots in Guácima kart racing event
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drivers from México finished first and second at a weekend kart racing event at the Autódromo La Guácima.

In first place was José Antonio Saro. Second place went to Michael Dorrbecker. The event is for younger drivers between 13 and 19. Saro is just 13.

The winners turned out to be those who could stay out of trouble. Crashes were common.
The weekend event got off with a rough start with Costa Rican Esteban Martín involved in a collision with Sebastián Calero.

Calero's vehicle flipped through the air and he never finished.

Leader Roberto Dalton of Guatemala dominated the final but shortly before the checkered flag Dalton's vehicle collided with that of Michael Tejeda of the Dominican Republic, allowing Saro to win. Dalton finished third.


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