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(506) 223-1327                Published Tuesday, May 1, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 85          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Arias to report on his first year at divided assembly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is a holiday for nearly everyone except the politicians.

At the assembly complex on Avenida Central President Óscar Arias Sánchez will be giving a talk outlining his accomplishments for his first year in office and his administration's goals for the next year. This is a tradition on the first day the Asamblea Legislativa begins.

According to Article 116 of the Costa Rican Constitution,  "The Legislative Assembly shall meet each year on the first day of May, even if it has not been convoked, and its regular-session term shall last six months, divided into two periods: from the first day of May to the 31st day of July and from the first day of September to the 30th day of November.

In fact, the legislature meets all the time. Those periods not covered by the constitutional mandate are called extraordinary sessions, and it is then when the executive branch sets the agenda.

Arias had hoped to give his speech this year in the wake of the passage of the free trade treaty. This treaty is the cornerstone of his political platform. Administration aides had hoped the treaty would be ratified in February.
Now the document is mired in a potential referendum and constitutional court appeals and a series of delaying tactics by opponents. This despite the success by the Arias administration in rounding up 38 votes, a two-thirds majority, to ratify the treaty.

This five-party coalition is being tested today as the assembly elects new officers for the new term. Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández of Liberación Nacional wants to repeat as assembly president. But members of other parties who voted for him a year ago are playing hard to get.

Pacheco needs 29 votes, a majority, for reelection, but his party and two allies can only come up with 28. An unexpected coalition of unlikely bedfellows, the Partido Acción Ciudadana, the Movimiento Libertario and the Unidad Social Cristiana, has assembled 28 votes. So the leadership of the next assembly could be in the hands of representatives of two minor parties.

Still, Rodrigo Arias, the minister  of the Presidencia  and brother to the president, is adept at arm twisting. If he is unsuccessful, Arias might be talking to a chamber over which his party has lost control.

The president will speak for about 30 minutes at 3 p.m. The talk will be televised.

Police seek help from public on man gunned down in traffic Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are asking for help in solving the case of what appears to be a contract killing Saturday on a busy metropolitan area street.

The victim was Nehru Trace Haughton, 21, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. The man hailed a taxi Saturday afternoon in San Pedro. The taxi got less than a mile when it stopped at a traffic light.

That's when a man in a car that was following got out, walked up to the taxi and pumped six bullets into the passenger, The taxi driver fled. The gunman returned to the car and drove away.

The scene was in what is called the old El Gallito traffic circle in Guadalupe, less than 100 feet from Hipermás.
Haughton mug shot
Nehru Trace Haughton
The taxi was headed to  Santo Domingo de Heredia, said investigators.

The victim had been in the country only 22 days, according to investigators. He came from Jamaica.

His passport had been issued March 31, and on it he listed his occupation as chef.
Agents know little about the man, and they are seeking the public to fill in some details. They ask that anyone with information call 295-3311 or 295-3639. The man has about $1,700 on him

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 85

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Lawyers cite technicality
as reason to discard evidence

By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

The defense invoked a technicality to start its response to the criminal charges faced by Oswaldo Villalobos upon completion of arguments against the civil claims.

According to lead defense lawyer Federico Campos, Statute 7425, which governs search and seizure, was not cited correctly in the original search warrant. This would invalidate the confiscation of the thousands of pages of documents upon which the case is based. 

Also, the judge “only went half way” in allowing seizure but did not authorize an examination of the documents before the judicial department investigators began to study the files, Campos claimed.

Campos also suggested that the seizure of others’ documents, particularly those belonging to Oswaldo Villalobos’ daughter Ana Leonor, were not covered in the search warrant. Among her files and legal books appeared the original copy of the “Alternative Emergency System” which had instructions for how to manage the financial operation in the absence of Oswaldo and Luis Enrique Villalobos. Both Campos and, earlier, Rodrigo Araya in defense of the civil case referred to that document only as “S.A.E.,” using the Spanish initials.

The most serious money-laundering charges are based on alleged deposits made by members of a Canadian drug-smuggling gang led by Bertrand St. Onge. Campos claimed St. Onge’s wife Sandra Kirwin never mentioned investing with the Villalobos brothers in the course of her plea bargain. Only a prosecutor by the name of Richardson appears on the record indicating that the St. Onge associates had money in the Villalobos high-interest investment operation.

Campos maintained that to accept the money possibly from drug trafficking didn’t connect Oswaldo Villalobos to the crime, especially since none of the individuals in question had been convicted at the time. The amount of drug money shrank from early estimates of $500,000 to the $19,500 investigators were able to find. St. Onge had an account with the Banco Nacional and nobody is charging them with money laundering, Campos complained.

Two jailed associates of St. Onge, Richard Rivers and Norman Denault, had been trailed to the Mall San Pedro offices. According to judicial investigators, Rivers and Denault only entered the Ofinter S.A. exchange offices next to the offices of Luis Enrique Villalobos where money was received and were not proven to have had any contact with the lending operation. Campos suggested that the Canadians were nothing more than sex tourists, as they went direct from the mall to a downtown hotel well-known as a place for foreign men to meet prostitutes.

Araya summarized his presentation of Friday before making further arguments against the civil claims. He had only spoken for five minutes when a brief electrical outage caused the digital court recording system to reboot and produced a substantial delay.

Araya spent considerable effort to show that the checks Luis Enrique handed out to investors were a valid receipt even if they could not be cashed or deposited. “It makes no sense that Luis Enrique would have all the money in that account as he had to invest it,” he said.

The operation was less than fraudulent in that Luis Enrique tried to reorganize after the July 4, 2002 raid that eventually brought about the end of the investment operation. Several months’ interest was paid, but the freezing of his bank accounts and damage to his reputation destroyed the operation. A swindler would have packed up at the first chance, said Araya.

As for the suggestion that the operation took advantage of foreigners with little knowledge of the legal system, Araya said that the residents “are no dummies” and many had been in Costa Rica for years.

Araya asked that most of the civil cases be dropped, including those of the fraud prosecution office. In contrast to most instances where claimants dropped out voluntarily, he asked for court costs.

Guard shoots Escazú intruder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A private security guard saw a man trying to get into the home of a U.S. citizen in Escazú and shot him in the buttocks, said the Fuerza Pública.

The wounded man as identified as  Alberto Alvarez Mena. He went to Hospital San Juan de Dios after the 2:18 a. m. Saturday shooting.

The occupant of the home in San Rafael de Escazú was identified as Patrick Phillips. No one was home at the time of the shooting, police said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 85

rock and roll pollo

Officers handcuff drug suspect from Panamá after his arrest Saturday near Juan Santamaría airport.
dramatic drug arrest
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

Drug police make dramatic arrest near international airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police grabbed a man from Panamá this weekend as he drove near Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela. Investigators said they found 30 kilos of cocaine in his vehicle.

The man was identified by the last names of  Castañeda Vallart. He is 35, agents said.

Agents of the Policía de Control de Drogas said they found two briefcases inside the car. Each contained cocaine, they added.
The man entered the country April 22, agents said. Although they gave few detailed, it was clear that the many had been under observation for some time.

Castañeda Vallart was remanded to jail for three months while the investigation continues, agents said.

Sunday anti-drug police made another arrest. A Costa Rican woman with the last name of Monterroso was found to be carrying 89 packages of cocaine in her stomach, said the Policía de Control de Drogas.

The 23-year-old woman was bound for Spain, they added.

Supermarket confrontation leads to death of handcuffed man
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The case began with the theft of a bottle of wine. When it was over, a naked man lay dead on the supermarket floor and a police officer was in jail.

This happened Saturday afternoon at the Automercado supermarket in central San José

Two security guards said they caught Eberth Ovando Ovando in the act of steal wine. They said they handcuffed him and put him in a storeroom to await the arrival of police.

What happened next is in dispute. The security guards, identified by the last names of  Amador Castillo and León González said that Ovando injured himself by throwing himself violently at the walls in the storeroom
At some point, one of the guards decided to strip the man and a Fuerza Pública officer with the last name of Solano arrived on the scene. He later radioed to his headquarters that the man was behaving aggressively and had suffered blows.

The best guess, and the theory of prosecutors, is that one or all of the men decided to administer street justice to Ovando, who appears to have had a reputation as a petty criminal.

Ovando ended up dead after suffering blows to the face and body.

The  Juzgado Penal Extraordinario de Goicoechea put Solano in preventative detention for four months and ordered the security guards to keep themselves available, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 85

Cohen murder trial will feature two witnesses via video
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two witnesses from the United States will testify via video conferencing Wednesday in the Robert Cohen murder trial that is taking place in the Tribunal de Juicio de Limón.

The witnesses, two women, will be sitting in the Costa Rican consulate in Florida, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial. There were not identified, but Cohen had  businsss and personal connections with Florida.

Cohen, 64 at the time of his death, was a developer from Granada, Nicaragua, who was found at the Río Chirripó. The prosecution said that he was abducted, beaten and murdered as a lesson for losing $7 million in a business trasaction.
At the time of his death he was involved in a major development in Grenada.

Two persons are facing trial now. They are a man named Luis Alonso Douglas Mejía of Honduras and a woman with the last names of Chacón Sánchez, said the Poder Judicial.

A third man is a fugitive and being sought internationally. There is the seggestion that a fourth person, the one who lost the money, was the originator of the plot.

Cohen was staying at the  Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú when he was picked up by individuals in a car March 6, 2005, about 7 a.m. His body turned up under a bridge March 10, 2005. Investigators said he had been tortured before being killed.

Port in Honduras part of U.S. test against container bombs
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Energy has announced that tests are under way in Honduras and Pakistan to scan shipping containers for nuclear or radiological materials before they are allowed to depart for the United States.

The tests represent the initial phase of the Secure Freight Initiative announced Dec. 7, which involves the deployment of nuclear detection devices to six foreign ports.

“Terrorists and criminals use global shipping networks, and we are deploying multiple layers of advanced technology to counter their tactics,” said Michael Jackson, Homeland Security deputy secretary  “Secure Freight creates a global nuclear detection network with shippers, carriers and foreign allies, to head off the worst possible form of attack, a nuclear or dirty bomb on our soil. We are deeply grateful to the governments of Honduras and Pakistan, as well as our other Secure Freight Initiative partners, for their strong leadership on this effort.”

Testing in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, started April 2. Tests in Port Qasim, Pakistan, the first port to participate in Secure Freight Initiative, began in March. Four other
Secure Freight Initiative ports are expected to initiate tests this year. They are: Southampton in the United Kingdom; Salalah in Oman; Port of Singapore; and the Gamman Terminal at Port Busan in Korea.

Data gathered from overseas scanning of U.S. bound containers will be transmitted in near real-time to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working in overseas ports and to the National Targeting Center. The data will be combined with other risk assessment information to improve analysis, targeting and scrutiny of high-risk containers.

All alarms from radiation detection equipment will be resolved locally, and protocols are being developed with host governments that may include instructing carriers not to load a container until the risk is fully resolved, said the departmetnsin a release.

The two departments will contribute roughly $60 million to the Secure Freight Initiative for the installation of radiation detection devices and communications infrastructure that transmit data back to the United States.

The Department of Energy will invest approximately $4 million in Puerto Cortes for detection devices and an integrated communications system.

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