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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, June 8, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 111       E-mail us
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Specter of transparency stalks expat bank accounts
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The transparency phantom stalking clients back in 2005 was not as obvious as he is today.  Now, Costa Rica is on its knees in front of the world, pleading for forgiveness for its tax haven practices and wanting to change.  The country seeks to send a strong signal to the world it has done so. 

This has given the specter new, ominous powers, and he wants everyone to succumb and disclose their secret nest eggs. Many expats are scared to death their secret monies and investments in Costa Rica will be found and they will be put away in that nasty place the phantom puts tax cheaters.

These policy changes are only one reason expats and Ticos alike are being inundated by phone calls from the banks here to update their account information. 

Another reason is because the Banco de Costa Rica lost miserably in court and has had to return large sums of money to clients due to fraudulent transactions over the Internet.  Banco de Costa Rica was the hardest hit, but all the banks have learned they better be more cautious and improve their due diligence.

The banking regulator agency is also putting pressure on the banks because it is tired of being accused it was at fault for existence of the many financial scams where expats and many other people lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here is some background and an update as to what is happening in the world regarding transparency and banking in general:

The Basel Committee, mentioned in the 2005 transparency article, is a group composed of the 10 most powerful nations in the world which agree on international banking guidelines in order to avoid risks such as terrorism, fraud, economical collapse, tax evasion, among other concerns.  Costa Rica has vowed to adopt and adhere to the recommendations of the Basel Committee.

In addition, at the end of April of this year, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a creation of 20 developed and developing countries, issued a black list of countries that have not been cooperating with international tax regulations. Costa Rica was included along with three other nations.

Almost immediately, the Costa Rican government officials responded stating that the country was going to adjust to international tax stipulations by creating a law to formally demand transparency concerning banking information from clients’ accounts. This law will allow the Internal Revenue Service to assess U.S. taxes from any profit made by expat businesses abroad. The law also will give local tax officials much greater access into bank activities.

Typical tax havens — such as some Caribbean, African and European countries — have been characterized as nations that keep tax rates low and offer banking privacy in order to entice foreign businesses to establish operations in their territory. Although Costa Rica does not lure international businesses by lowering taxes, it does provide banking information privacy, which, in turn, enables individuals to evade taxes.

For years, Costa Rican banking laws had protected clients’ privacy from government surveillance to encourage the population to open business and savings accounts and trust banks with their income, thus consolidating the Costa Rican banking system. Eventually, banking laws were modified to allow government surveillance when suspecting drug-related activities and tax evasion.

By realizing that demanding transparency from clients has not weakened the banking system in the United States and it would not jeopardize the solidity of Costa Rican banking, the government increased surveillance by creating the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, an organization in charge of “ensuring transparency, strengthening and promoting Costa Rica’s financial development.” Even though the Superintendencia has been operating since 1995, it has until now only supervised Costa Ricans who work under the social security system called the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Any Costa Ricans who worked independently used to be out of the Superintendencia’s radar. The Caja collects all employee information gathered by all companies
transparencyh phanton catches and expat.
Transparency phantom catches expat tax cheat!

registered with it and hands the information over to the Superintendencia.

This lack of reporting let private businesses whose owners decided to evade local taxes, as well as U.S-owned companies who have not reported their earnings to the Internal Revenue Service, to enjoy peaceful and profitable times, except for the occasional visit by the Costa Rican tax collection office, which imposes hefty fines on tax evaders.

However, ever since Costa Rica was blacklisted, things have gotten much more complicated. The Superintendencia is now demanding that customers update their personal and financial information at their banks in conformity with the money laundering, fraud and drug-trafficking law. Some banks have been calling clients as well as broadcasting TV commercials that instruct clients about the importance of updating banking info to avoid having their savings and business accounts closed. They are even giving in some cases a weekly prize of $500 to a selected winner among the clients who undergo the updating process.

Moreover, after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, international regulations demanded that most countries comply with anti-terrorism guidelines, which also permeated banking information and transactions. Following anti-terrorism instructions, the Costa Rican government issued the law against terrorism in 2003, which detailed all punishment, obligations and restrictions to be imposed on the country’s population. In one of its clauses, it specifies that “all companies or individuals that are not registered under any superintendencies in the country must voluntarily register at the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, which doesn’t automatically mean that they will be allowed to conduct any business operations within the country. They will also be subject to inspection concerning money laundering and drug-trafficking.”

The Public finance minister, Guillermo Zúñiga, has said “we have a commitment with the Organization for Economic Co-operation to issue and send them a law regulating banking info transparency for U.S. tax reporting purposes, without needing authorization from a judge, a pending cause or the launching of a tax fraud investigation.” Such law is scheduled to be in force at the beginning of 2010.

The transparency issue will only get to be more of a problem for expats.  It is a bigger problem for the old timers — the ones that currently live here — because they are accustomed to the old lackadaisical ways and they do not want things to change.

The full access granted local and foreign tax agencies will disclose unreported rental activities, off-the-books jobs, sportsbook and gambling operations and even those expats who conduct business in the United States and elsewhere via the Internet from here.

Things are changing and they are changing fast. Expats — old timers and new arrivals alike — better prepare themselves for today's reality.  Banks opening new accounts will be more diligent in the process.  They will also be more demanding on older clients with accounts already on the books.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2009, use without permission prohibited.

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Tolls are being collected
on renovated highway

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Consejo Nacional de Concesiones has authorized the Autopista del Sol to begin collecting tolls between Parque La Sabana and Ciudad Colón on the Autopista Próspero Fernández. This is the first completed section of the highway that eventually will go to Caldera on the Pacific coast.

The company began collecting the 310-colon toll Sunday with the usual traffic jams which will only get worse during the first days of this week with daytime traffic.

Some lawmakers had urged the consejo to defer the tolls until the concession holder had completed additional work on the highway, but the consejo produced a long list of work that had been done, including the widening of some parts of the highway by one lane in each direction.

Results of weekend rains
being evaluated today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country was on weather alert over the weekend, but any damage due to heavy rains awaits inspection today.

The Instituto Meteorólogico Nacional issued two bulletins Friday as afternoon thundershowers hit.

Saturday was a wet day on the Pacific coast. Santa Rosa recorded 1.3 inches of rain, some 33.3 millimeters. The Central Valley escaped heavy rain Saturday but some sections were hit with more than a half inch in just a few minutes at 3 p.m. Sunday. The central weather office in Barrio Aranjuez registered 13.5 millimeters or .53 of an inch.

That was enough to cause flooding around the Mall San Pedro and in other sections of the city.

Officials are concerned with the region around Cinchona where the Jan 8 earthquake left large swaths of raw earth exposed.

The weather forecast for today includes more afternoon showers and thunderstorms in the Pacific coast and in the northern zone as well as the Central Valley.

No prison time for man
who killed with hammer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who bashed in his friend's head with a hammer got off without any prison time last week in the Tribunal de Juicio de Alajuela.

He was identified by the last names of Muñoz Jiménez. He was being held for the murder of Miguel Umaña Calvo, 41. The two men lived in the same home near the Parque Central de Orotina.

The killing Jan. 21, 2007 appeared to be the product of an argument, said the Poder Judicial.

The court sentenced the man to three years in prison but under Costa Rican law he received conditional freedom instead of going to prison. That is usual for sentences three years and under for persons who do not have a criminal record.

The court also ordered the man to pay 4 million colons, some $7,000 for the cost of the action and damages. This was a result of a civil complaint filed and heard along with the criminal one.

Suspect dies in shooting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judicial agent gunned down a robbery suspect in a confrontation Friday in La Maravilla de Cariari.

The Judicial Investigation Organization said two of its agents stationed in Guápiles noticed a man wanted for questioning riding in a taxi and haled the cab to stop. The driver did, but the suspect got out of the vehicle and brandished a weapon, according to the reports of the agents. One of the agents fired.

Dead was a 37-year-old man with the last name of Garcia. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the case would be evaluated.

Our reader's opinion
Celebrity show is not reality
and just facinating TV

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Subject: Response to Kent Carthey’s “They're not celebrities!”

Give me a break!

If Mr. Carthey ever watched reality TV he would see the point of the show is to demonstrate exactly how over indulged even “D-List celebrities” are in the U.S. He would also know that “Get Me Out of Here” has absolutely nothing to do with the country of origin the show is being filmed. The point of the show is to put over-indulged celebrities into a “situation” they cannot handle, i.e. a jungle, rainforest, bugs, snakes and other creeper crawlers including the lack of even a toilet or bed. The point for viewers is to laugh at these overly spoilt celebrities and enjoy their misery. It is a pleasure watching the so-called privileged suffer.

The show has been filmed in other countries around the world including the U.S. and Britain. If anyone is interested in full coverage of the different shows in the past seven years that have already aired elsewhere, one only has to go to:

Show dating back to 2002!

Latest archives…

I confess to being a reality junky. I guess it is the psychologist in me. I am both appalled and fascinated by the people who choose to expose themselves to live cameras. Rather like the “lookie-loos” slowing down to check out a terrible car wreck, I can’t stop watching them, but I know the difference between entertainment and serious television.

Get over yourself Kent. The show is NOT about Costa Rica. It is about watching a bunch of celebrities being exposed as the silly, spoiled asses they are in areas even the best of us couldn’t endure. Kent is taking a very ridiculous show way too serious.

And last but not as a “professed former member of the Phoenix, Arizona, Film Board” I am a little shocked Mr. Carthey does not recognize the difference between a “producer-staged-reality” show from reality.

Chappell McPherson
San José
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 8, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 111

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The world got a new monarch butterfly Sunday morning. Saray Ramírez Vindas, associate editor, had been watching a cocoon she noticed last week. Early Sunday the butterfly inside decided to greet the world, and Ms. Ramírez was there with her camera.
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Laura Chinchilla appears to be the nominee for Liberación
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Laura Chinchilla appears to be the presidential nominee of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

The party's official vote count at midnight with 28.9 percent of the polling places reporting showed the former vice president with 82,322 votes against 64,469 votes for former San José mayor Johnny Araya. The percentage is 54.53 to 42.71, about 12 points.

Fernando Berrocal, the former security minister had just 4,168 votes or 2.76 percent. He had congratulated Ms. Chinchilla on her apparent victory by mid evening.

There appears to have been 152,136 voters at the more than 1,000 locations all over the country. That is fewer than the 200,000 party leaders sought.

The party election officials had posted results of 556 polling places of the 1,368 by midnight.

According to the preliminary, partial figures, Araya carried just the Provincia de Alajuela 19,262 to 19,106. All other provinces, including San José where Araya served in government of the San José canton for 18 years went to Ms. Chinchilla.

Party officials said they had suspended the counting and posting of new vote totals until today.

Ms. Chinchilla would be the country's first woman president, if elected. She is considered the favorite. Her principal opponent is Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, who won the nomination in a similar party vote last week.

There was another first.  A woman identified as Karina Ramírez became the first blind voter to cast a party ballot in secret. That happened at Colegio Rodrigo Facio in
Zapote. A man identified as Otto Padilla did the same thing in Perez Zeledón.

The votes were a form of protest because the party does not have provisions for blind voters. Typically they are assisted by someone who can see the ballot. The pair Sunday had help in learning the location of the names on the ballot.

Even though results of less than 29 percent of the votes had been posted, the advantage of Ms. Chinchilla was expected to reflect the content of the uncounted ballots. Such a lead is substantial.

The voting Sunday was open to any Costa Rican whose name is on the voting rolls.

Araya has complained that Ms. Chinchilla had the secret support of President Óscar Arias Sánchez. He has said that having a woman president would be good for the country. In Costa Rica, there are rules about who can offer support, and the president is not one of them. But it is certain that Ms. Chinchilla had strong support from the Arias wing of the political party.  She also tapped the support of young women. Many could be seen wearing "Laura" t-shirts.

Mrs. Chinchilla served as security minister in a previous administration. She resigned as vice president specifically so she could run for president. Election laws forbid sitting high officials from seeking the job.

The general election is not until the first Sunday in February. Other parties still have to select candidates. The Partido Unidad Social Cristian is waiting to see if former president Rafael Calderón is convicted of accepting a bribe in his current trial. He is considered the favorite for that organization.

A wild card is the Alianza Patriótica, a coalition of socialists, free trade opponents and others, which has said it will field a candidate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 8, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 111

Acrobatic tarpon attract interest of Florida academic
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
A University of Miami professor has dedicated the past 10 years of his life to the study of a large fish that has launched a cult-like following all over the globe. The tarpon is not only one of the oldest fish in the ocean, it generates billions of dollars in sport fishing tourism.

Jerry Ault, University of Miami professor of marine science, and his team have been fishing for tarpon since five in the morning in the Florida Keys. Tarpon is an anglers' dream: big, fast, strong and able to jump over three and a half meters high in the air.

The passion for the sport lies in the tarpon's elusiveness.

This is a powerful animal that puts up a big fight.

After 30 minutes of back-breaking work, this team is finally able to bring a tarpon close to the boat.

But this team is here not just for the sport. They study tarpon and bonefish.

They measure their catch: 1.6 meters long (63 inches); 62 centimeters (24.5 inches) in circumference. It weighs around 60 kilograms (132 pounds) . They then take a DNA sample and implant a satellite tag on its back.

For the next few months, the tag will constantly record the fish's environment for location, depth, salinity and water temperature. Professor Ault explains what will happen in a few months.

"The tag separates from the fish, it raises to the surface, it connects to the Argos satellite network, uplinks the data and then I get an e-mail that is basically ET phoning home," he explained.

Until now, very little research had been done on the tarpon, which is a major contributor to Costa Rican tourism.

As the fish's numbers began to dwindle over the past few years, the demand for more information about the fish has increased.

Because billions of dollars are at stake with the loss of the tarpon population, Ault found several organizations willing to shell out some cash for research.

"Currently in Florida, commercial fisheries generate about a billion dollars a year in economic revenue," he added. "Recreational fisheries are estimated by the state of Florida to generate about $10 billion a year revenue. Recreational fishery in Florida is now more valuable than the citrus industry."

This group of anglers were taking a break at a local restaurant. They have been coming for decades to the Florida Keys to fish tarpon. Anay Brackett is a fly fishing guide from Georgia. He has been coming for the past 42 years.
tarpon at home
Tarpon in a favorable habitat.

"I fish all around the world and there is no question about it, tarpon is the most spectacular game fish in the ocean," he noted. "It is extremely exciting."

Ault also dives into one of the most popular destinations for tarpon today: the shadowy depths under bridges. He documents their number and size. He says many factors are now threatening one of the strongest and oldest animals in the ocean. That includes removing bait shrimp — one of the tarpon's favorite foods.

"Today they take on the order of half a billion pounds of shrimp, immature, that are being removed," Ault explained. "We introduced pollution, through land base run off, we degraded the habitats, so it's a combination of things."

Through his satellite tagging and research Ault has found out some valuable information that may one day help the tarpon from decreasing in population.

He has found that tarpon can travel great distances to find their ideal water temperature of 26 degrees centigrade (79 F.).

From Florida, they can travel nearly 2,000 kilometers north on the U.S. coast, or south into the the Gulf of Mexico, Central and South America.

"Unfortunately when it crosses into the U.S. border it is catch-and-consume and so for fishes that live the lifetime of a tarpon, 80 years, they are very vulnerable to any level of exploitation," he said.

Margaret Miller, a coral researcher at the National Marine Fishery Service in Florida, says the rising temperature of the oceans could endanger many species, including the tarpon.

"That is going to disrupt the queues that the animals use, the timing likely where they are queued to begin migrations and this is likely to affect a broad range of species as well," she noted.

And so, after a decade observing the tarpon Ault feels he has just begun to understand a fish that survived the extinction of dinosaurs, but whose future is now threatened by human activity.

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State Department mole had full secret access for Cuba, FBI says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
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A now-retired State Department employee accused of being an agent for Cuba appears to have had unfettered access to top secret documents for at least four years while working in Washington, despite trips abroad and a visit with Fidel Castro.

The man and his wife have been arrested on charges of serving as illegal agents of the Cuban government for nearly 30 years and conspiring to provide classified U.S. information to the Cuban government.

The FBI made the arrest after an agent impersonated a Cuban intelligence operative and obtained incriminating statements from the pair.

An indictment and criminal complaint unsealed Friday in the District of Columbia charge Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government and to communicate classified information to the Cuban government, said the Federal bureau of Investigation. Each of the defendants is also charged with acting as an illegal agent of the Cuban government and with wire fraud. They were not charged with espionage.

The Myers, both residents of Washington, D.C., were arrested Thursday afternoon by FBI agents.

In Cuba former president Castro called the case ridiculous. In an essay posted on a Cuban Web site and attributed to him, Castro neither confirmed nor denied the

A.M. Costa Rica
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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.

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veracity of the spy charges brought by U.S. authorities. Castro said he does not recall meeting the couple.  The couple said they spent an evening with the Cuban leader in 1995.

According to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Kendall Myers began his work at the State Department in 1977, initially serving as a contract instructor at the Department’s Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Va. After living briefly in South Dakota, he returned to Washington, D.C., and resumed employment as an instructor with the institute. From 1988 to 1999, in addition to his teaching duties, he performed periodic work for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Myers later began working full-time at the intelligence bureau and, from July 2001 until his retirement in October 2007, he was a senior analyst for Europe where he specialized in intelligence analysis on European matters and had daily access to classified information through computer databases and otherwise. He received a top secret security clearance in 1985 and, in 1999, his clearance was upgraded.

Gwendolyn Myers moved to Washington, D.C., in 1980 and married Myers in May 1982. She later obtained employment with a local bank as an administrative analyst and later as a special assistant. Mrs. Myers was never granted a security clearance by the U.S. government.

According to the affidavit, Myers traveled to Cuba in December 1978 after receiving an invitation from an official who served at the Cuban Mission to the United States in New York City. His guide while in Cuba was an official with Cuba’s Foreign Service Institute. This trip provided the Cuban intelligence service with the opportunity to assess or develop Myers as a Cuban agent, according to the affidavit.

Approximately six months after the trip, the Myers were visited in South Dakota by the official from the Cuban Mission in New York and, according to the affidavit, Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers agreed to serve as clandestine agents of the Cuban government. Afterwards, the Cuban spy masters directed Kendall Myers to pursue a job at either the State Department or the CIA. Myers, accompanied by his wife, then returned to Washington, D.C., where he resumed contract work at the State Department and later obtained a State Department position that required a top secret security clearance.

According to the affidavit, during this time frame, the Cuban intelligence operators often communicated with its clandestine agents in the United States by broadcasting encrypted radio messages from Cuba on shortwave radio frequencies. According to the affidavit, the Myers have an operable shortwave radio in their apartment and they told an FBI source that they have used it to receive messages from Cuba.

The affidavit further indicates that an analysis of Kendall Myers’ classified State Department work computer hard drive revealed that, from Aug. 22, 2006, until his retirement on Oct. 31, 2007, he viewed more than 200 sensitive or classified intelligence reports concerning the subject of Cuba. Of these reports concerning Cuba, the majority was classified and marked secret or top secret, the affidavit alleges.  Some involved State Department employees in Latin America, the FBI said.

According to the affidavit, Myers told the FBI impersonator that he typically removed information from the State Department by memory or by taking notes, although he did occasionally take some documents home. “I was always pretty careful. I didn’t usually take documents out,” he said. According to the affidavit, he also acknowledged delivering information to Cubans that was classified beyond the secret level.

The FBI said it has confirmed trips by the couple to Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Jamaica that correspond to statements made by the defendants. In addition, the FBI said it has identified e-mails to the couple in 2008 and 2009 from a suspected representative of the Cuban intelligence service in Mexico who was requesting that the couple travel there.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 8, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 111

Latin American news digest
Chiapas bypasses feds
to seek U.N. poverty aid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's southernmost State of Chiapas is beautiful and well endowed with natural resources. It has all the elements for success. And, yet, it is the poorest region in the country. The reasons for this are many including a large native population, high rates of illiteracy and lack of infrastructure.

The state government wants to turn this around. It has signed an ambitious agreement with the United Nations — the first of its kind in Mexico — to work together to reduce poverty. Its aim is to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015.

One of the many delights of Tuxtla Gutierras, the capital of Chiapas, is the Marimba Park. Every evening between 6 and 9 p.m. people of all ages go there to listen and dance to the music.  But, what is most striking is the number of elderly, care worn men and women who stop in the park after a long day's work. Their clothes and deeply wrinkled faces betray a life of poverty and hardship. But, when they dance, their faces light up and their cares just slip away.

"We are in a straight fight against poverty, against extreme poverty. So, we have subscribed an agreement with the U.N. system so that they can guide us in that economic, political and social exercise," said Blanca Esponda, chief strategy planner for the government of Chiapas.

Esponda says the agreement with the U.N. is unusual in that it bypasses the federal government. She says local problems are best dealt with on a local level where the struggles of local people are best understood.

Ms. Esponda said the government decided to ask the United Nations for help after it realized that many of the communities lacked access to basic education.

The challenges are enormous. Chiapas suffers from the highest rate of malnutrition in Mexico. Maternal mortality is high. So is infant mortality. HIV/AIDS is widespread because of the large number of migrants crossing the border from other countries in Central America.

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