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These stories were published Monday, May 17, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 96
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Victims have right to express views
Landmark decision due in property fraud cases
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

There may be good news for those who have lost their property or other assets to fraud in Costa Rica. 

Believe or not, the courts are divided on who should be protected.  Here is a little informational background:

Most jurisprudence is decided in the Corte Supremo, or superior court.  The court is divided into four sections. The first court, called the Sala Primera, decides civil matters.  The second is called the Sala Segunda, and is the labor court.  The third, the Sala Tercera, is the criminal court.  The fourth is the Constitutional Court, called the Sala Cuarta or Sala IV, and by its name it is obvious that it decides constitutional issues and that its decisions can override law made by another of the courts.

The civil court jurisprudence has historically protected third parties in fraud cases while the criminal court has protected victims.  What does this mean?  Here’s is a true story to illustrate the situation.

Mary, let’s call her, came to Costa Rica after working a lifetime as a teacher in Colorado.  She only had $100,000 to her name and a teacher’s pension.  She purchased a piece of property on the beach.  In building her home, she worked with several contractor and attorneys and signed many different papers, mostly in Spanish.  Mary took a little Spanish in high school, so she didn’t get any of the documents professionally translated. 

Upon returning from a trip to the States she found her beautiful piece of property and cozy house was sold out from under her.  She hired attorneys and more attorneys but they were no help.

The property was sold to John, let’s call him, by one of the people who was originally involved in helping Mary. John, too, was a teacher from somewhere in the United States with about as much money as Mary. Basically, he put his life savings into the deal. John purchased the property in good faith. He had never met Mary and got clear title to the land.  He took the word of his legal counsel that everything was in order. 

Now, who should be protected?

The civil court says John because he was a party acting in good faith.  The criminal court says Mary because she was the original owner and a victim, like so many others in Costa Rica. to blatant fraud.

On Sept. 13,  2002, someone filed an action in the Sala IV saying that the criminal court, the Sala Tercera, is wrong and that third parties should be protected. 

In Costa Rica, whenever a constitutional case is presented in the high court, anyone with a legal action can also attach themselves to the case so they can present their views to the court. 

Even though this goes against victims’ rights, the case was great for victims because it gave them a place to express their beliefs on which way the law should fall. However, very few people who had been swindled knew about this court case and made themselves parties to it. 

Friday the Court Record Newspaper, the Boletin Judicial, reported that someone else has filed another appeal saying the civil court, the Sala Primera, is in error.

High court suspends
all property fraud cases

The local court record newspaper, El Boletin Judicial, reports all property fraud cases are suspended until the constitutional court, the Sala IV, decides the two landmark cases in front of the magistrates. 

Any person or company with a property fraud action, either in civil or criminal court needs to act now to meet the June 14 deadline to make their action part of the Sala IV case.

By doing so, interested parties will have right the express their views throughout the legal proceeding to help change Costa Rican law.
 

Victims now have a chance to express their views by adding their names to the case as coadyuvantes, or in English, coadjutant, meaning a helper or assistant to the case.

Many in the property and legal business believe that original owners as victims should be protected and that the Sala Tercera, the criminal court, is correct for one simple reason:  There are more victims who have been defrauded in Costa Rica than third parties. 

Also from personal experience in advising foreigners, the writer of this article has found there really aren’t too many Johns who were truly innocent.  Most, not all, but most, third parties are one way or another involved in a scam.

Should the constitution decision protect the original owners and not the third parties, both Mary and John will be protected.  Under the view of the criminal court, Mary will have the right to her property, and John will have the right to collect his loss from the government of Costa Rica because the government should be responsible for those who misuse the system to hoodwink others.

It is easy to laundry property and/or asset transfers through legal paperwork in Costa Rica. But a little bit of homework can send up red flags to a purchaser. Purchasers of anything in Costa Rica should do their own homework and not leave it up to anyone else, especially attorneys.

If Costa Rica decides to protect third parties and not victims, those involved in such cases fear that the country will be even more of a paradise of the wanted and the unwanted of the world not to mention its own homegrown crooks.

Costa Rica should protect original owners in property and asset fraud and send a message to the rest of the developed world it is moving away from its Napoleanic version of Roman law.

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides business services to the international community. He can be reached at info@crexpertise.com. Mr. Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro has been at the forefront of these legal cases dating back to 1995 and is an integral part of the first supreme  court Case fighting for the rights of victims. He can be reached at crlaw@licgarro.com

 
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David Kane’s killer
gets 32 years in prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man convicted of murdering a popular North American here has been convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, the Poder Judicial reported.
The sentence was handed down by the Tribunal de Juicio of the II Circuito against the man identified by the last names of Hernández Quirós.

He is Harold Steven Hernández Quirós, who was 24 when he was arrested March 1 after a shootout with police. The arrest came at a home in La Milpa de Guararí in Heredia where police were waiting for the man.  He was wounded in the leg and arm. 

Judges gave the man an additional sentence of two years for aggravated resistance, the court spokesperson said.

A woman with the last name of Céspedes was acquitted, the judicial report said. She had been considered an accessory.

Kane died Jan. 4, 2003, in his home from a bullet to the head. He lived in La Granja, San Pedro. The suspect was easily identified by police because Kane was speaking to a friend on the telephone a few minutes before his death and mentioned the name of the man who was present in the house. 

Kane was a five-year resident here.  The motive for the killing was robbery. Police later found items from Kane’s house in the home of Hernández Quirós. Kane’s sports utility vehicle was stolen as was a quantity of appliances. The vehicle was burned in an Alajuela dirt road. 

Rains again ravage
soggy Caribbean

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The northern zone and the Caribbean slope were hit again over the weekend by heavy rains, flooding and damage. One man died in a swollen river.

The area around Guápiles was hard hit with downpours Saturday afternoon and evening, and these sent rivers out of their banks.

The rains continued Sunday as they did in the Central Valley.

Just a week ago similar downpours forced more than 2,000 persons from their homes in the northern zone and in and around Limón.

Fake e-mail messages
sent to our readers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers of the A.M. Costa Rica daily digest received two virus messages Sunday that appeared to have come from the newspaper.

The good news is that many readers have active virus protection software on their computers that bounced or quarantined the messages. Others were wary enough to contact the newspaper.

The messages were not random and were designed to appear to have come from the newspaper. The attacker was able to access the newspaper’s server in Baltimore, Md., and route the offending messages through the e-mail list for the daily digest.

Although the delivery of the e-mail viruses was sophisticated, the text of the message was not good English. It said: "i'm very very sorry, anybody have sent your mail to my account address."

This is the third time in six months that an effort was made to deliver virus messages to daily digest readers.  A third message to readers Sunday was generated by a security tech checking how entry was made.

Messages from A.M. Costa Rica hardly ever contain attachments. An attachment is a warning that the message may contain a virus.

Four in fast boat
finally caught ashore

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officials caught four Colombians after a prolonged sea and land chase Saturday.

Two of the four suffered wounds in an exchange with police near Puerto Carrillo, Guanacaste.

A Costa Rican coast guard vessel  began the chase some 180 kms. off the coast. That’s about 108 miles. The Colombians were in a so-called fast boat loaded with parcels that officials said contained cocaine.

The four men tried to avoid capture by directing their boat to the rocky coast of northwest Costa Rica. They carried AK-47 rifles, officials said.

No drugs were found on the boat. Pursuers saw the men dumping parcels into the sea, and at least one 50-kilo package of cocaine was located in the ocean, officials said.

Woman lawyer held
as vendor of crack

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police raided a downtown office Friday and took into custody a woman lawyer they said was selling crack, marijuana and cocaine.

She was identified by the last names of Cortés Lacayo. The Policía de Control de Drogas said that the woman has been an active lawyer since at least 2003. She is 40.

At the same time police discovered a number of people at the location. They arrested a woman who worked with the lawyer. She has the last names of Soto Muñoz. They also arrested a man with the names Sánchez Alvarado. Both are suspected of distributing drugs on the street.

Police said that the office and other space provided living space for a number of presumed addicts.  A fourth person arrested, with the last names of Arias Salas, was the subject of a warrant for aggravated robbery, said officials.

Three undocumented individuals were turned over to immigration.
 
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Fernandez dumps Mejia in Dominican Republic vote
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire services reports

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Voters here ousted President Hipolito Mejia and elected a former president Sunday.

Mejia has recognized the victory of his contender, Leonel Fernandez, shortly after midnight local time, according to DR1, the online service of The Santo Domingo Daily News.

Informal vote counts gave Fernandez some 54 percent. Mejia attracted about 36 percent, and a third candidate, Eduardo Estrella, was last at 9 percent, the newspaper said.

The election was marred by murder. Police here say three people were shot and killed at a polling station as voters begin casting ballots.

Police say they are unclear what sparked the incident in Barahona, nearly 200 kms. (120 miles) west of this capital. Initial reports say the shooting involved representatives of President Mejia's party and a rival party.

Hundreds of election monitors are observing Sunday's vote, which Mejia has promised to be clean.

However, the Junta Central Electoral, citing violations of the law regarding commentaries, reported it had closed down some television shows.

Opinion polls predicted the results accurately. Fernandez was expected to win the presidency with 54 percent of the vote. The surveys show Mejia had about 30 percent support, and Estrella trailing at 10 percent. 

Experts say the election hinged on efforts to revive the Caribbean nation's struggling economy. Inflation is over 43 percent per year, unemployment is high, and there have been repeated energy blackouts due to a government debt of $400 million owed to energy producers.

Fernandez promised to reverse inflation and stabilize the economy. President Mejia contended the nation's economic troubles are not his doing. He says tight fiscal policies promised by Fernandez will harm the nation's poor.


 
Castro leads march of million to protest Bush policies on Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba —  President Fidel Castro has led a massive, six-hour protest in Havana against a U.S. plan to tighten economic sanctions against Cuba.

Government officials say more than one million people took part in Friday's demonstration along Havana's Malecon Boulevard, near the U.S. Interests Section. Many of the marchers wore red shirts and waved Cuban flags.

President Castro called for the march after President George Bush announced measures to tighten the U.S. embargo on the island. Bush said the United States intends to direct nearly $60 

million over the next two years to help, "hasten the day when the Cuban people will be free."

The plan calls for aircraft to broadcast U.S. government-sponsored radio and television programs into Cuba, in an attempt to avoid electronic jamming by the Castro government.

It also includes restrictions on cash sent and family visits by Cuban-Americans to the island. 

Castro, wearing his trademark green military uniform and cap, told Friday's protest Bush's measures were ruthless and cruel. He said the United States has no right to intervene in Cuba's affairs.


 
Peru's Toledo finds what little support he has is shrinking
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — A new public opinion poll finds a continuing slide in embattled President Alejandro Toledo's approval rating. 

The poll results, published Sunday in Lima, found Toledo's support had dropped to just 6 percent, with 56 percent of those surveyed saying he should step down or be impeached. 

Similar polls in recent months had put the president's approval rating at around 7 or 8 percent.  Toledo's presidency has been marred by corruption scandals since he took office in 2001, with a number of top cabinet members resigning or being removed from office. 

The most recent was Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi, who was accused of acting too slowly to restore order to a riot-torn southern town. 


 
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Venezuelan officials call election observers biased
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Election officials are threatening to limit the role of international observers, claiming they are biased in favor of the opposition. 

Representatives from the Organization of American States and the U.S.-based Carter Center are scheduled to be in Venezuela this week to monitor the nation's recall referendum process. 

The review will ensure opposition leaders legitimately obtained the required 2.4 million signatures to hold a vote to recall President Hugo Chavez from office. 

But the National Electoral Council Thursday took exception to a joint statement issued earlier this week by the observers. In that statement, the two organizations expressed concern over reports of intimidation of voters who will reconfirm this month that they signed an opposition referendum petition. Election officials said the observers had overstepped their mark by suggesting voters could not withdraw their signatures during the reconfirmation. 

The observers say their review is impartial and that they are seeking to work with the election council to guarantee the recall effort is conducted fairly and openly. 

Venezuela's opposition this month must verify nearly one million signatures on a petition calling for a referendum on Chavez' rule. A court last month said that 800,000 of the more than three million signatures collected were fraudulent. 

The development adds to the already tense atmosphere in Venezuela. Earlier this week, authorities arrested at least 80 suspected Colombian paramilitary members, alleging they had been plotting with Venezuelan dissidents to topple President Chavez's government. 

Venezuelan opposition leaders and the Colombian paramilitary group known as AUC, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, say the arrests were politically motivated. 

Chavez survived a brief coup in 2002. The leftist leader has accused domestic opponents of trying to overthrow him with the help of the United States and Cuban exiles. Washington denies that.


 
Colombia says it will help with investigation of alleged plot
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Colombia has offered to help Venezuela investigate an alleged plot to overthrow President Hugo Chavez.

Speaking after talks with Chavez Friday here, Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco said her government stands ready to provide any relevant 

information to help the investigation. Ms. Barco also denied that any Colombian government troops were involved in the alleged plot.

Last week Venezuelan authorities detained 100 men outside the capital, accusing them of belonging to a Colombian right-wing paramilitary group plotting with Venezuelan dissidents to topple President Chavez's government.


 
Times reporter gets to stay in Brazil after reporting on president
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil —  Officials say the government has accepted what was called a letter of apology from The New York Times reporter who wrote about President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's drinking.

Officials also said Friday that the government has decided to reverse its earlier decision to revoke correspondent Larry Rohter's visa.

The Justice Ministry Tuesday ordered the visa revoked on the grounds Rohter's article offended the honor of the president. Rohter's story said that President da Silva's drinking had become a national concern. But a judge later said Rohter could remain in the country pending a final ruling. 

The New York Times issued a statement late 

Friday, saying that while it regrets the political controversy the story generated, it had not issued an apology or a retraction. The Times also said it was standing by its story. 

Additionally, the newspaper said it was pleased that Brazil had decided to let Rohter continue to work there. President da Silva, in an interview with the news magazine Isto E, denied he drank to excess. 

The move to expel Rohter was criticized by the International Federation of Journalists and the group Human Rights Watch. 

The New York Times' executive editor, Bill Keller, said Wednesday that if Brazil expels a journalist for writing an article that offended the president, it would raise serious concerns about the country's professed commitment to freedom of expression. 

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