A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Thursday, April 29, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 84
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/Vance Richardson
Wake up.

Seymor hangs around San Martin south of Dominical among his many girlfriends. That’s on the central Pacific coast.

This type of monkey is called a congo in Spanish, but the English word is howler. That’s a correct description of what awakens you at 3:30 a.m. with a sound right out of a scary B movie.

Time period is now a month
New judge rules Villalobos should stay in jail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho will remain in preventative detention for one more month, a judge has decided.

The man who is one half of the defunct high-interest operation known as "The Brothers," is the subject of a judge’s decision handed down Tuesday morning.

A spokesman for the Poder Judicial still was in the dark about the decision Wednesday at the close of business, but Jack Caine, an investor who has made a habit of obtaining documents and posting them on the Web site, managed to secure it.

In it, a judge new to the case agrees that Oswaldo Villalobos represents a flight risk and should be jailed even though his lawyer argued that being in prison aggravated a lung illness. 

The judge is Damaris Vargas Bonilla, who is new to the Villalobos case. In her decision she said that sufficient elements exist to presume that Villalobos committed the illegal acts alleged by the prosecutor. In her decision she said that these allegations include participating in illegal activities of obtaining funds and using a money exchange house to hide the illicit actions.

She said that the penalty for the allegations made against Villalobos was 20 years in prison.

Ms. Vargas, described by judicial workers as an experienced criminal judge, repeated some of the same opinions voiced by Francisco Sánchez Fallas when he removed Villalobos from house arrest and sent him to jail three months ago. She said Villalobos had sufficient money and international contacts to flee or to hide evidence or to obstruct justice, if freed. She also made a reference to illicit commercial relations with international mafia organizations which was not explained further.

Villalobos’ lawyer, Edgardo García Villalobos, blamed smokers at the prison for the worsening condition of his client’s lungs. He said his client had contracted pneumonia while jailed. The lawyer asked for a hearing to present evidence about his client’s health.

That request for a hearing was denied by the judge, but she did tell prison officials to put Villalobos where his health would not be endangered.

The judge said she recognized that rights guarantees demand that the principal of innocence be maintained and that depriving a person of his liberty as a preventative measure ought to be used only when there is evidence that the individual has committed the crime alleged and imprisonment insures discovering the truth. This case is no exception, she said, as she ordered imprisonment until May 27.

Villalobos went to jail in November 2002. He has been under detention since then, although much of the time he was in a clinic and under house arrest.

Judge Sánchez ruled in April 2003 that the Villalobos case was "complex’ under Costa Rican law, and that gave the prosecutor, Walter Espinoza, the option of jailing suspects for periods longer than would be allowed for investigations that are not ruled "complex."

The Villalobos investment operation had more than 6,600 accounts, and participants received around 3 per cent per month as interest. Some 600 of those creditors have joined the case. 

The other brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, announced by fax  Oct. 14, 2002, that he was closing down the Mall San Pedro operation. Then he vanished. Prosecutors raided the offices July 4, 2002, and froze local bank accounts.

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MOPT ethics code
unveiled today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workers at the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes will have a new, tougher code of ethics today that will urge them to be efficient, honest, courteous, respectful and caring of pubic property in their charge.

That was the word Wednesday from Javier Chaves Bolaños, the minister, who met with his employees at the Teatro Melico Salazar downtown for a seminar on ethics.

Chaves said that since he got the job at the start of the Abel Pacheco administration he has been working to strengthen the institutional culture of the ministry. The ministry spends a lot of money on roads, bridges and other projects, so there is considerable opportunity for personal enterprise.

The Policía de Tránsito are within the ministry, too, and traffic police have been known to take bribes. Chaves acknowledged this in his talk as he listed a number of situations, from purchasing to traffic stops, where money might change hands illegally.

The minister said that he has been working with internal organization and the Contraloría General de la República to eliminate vices such as the sale of public services. He said he insisted on total transparency in contracting processes.

"This doesn’t mean that we have a ministry clean, uncorrupt and without problems," said Chaves, "but it signifies that we have taken concrete steps to improve the management of MOPT," as the agency is known.

Chaves asked that citizens come forward to make complaints of any acts of corruption within the ministry. He said complaints should be filed with the Auditoría General of the ministry at 523-2000 Ext. 2639 or 222-0464 or via e-mail ageneral@mopt.go.cr. there also is an online complaint form for complaints about basic services: www.mopt.go.cr.

The ministry supervises virtually all transportation in Costa Rica, from roads to airports to boat docks.

Chaves also said that today bids will be advertised to replace every traffic light in the country.

Jesús González Pérez, a Spanish law professor, was the invited speaker on the topic of ethics. The session was the second annual ethics workshop for the ministry.

Predator suspects
held in robberies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers who preyed on the elderly have been active all over Costa Rica, and now investigators have detained two persons.

The pair, a man names Salazar, 30, was arrested in San Vincente de Tres Rios, and a woman named Acosta, 21, was detained in Concepción de Alajuelita.

The gang that tricked old people and then robbed and beat them has been active for at least two years. Agents believe that the gang is made up of three persons.

The gang used a car and tried to meet and become friendly with older adults in bus stops and on the sidewalk. They would eventually offer the seniors a ride in their car, which is where the robberies took place.  Sometimes the crooks would say they were messengers from the local priest.

The robberies were extra brutal. Victims were beaten and sometimes thrown from the moving vehicle to suffer serious injuries, said agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

A 25-year-old man, the presumed leader of the group, still is being sought.

Crimes took place in Sarapiquí, Upala, Liberia, Nicoya, Cartago, Tres Rios, Heredia and Alajuela, agents said, adding that they think some crimes are unreported. They said victims can call these numbers: 437-0340 or 437-0342.

British woman, 30,
arrested at airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another person has been detained at Juan Santamaría Airport as a suspected drug mule.

This time the arrested individual is a 30-year-old British woman with the last name of Hoskari, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. She becomes the 15th person arrested at the airport this year for such offenses.

A spokesman for the Policía de Control de Drogas said the woman carried 668 grams of cocaine inside her body. The woman entered the country April 20 and was about to leave Tuesday for a return trip to Britain through Miami, officials said.

Nicoya man murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A neighbor Wednesday morning found a Nicoya man bound hand and foot and dead from a knife wound to the chest. The dead man was identified as 64-year-old Augusto Matarrita Carazo, who lived in Barrio San Martin in the Guanacaste town.

Investigators said they thought robbery was a motive because two televisions and a stereo were missing.

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Colombia cited as haven for counterfeiting U.S. bills
Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The amount of counterfeit U.S. currency circulating worldwide is relatively small but remains a U.S. law enforcement priority and requires close cooperation with other governments, a Secret Service official says.

"Because of the dollar's stability and value, as well as its widespread use overseas, it continues to be a target for transnational counterfeit activity," Bruce Townsend, Secret Service deputy assistant director, said Wednesday in testimony before a panel of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Secret Service, once part of the Treasury Department but moved in March 2003 to the Department of Homeland Security, carries out investigations of counterfeiting and other financial crimes.

Townsend testified two days after Treasury unveiled the design of a new $50 bill as part of an effort to add security features to U.S. bank notes and thwart increasingly sophisticated methods of counterfeiting.

He told the Financial Service Subcommittee that about $670 billion in genuine U.S. currency is currently in circulation and as much as two-thirds of that is circulated overseas. According to Secret Service statistics, U.S. and other law enforcement agencies seized about $63 million in counterfeit U.S. currency in 2003, approximately $10.7 million in the United States. More than $31 million in counterfeit money was seized in Colombia alone.

Although Colombia is the single largest producer of counterfeit U.S. currency, Townsend said, cooperation between U.S. and Colombian authorities has yielded numerous successes, including a 37-percent reduction in Colombian-produced counterfeit currency passed in the United States, from approximately $15.3 million passed in 2002 to approximately $9.6 million 2003.

"This collaboration with the Colombian government has been a success story," he said.

But he warned that counterfeiting could increase throughout Latin America as Colombian organized crime networks take advantage of opportunities associated with "dollarization," in which a country adopts the U.S. dollar as its own currency. To illustrate, he said that in December 2001 the Secret Service detected more than $40 million in counterfeit U.S. currency in Colombia intended for distribution in Ecuador, a country with a dollarized economy. 

Townsend also warned that counterfeiting of U.S. currency could increase in former Soviet bloc countries in conjunction with the growth of organized crime networks.

He cited Bulgaria as one of the countries that is experiencing growth in organized crime activities including narcotics trafficking, illegal arms distribution, and the production and distribution of counterfeit U.S. currency. Bulgaria is also one of the countries working closely with the United States to counter those activities, according to Townsend.

Mexican murder case being appealed here
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican officials appeared Tuesday before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights here to defend the murder conviction of a Mexican-American man activists say was coerced to confess. 

The man, Alfonso Martin del Campos, was jailed in Mexico in 1992 and is serving a 50-year sentence for the murder of his sister and his brother-in-law. 

But international human rights groups say Campo's conviction was based almost solely on his 

confession which they say had been coerced.

Four U.S. congressman have sent a letter to Mexican President Vicente Fox urging him to release Campos. Campos was born in the United States and has dual Mexican-U.S. citizenship. 

This was the first case Mexico has argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court was created in the late 1970's by members of the Organization of American States to protect human rights in Latin America. 

The court has no formal enforcement powers, although Mexico has indicated it will comply.

Unhappy Peruvians beat a town mayor to death over corruption
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Perú — Peruvian authorities have regained control of a southern town where residents beat their mayor to death and took three city officials hostage Monday.

Officials said some 220 police officers had been sent to restore order to the town of Ilave, about 700 kms. (420miles) south of here near Lake Titicaca.

Peruvian Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi 

said thousands of protesters had congregated again in the center of town late Monday. 

The mostly indigenous Aymara people of the town have been protesting local government corruption for weeks, and broke into a town council meeting Monday to seize Mayor Cirilo Fernando Robles. The mob dragged him through the streets and beat him to death after his repeated refusals to resign because of alleged corruption. Residents had also blocked off bridges leading to the area. The fate of three city officials taken hostage is not known. The residents also attacked a local police station.

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Cañas field trip among conference highlights
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Experts who attend an agricultural conference in Turrialba over the weekend also will take a field trip to the town of Cañas in Guanacaste where conference participants will observe, first-hand, water management and land distribution practices.

The Costa Rica event is named after the late Henry A. Wallace,  a U.S. vice president, who held positions as U.S. secretary of commerce and secretary of agriculture, and ran for U.S. president in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket.

Wallace proposed the creation of an inter-American institution for tropical agriculture that would benefit the Western Hemisphere. His idea led to the forming of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center. The center is called CATIE after its name in Spanish: Centro Agronomo Tropical de Investigation y Enseñanza. It is based in Turrialba.

The weekend conference, which is co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will cover water management, agricultural and food security issues in the Western Hemisphere.

The center says it receives financial and other support from the United States, Japan, from countries in Latin America and Europe, and from international financial institutions, which collaborate with the organization on research and education projects.

The Turrialba conference precedes another event to be held in Costa Rica May 10-11, which is co-hosted by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. That event will focus on using science and technology to improve productivity in agriculture in Latin America.

Veneman said that the event in San José is a follow-up to a conference held last June in Sacramento, Calif., on agricultural science.

Money laundering distorts economies, development bank says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Money laundering, described as the processing of criminal proceeds to disguise their illegal origin, is having a corrosive effect on the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Inter-American Development Bank 

The development bank said money-laundering transactions in the region are estimated at between 2.5 and 6.3 percent of the gross domestic product. Worldwide, money laundering is a $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion business per year, accounting for between 2 and 5 percent of global gross domestic product, the development bank said in a new study to be released later in 2004.

The negative effects of money laundering include undermining the private sector and jeopardizing the "integrity of financial markets as well as countries' reputations," the development bank said. In addition, the development bank noted that money laundering causes the loss of tax revenue and "distorts" economies.

The development bank said Latin America is regarded as "perhaps the most active emerging region with money laundering through both bank and non-bank channels." In order to fight money laundering, the development bank said, financial systems need to be strengthened in terms of prevention and enforcement through cooperation.

One way this is being done is through compliance with recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, an 

intergovernmental body based in Paris whose purpose is to develop and promote policies at the national and international level to combat money laundering. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay are complying with most key recommendations, the development bank said. The United States is one of 33 countries belonging to the task force.

The development bank said multilateral organizations have begun work on strengthening financial supervision, training, and technical assistance in order to better prevent and monitor money laundering. These programs seek to create legal sanctions against money laundering and improve enforcement capabilities, said the development bank. The development bank is working with the Organization of American States to fight money laundering.

For its part, the U.S. government said in its "National Money Laundering Strategy" report for 2003 that combating money laundering and terrorist financing is an "ongoing campaign" that forms a critical part of U.S. national security. In the foreword to that report, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that the techniques criminals and terrorists use to exploit the financial system continue to "evolve."

In response to the threat, the two officials said the United States is resolved to "remain vigilant and proactive" in its efforts "to disrupt and dismantle organized criminal and terrorist activities" that threaten the U.S. financial system.

Jo Stuart
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