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These stories were published Wednesday, April 17, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 75
Jo Stuart
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He paid them to steal his car, agents report
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men and two women face investigation because they conducted an elaborate scam to fleece a man who wanted to ship his automobile to the United States, said agents.

The four have been arrested, and the vehicle, a Toyota Four Runner was recovered. 

In effect, agents allege that the four got the man to pay to have them steal his car. The man involved is a Costa Rican with U.S. citizenship.

The man wanted to ship his vehicle to Los Angeles, Calif., and somehow he came in contact with two women who said they could get the job done for $2,500. He agreed to pay them the money, and they contacted him several days later, saying all was prepared, said agents.

The man drove the vehicle to the Port of Caldera where he encountered two men who said they were employees of the company that would transport the car. They said they 

would place the car in a warehouse to await loading.

The man took advantage of the shipping by placing in the vehicle some personal items with a value of about $5,000, said investigators.

Last week investigators managed to identify the two women they said were involved in the scheme. They arrrested Wednesday a 58-year-old woman with the last names of Quesada Oviedo and a 34-year-old woman with the last names of Castro Quiros. Agents said they are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Police the next day then tracked the two male suspects to a home in Liberia where they reported they found the vehicle and some of the personal items. The two men finally were located Tuesday.

The two men arrested Tuesday at 5 a.m. in San Miguel Higuito and La Trinidad de Moravia were identified by the last names as Salazar Ramírez and Díaz Alvarado. 

Tax plan prompting two fears among expats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An overhaul of Costa Rica’s tax system has expats worried about two problems even though the details of the plan are not yet set

Two major fears have emerged. One concern is paying a double tax on money earned outside Costa Rica. The Costa Rican proposal announced a week ago would tax income from whatever source. The idea is to catch income that Costa Ricans earn abroad. But the measure also would snag income of expats.

The second concern has to do with the transparency of the tax process. In order to enforce any overseas tax measure, Costa Rican officials would have to have access to income and banking records in the United States, Canada and in whatever other countries expats hold accounts.

Such exchange of information is now done widely among the states and the federal government in the United States. In fact, state taxing authorities frequently get computer data files to make sure their residents have declared all the taxes they should.

Providing such information to tax officials here raises security issues. Local officials would learn which foreign resident here had extensive holdings elsewhere in stocks, property and bank accounts. The concern is that such information might assist kidnappers and extortionists here in selecting their targets.

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica notes that personal income in Costa Rica is taxed at 10 percent for monthly incomes from $770 to $1,156 at the current rate of exchange (that’s from 270,000 to 405,800 colons). The tax is 15 percent over 405,800 per month, according to an association publication.

On a monthly retirement income of $3,000 (1,053,000 colons), a foreign resident could end up paying $392 (137,660 colons) in monthly tax. The resident pays nothing here now because the income is not taxed in Costa Rica if it comes from outside the country.

Costa Rican officials have promised that some consideration will be made for taxes paid in the country where the money originates and that a number of deductions will be allowed.

The tax proposal was put together by six former ministers of hacienda, the tax-collecting agency, under the supervision of the current minister Alberto Dent. The proposals have been delivered to the National Assembly in a 400-plus page book. The assembly may accept, reject, change or ignore the proposals.

Costa Rica needs the money because it has continually spent more than it took in over the last two decades, and tax collecting is not efficient.

The tax proposal is supported by both the outgoing president, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, and incoming president Abel Pacheco. It also calls for a value-added tax to be levied on various financial transactions that are not taxed now.

Not everyone in government is happy with the plan. And some politically connected Costa Ricans believe that the government should first work to eliminate corruption and poor tax collecting, particularly in the area of customs, which a study says Ticos believe is the country’s most corrupt institution.

Some of the emphasis on taxes here is being encouraged by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group that has as its members the top 30 developed nations in the world. 

This group promotes "the exchange of information between tax authorities as the best way of fighting non-compliance with the tax laws in an increasingly borderless world," according to the organizations web site: http://www.oecd.org.

The group also promotes a value-added tax as a way to obtain more money for governments. The group encourages tax treaties among its members and the other countries in the world as well as action against those countries it sees as tax havens.

For example, the group just reached agreement with the nearby tax haven country of Belize, which "has made a commitment to improve the transparency of its tax and regulatory systems and establish effective exchange of information for tax matters with OECD countries by 31 December 2005," said the group’s Web site.

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U.S. Supreme Court defends 'virtual' child porn
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
with A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON. D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday that part of a law designed to prevent child pornography was overbroad and unconstitutional.

Six members of the court supported the decision. Sandra Day O’Conner came down on both sides of the case. And two justices dissented.

The case involved the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 which prohibited, among other things, pornographic images made using actual children but also "any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture" that "is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct."

That part of the law was challenged by the Free Speech Coalition, a creation of an adult-entertainment trade association, which said that the phrase "or appears to be" is overbroad, vague and chills works that are protected by the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

A trial court upheld the law. But the Ninth Circuit appeals court said the pornography act was overbroad because it bans materials that are neither obscene nor produced by the exploitation of real children, which are two key elements for the law.

The federal government argued that there was value in prohibiting even computer-generated child pornography that does not involve real children. 

But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said in the majority opinion that "The argument that virtual child pornography whets pedophiles' appetites and encourages them to engage in illegal conduct is unavailing because the mere tendency of speech to encourage unlawful acts is not a sufficient reason for banning it"

Kennedy said the law would call into question legitimate educational and artistic depictions of teen sex, such as in classic paintings, books, films, and plays by Shakespeare. 

For the dissenting justices, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that modern computer-generated images are indistinguishable from images of actual children having sex, which are illegal. He also wrote that the aim of ensuring child pornography laws are enforced is a compelling one. 

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said he is disappointed with the high courts decision, adding that it will make the Justice Department fight against child pornography more difficult. 

But Ashcroft said he will not be deterred from protecting children from pornographers. He promised to work with Congress on new laws that will withstand a Supreme Court challenge. 

White House denies
U.S. aided coup try

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. officials explicitly told Venezuelan opposition leaders Washington would not support a coup against President Hugo Chavez, said a White House spokesman.

The White House also said Tuesday that Venezuela's political situation should be resolved peacefully, democratically and constitutionally by its own people. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer spoke to reporters after The New York Times reported Tuesday morning that high U.S. officials had actively encouraged the plotters.

Several Internet publications have said the United States provided assistance to the plotters, including access to Navy and military communication intercepts. A Washington-based intelligence critic also said the United States used bases in Colombia to support the coup.

President Chavez was restored to power Sunday after a two-day military coup. He is calling for national reconciliation. He has met with numerous representatives to start a national dialogue.

The Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, met Tuesday with Chavez to discuss the latest political developments and how the OAS can help strengthen Venezuela's democracy.

In Washington, Senate Democrats are criticizing the Bush Administration for its handling of the Venezuelan situation, saying officials should have moved more quickly to denounce the brief ouster. The administration had blamed Chavez for creating the conditions which lead to his short-lived ouster.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is citing Venezuela's "volatile political and security situation" in a new warning against travel there by U.S. citizens.  U.S. Embassy personnel in non-emergency positions, and family members, have also been given permission to leave.

The State Department says there have been reports of attacks on U.S. citizens, and it warns that looting and violent clashes could occur at any time.

The ouster of President Chavez followed a general strike in support of dissident workers at Venezuela's state-run oil company. The workers walked off the job to demand the resignation of board members Chavez appointed in February.

Venezuela is the world's fourth leading oil exporter, pumping more than two-point-four-million barrels daily. The country ships nearly one-million barrels to the United States each day.

Government officials say businessman Pedro Carmona, who briefly claimed the presidency, will face charges of rebellion. He is now under house arrest. 

Jamaican cabinet
gets a shuffling

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The prime minister has re-shuffled his cabinet following the resignation of Minister of Water and Housing Karl Blythe. 

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson Monday named Donald Buchanan, formerly the Minister of Labor and Social Security, to replace Blythe. Deputy Transport Minister Dean Peart will replace Buchanan, and Fenton Ferguson will move from the agriculture ministry to fill Peart's former position. 

Blythe resigned last week following reports of irregularities in the financing of a national housing program.
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Child-abduction case
figure to fight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen arrested last Dec. 12 on a Stateside child abduction charge has now decided to fight his extradition.

The man, Michael W. Louis still is in San Sebastian prison but he has retained lawyers of the North American Consul for Justice, a San José organization that tries to help men in such legal difficulties.

That was the word Tuesday from Ralph Stumbo, who founded the organization because he also is involved in a child custody dispute.

Stumbo said that at a penal court hearing for Louis Monday, the organization’s lawyers presented themselves to be accepted by the court as the man’s legal representation.

In addition, the lawyers have filed a motion for help from the Costa Rican Supreme Court, claiming that the man has been held illegally because he has not violated any Costa Rica laws, said Stumbo.

Louis, a lawyer, is from Springfield, Ill., and he brought his two daughters, 6 and 8, to Costa Rica Oct. 19 without the consent of his wife, who has custody, the U.S. federal government charges. The pair are separated, and Louis has visitation rights. 

Former president
of Guatemala dies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala —  The family of former Guatemalan President Ramiro de Leon Carpio says he has died. The cause of death is unknown, but members of his family say he may have succumbed while in a diabetic coma. He was 60 years old. 

The body of de Leon Carpio was found Tuesday in his Miami apartment. Family members had asked authorities to check on him after they were unable to reach him for several days. His family says he traveled to Florida last week to attend various meetings. 

Guatemala's Congress named de Leon Carpio president in 1993. The previous leader, Jorge Serrano, fled the country after trying to dissolve Congress and the Supreme Court. 

De Leon Carpio made significant progress in boosting human rights in Guatemala and his government signed several accords with rebels. 

His successor, Alvaro Arzu, became Guatemala's leader in 1996 and signed peace accords later that year that ended more than 30 years of civil war in Guatemala. 

Last month, de Leon Carpio withdrew from the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front party, saying he was concerned by charges of government corruption. Guatemala's President Alfonso Portillo has announced three days of national mourning for Mr. de Leon Carpio. 

Pastrana adds voice
to flexiblity in aid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian President Andres Pastrana is urging the U.S. Congress to let his government use more than $1 billion in U.S. anti-drug aid to fight armed leftist rebels. 

President Pastrana issued his call Monday in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post newspaper. Pastrana is preparing to meet with President Bush and U.S. lawmakers in Washington later this week for talks on drug trafficking and terrorism. 

Pastrana said three years of negotiations with Colombian rebels have not brought an end to the country's 38-year civil war, which pits the insurgents against the government and a right-wing paramilitary group.

The Colombian leader also said the rebels are inflicting damage and death everyday in Colombia and that his country needs more U.S. intelligence assistance to prevent new acts of terror. 

In February, President Pastrana ended peace talks with his nation's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Since then, rebel attacks have increased throughout the country. In recent weeks, several senior Bush administration and military officials have been urging the U.S. Congress to lift the legal barriers that prevent Colombia from using U.S. anti-narcotics aid to fight rebels. 

Some U.S. lawmakers, however, fear a policy shift could lead to greater U.S. involvement in Colombia's civil war, which has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade alone. 

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