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(506) 2223-1327       Published Thursday, May 28, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 104     E-mail us
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Expats may face more rules with U.S. tax changes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Proposed U.S. legislation to restrict the use of so-called tax shelters would invoke the Patriot Act to punish firms that are deemed to be impeding U.S. tax enforcement.

The legislation also would deny uncooperative foreign banks the authority to issue credit cards that would be valid in the United States. The use of the Patriot Act now is reserved for institutions that are active money launderers.

In addition, U.S. citizens who deposit money or receive a benefit from a private foreign corporation would be considered to have control of that firm for U.S. tax purposes. Under current law U.S. citizens who hold a foreign bank account that accumulates more than $10,000 at any time in the year have to file paperwork with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The legislation would expand that requirement to all foreign bank accounts located in one of 34 countries identified as a tax haven.

Costa Rica is one of those countries.

The legislation and President Barack Obama's plan to clamp down on offshore corporations is starting to generate opposition in foreign countries as officials there begin to understand the ramifications.

The U.S. Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act bill actually is two separate pieces of legislation. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat introduced  Senate bill 506 March 2. It was sent to the Senate Finance Committee for study. The bill has five cosponsors.

The next day Rep. Lloyd  Doggett, a Texas Democrat with 64 co-sponsors, introduced a similar H.R.1265 in the House. That bill went to the Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy.

The legislation would have wide impact in Costa Rica because many expats here own corporations. Some are involved in business but others are used to hold the ownership of real estate or automobiles. Even  a U.S. citizen with a minor interest in a corporation could become involved in reporting and tax requirements under the proposal because the bill presumes that the person owned and exercised control over such entity, regardless of the paper ownership.

In other words, the U.S. citizen would have to provide clear and convincing evidence to the contrary if he or she really did not operate the corporation.

Levin and Doggett this month asked Obama to make approval of the Panama Free Trade Agreement contingent on Panama’s cooperation with efforts to combat international tax evasion.

“In this time of economic distress, we can no longer afford to ignore the billions of dollars of tax revenue lost to the U.S. Treasury due to the bank secrecy practices of Panama and other tax havens,” wrote Doggett and Levin, adding:

“Implementing an agreement on trade while ignoring Panama’s status as one of the world’s recognized tax havens would not only undermine your efforts to address offshore tax evasion, but would also thwart the best opportunity our nation will have to obtain cooperation from a country that has resisted for years American efforts to encourage changes to its secretive banking and regulatory practices.”

The United States taxes the income of its citizens even when they are overseas, although individuals get an $87,600 annual earned income tax exemption on money from foreign sources.

Another element of the twin bills would be to consider a foreign corporation as a U.S. entity for
taxman cometh

tax purposes if the management of the company lived in the United States.

Costa Rica found itself labeled a tax haven April 2 when the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development put it on its so-called black list with three other small countries. Guillermo Zúñiga, minister of Hacienda, quickly announced that lawmakers would be given a bill to end bank secrecy. In other words, bank records of individuals and corporations would become open to tax collectors here and elsewhere in the world.

Zuñiga, in a press release, said that Costa Rican tax authorities can only open bank accounts with the authorization of a judge and that the lifting of bank secrecy for tax purposes would be a very valuable tool to fight tax fraud. He noted that the Arias administration had a program to fight tax fraud.

It was not reported at the time that the U.S. Treasury Department maintains its own list of 37 countries it labels tax havens. Panamá and Costa Rica are on that list. They are called "offshore secrecy jurisdictions."

According to the proposed legislation transferring anything of value to or from a foreign corporation in a secrecy jurisdiction by a U.S. citizen will be presumed to represent previously unreported income in the year of transfer.

"These presumptions are needed in civil judicial and administrative proceedings because the tax, corporate, or bank secrecy laws and practices of these jurisdictions make it nearly impossible for U.S. authorities to gain access to needed information," said a U.S. Senate summary of the bill. "Presumptions may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. No evidence may be accepted from a non-U.S. person unless the person appears to testify in the proceedings."

The proposed legislation also orders foreign banks to file an IRS Form 1099 report on any account that has a U.S. citizen as an owner.  The same rule applies when a U.S. citizen opens an account.

The bills also increase to five years from three the amount of time that the IRS has to investigate cases in offshore secrecy jurisdictions.

The legislation also addresses trusts and requires reporting of real estate distributions, securities, personal property or objects such as artwork, furnishing or jewelry.

The bills also limit the protection taxpayers would receive from legal opinions about their tax situation if they were involved in an offshore secrecy country. Usually taxpayers elsewhere who receive bad advice pay no or reduced penalties.

Ambassador to the United States from the Bahamas and from Barbados both were critical of the proposals in a discussion on the Levin-Doggett bills Wednesday, according to Carib World News. Officials from Bermuda were said to have met with congressional leaders.

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2008 Costa Rican investment
were more than $2 billion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica took in more than $2 billion in foreign direct investment in 2008, about a 6 percent increase over the $1.9 billion that was invested in the country in 2007.

The country's investment was exceeded only by that of Panama's $2.4 billion in Central America.

The statistics are from the México-based Comisión Economica de América Latina y el Caribe. The organization also estimated that $128.3 billion, a record, came into Latin America and the Caribbean during 2008.

By contrast the organization estimated that Costa Rica took in $417 million on the average in each of the years from 1994 to 1998,

The organization said that the situation has now changed and that it expects the flow of direct investments to be 35 to 45 percent lower during 2009. The 2008 figures predate the current economic crisis.

Overall Latin America and the Caribbean were up collectively about 13 percent over 2007 in 2008, according to the organization's figures.

Brazil, Chile and Colombia were the principal recipients in 2008, getting about 80 percent of the direct investment in South America. That amount was up some 24 percent over the previous year.

Country's swine flu cases
now 37, health officials say

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

Costa Rica now has 37 cases of confirmed swine flu, according to the Ministerio de Salud. Some 104 cases are still under study.

The bulk of the infections come from persons who have been in prolonged contact with those already with swine flu, said the health ministry. There is one confirmed case in Guanacaste, 20 in the Provincia de San José, five in Cartago and 11 in Heredia, officials said.

There are just two probable cases at this point, officials said.

New figures from the World Health Organization show the global swine flu death toll has risen by three.  In its Wednesday report, the World Health Organization also said two more countries, Bahrain and Singapore, have reported their first swine flu cases.

The agency said the three new deaths occurred in Mexico, where the overall death toll from the virus has now increased to 95.  The World Health Organization said worldwide there are are 13,398 confirmed cases of the flu. 

Meanwhile, South Korean health authorities confirmed two more cases of swine flu Wednesday, raising that country's total number of infections to 29. Authorities in the Philippines have confirmed four new cases, raising their total to six. 

The latest reports from these two countries are not yet included in the figures provided by the World Health Organization.

In Australia, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has warned citizens to prepare for a significant increase in the number of swine flu cases, especially in the coming days. Ms. Roxon made the announcement after Australian health authorities announced the country's number of confirmed cases had doubled to 61.

Two men in murder cases
identified by Poder Judicial

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial has identified the two Costa Rican men who are facing allegations of carrying out two drive-by, contract killings at the request of a U.S. citizen.

They both turned out to have police ties. One, identified by the last name of  Porras Porras, had worked as a Fuerza Pública officer. The second, with the last names of  Navarro Alfaro, is a current member of the force.

The two men are accused of killing two men at different times. The shootings stemmed from a business dispute involving the U.S. citizen, identified as Jeff Pearson. He has been in prison since Dec, 9 awaiting extradition to the United States  because the U.S. Department of Justice said he ran a series of fraudulent business opportunity scams that preyed on U.S. citizens.  Porras was his bodyguard. Pearson also was implicated in the murders by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The Poder Judicial said that the two Costa Rican men were jailed for three months preventative detention by the Juzgado Penal de San José.

The are facing allegations involving the murder of Diego Henao López in NOvember 2006 and thes killing of  Luis Guillermo Rojas Meza in September 2007.

Osa ready to collect
garbage in whole canton

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cantón de Osa said Wednesday that it will more than double the number of residents who have garbage service starting next month.

Right now there are about 10,000 persons who have the service of the municipality. The mayor, Alberto Cole, said he expected to be making collections from 22,000 persons when the municipal council approved the plan.

He said pickups would begin in Dominical and Dominicalito, Coronado, Ojochal, Tres Ríos, Playa Hermosa, Punta Mala and San Buenaventura. He said that nearly 100 percent of the canton would have the service.

Disabled bank customer
wins access to an ATM

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Banco Nacional customer in San Marcos de Tarrazú got some good news from the Sala IV constitutional court. The court ordered the bank to provide an access ramp for the disabled at its automatic teller location there.

The woman, identified by the last names of Chacón Ortiz, said she could not reach a teller machine because there were no ramps. The bank is on the north side of the Parque de San Marcos. The decision was released Wednesday.

Police ask for bar to be closed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers made a sweep through Cartago centro over the weekend and asked that the Bar y Restaurante BricK Brac be closed and its business license revoked.

Officers said they found a customer with 159 doses of cocaine on his person.  Officers checked out establishments in Manuel de Jesús Jiménez, Cot, Quircot, Taras and Guadalupe Saturday night and early Sunday.

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Government to carry its case to Limón dock workers June 10
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government will hold its weekly cabinet meeting in Limón June 10 as a way of pushing forward its plan to privatize the cargo and tourist docks there and deliver them to a concessionaire.

The central government is facing strong opposition from the dock workers union, which has rejected the latest offer of a buyout.

The situation is shaping up to be a replay of the battle over the free trade treaty with the United States, and many of the same players oppose the project.

Last week the government announced a plan whereby dock workers with 20 years service would get nearly $100,000 as a buyout. The amount is substantially higher than what is required under Costa Rica labor laws.

Now the central government, directed by Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia, seeks to go over the head of the union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Japdeva, and go directly to the workers.

The session June 10 also will be to sign the law putting into
effect the Limón Ciudad Puerto project which allocates millions for fixing up the sagging infrastructure.

Government officials hope that a dock concessionaire will bring its own money and modernize the port. Proposals will be accepted through August.

What Rodrigo Arias would like to see would be an assembly of dock workers and a secret vote on the proposal.  The union would prefer to handle the negotiations.

Dock workers or at least the union have been consistently at loggerheads with the administration. Strikes and roadblocks are frequent, and there has been no significant improvements in the ports for years.

Government officials estimate that 30 percent of the dock workers will either retire or go into private business if the concession plan goes through. Others will continue to work with the current port administration, and others will find jobs with the concessionaire.

A similar concession deal at the Pacific port of Caldera has been successful and the concession holder has made substantial investments.

Rash of scams leave victims with empty hands at airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even in crime the tried and true methods work best. That's why more than 15 complaints have come in recently to investigators from individuals who say they were conned by supposed customs agents or brokers around Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela.

The con is so old that it is a wonder the crooks can feed their families. But the Judicial Investigating Organization said Wednesday that the latest round of scams amounts to 60 million colons or about $105,000.

Victims have purchased non-existent plasma television sets,
other electronic devices, anti-flu medicines and provisions like face masks, even fertilizer.
The scammer usually approaches the victim in the vicinity of the airport and says that some imported products are being held at customs for non-payment of import duties or for some other reason.

The merchandise can be redeemed for pennies on the dollar, the scammer says.

In exchange for money, the scammer provides paperwork that the victim can take to the customs warehouse.

Of course once there, the victim finds out that the paperwork is phony and that he or she has lost money.

A variation is that the scammer takes the money and promises to return with the merchandise.

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Public diplomacy chief confident U.S. can rebuild image
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department's new public diplomacy chief says she's confident America's image abroad can be rebuilt after sagging badly during the Bush administration. Former media executive Judith McHale spoke on her first full day as undersecretary of State for public diplomacy.

Ms. McHale is not predicting a miraculous rebound in America's standing abroad, which opinion polls suggest hit historic lows under the past administration, whose foreign policy was perceived as unilateralist and overly militarized.

However, the new undersecretary does say the Obama administration has already made some headway in restoring the U.S. global image, starting with the election and inauguration of the new president, who has family ties to Kenya and spent formative years in Indonesia.

"His election clearly helped our image in the world in a number of ways. Certainly his roots in Africa, the time that he lived in Indonesia. He and I actually had a conversation about the fact we both lived overseas when we were younger. I think that does give you a different world view. So yes, I think the world right now is very willing to re-engage with the country. He, in his inauguration, made an important point of talking about reaching out his hand and I think there are lots of people who want to reach out to us now," she said.

Ms. McHale said the President's June 4 policy address in Cairo, in which he is expected to urge reconciliation with Muslim states, will be a critically important event in U.S. public diplomacy and an effort to reach out to those countries as partners.
Ms. McHale, who for 20 years headed the cable TV combine Discovery Communications, said she developed her interest in foreign and particularly African affairs as the daughter of a U.S. diplomat in apartheid-era South Africa.

She spent much of the last two years traveling in Africa to launch a mutual fund specializing in investments in African companies, and as such said she rejects the notion that her lack of traditional foreign policy experience will be a liability in her new job.

Ms. McHale, whose company operated in some 170 countries around the world, said the key to America reaching foreign populations and particularly youthful audiences is through new media — not only cable television but cellular communications and internet social networking.

"We have to understand what's working. What are the things that are most relevant to help us reach and connect with billions of people around the world. There's no other way of doing that unless we employ new media in appropriate circumstances. When you look at the demographics of all the regions that we're trying to reach and you see that in many cases where the population is under 25 or under 20 and you have a younger demographic, they rely and use new technologies increasingly around the world," she said.

Ms. McHale oversees a $1 billion a year array of State Department communications, cultural, educational and exchange programs.

She promised a top-to-bottom review of U.S. public diplomacy efforts but said she enters the post with no preconceived notions about structural changes, though there are abundant study-commission reform recommendations.

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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

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Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

U.S. will take exit data
from departing foreigners

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States is launching a pilot program to collect biometric information from non-citizens who are leaving the country from American airports. The initiative is the latest post-Sept. 11 effort to monitor and correctly identify all who come to and depart from the United States.

Since 2004, the United States has collected fingerprints and other physical identifiers, called "biometrics,"  from non-citizens applying for visas and arriving at U.S. ports of entry. Screening of those leaving the United States has been far less rigorous, until now.

Robert Mocny heads the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program.

"In most countries, you check out of the country," said Robert Mocny. "You go through some passport control. We do not have that in the United States, we never have had that. And so we are trying to implement a new system."

Beginning this week, that system will be tested at two U.S. airports: in Atlanta and Detroit. In addition to having their passports scanned, departing non-U.S. citizens will be required to place a finger over a scanner. The resulting prints will be compared with fingerprints given when the individuals applied for their U.S. visa or resident alien card. If all goes according to plan, the system will be extended to all U.S. airports and seaports next year.

Mocny says the effort is in keeping with a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The commission urged biometric entry and exit records as the best way to confirm the identities of those traveling to the United States. Speaking at Washington's Foreign Press Center, Mocny said there is an additional benefit.

"Once a visa is issued and tied with a biometric, once a passport is issued and tied to a biometric, that passport or visa cannot be used by anybody else," he said. "There are tens of millions of lost or stolen passports that circulate the globe on the black market used by international criminals and terrorists. This puts a stop to that."

But what of those leaving the United States by land to Mexico and Canada? Mocny says biometric verification will one day be extended to those border crossing points, as well. But he admits that significant logistical challenges will have to be overcome for that to occur, as most U.S. terrestrial border exits are not set up to accommodate screening of vehicular traffic.

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Man arrested in Brazil
cleared of terrorist links

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in Sao Paulo, Brazil, have released a Lebanese man who was arrested three weeks ago for operating a Web site that authorities suspected could be linked to terrorists. 

Federal prosecutor Ana Leticia Absy said a court ordered the unidentified man's release this week after investigators found no evidence that linked him to terrorist groups.

In a statement, Ms. Absy said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation initially alerted Brazilian authorities after the man posted inflammatory anti-U.S. comments in Arabic on his Internet site.

His arrest was reported Tuesday by U.S. and Brazilian media organizations who identified him as a possible member of al-Qaida.

Another Mexican newsman
murdered by abductors

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Another Mexican reporter has been murdered. He is Eliseo Barrón Hernández, whose body was found following his abduction on Monday,

For the past 11 years Barrón Hernández covered the police beat for the newspaper La Opinión Milenio in Torreón, in the northern state of Coahuila. According to several local media sources the veteran journalist was kidnapped by approximately eight masked men who forcefully abducted him from in front of his wife and young children shortly after 8 p.m. at his home in the town of Gómez Palacio in the neighboring state of Durango. His gunshot body was found Tuesday morning in a field nearby.
Although the motives for the killing were not immediately known, Barrón Hernández's newspaper said that he had recently been reporting on an internal dispute in the Torreón Municipal Public Safety Office where 302 police officers were fired for corruption. Many are currently under investigation for alleged offenses, including extortion and abuse of authority.
Also murdered early this month in Durango was journalist Carlos Ortega Melo Semper. In February Luis Daniel Méndez Hernández was killed in Veracruz and Jean Paul Ibarra Ramírez in Guerrero.

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