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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, June 23, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 123        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Their hopes hang on an appeal
Expats lose their bid to get back $300,000 condo

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The retired Gringos lost round one in a criminal court case.  They are in shock along with their lawyer.  They purchased a condominium in August 2001 in Flamingo.  In December 2003, the same company that sold them their condominium sold it again without their knowledge to another party.  Shortly thereafter, a court evicted them and sent all their belongings to storage in San José.  They have fought over four years just to get a court hearing of their case.

The trial lasted almost two weeks.  The evidence supporting the double sale was overwhelming.  The court agreed.  The original owner of the property, a corporation, sold it twice, but the officers are not guilty.   How is this possible?  How can one sell something twice and not be guilty?

This is how:

The owner of the condominium was a Costa Rican company called a sociedad anónima not a physical person.  The law looks at a company as a judicial person or a persona jurídica.  The judicial person does not buy or sell anything. Its representatives do such activity.

In August 2001, a representative of the company sold the condominium to the retired expats.  The lawyer representing the couple made a critical mistake at this point.  He created a transfer deed selling the property to a company he tried to form in the same document.  This is not at all correct.  The process to form a company correctly takes several weeks in Costa Rica.   The correct way to do so is by filing a constitution with the mercantile department of the Registro Nacional.  The department approves the entity and registers the name and other data in a computer. 

Because the company did not exist when the property deed was filed, the Registro Nacional correctly rejected the document but did annotate the property as sold on its property computers.

At this point — no one knows if these acts were intentional or unintentional — the lawyer jockeyed around for two years in the registration of the property.  He kept telling his clients — the buyers — he needed more money and more time to register the condominium correctly, according to testimony.  This was partially the case. He never paid the correct amount to the Registro Nacional, testimony showed. 

Every time the retired couple questioned the lawyer, they got one excuse after another why the property was not properly registered. The bottom line, the lawyer never correctly registered the property, setting up the expat couple to lose their $300,000 condominium, the court was told.

The Registro Nacional deletes an annotation of a property transfer if the paperwork is not completed after a period of time.  The property registry deleted the annotation for this property in June of 2003, one year and nine months after the expat couple purchased it.

During the period from August 2001 to December 2003, the company owning the property changed its board of directors including the president.   This person was the one who sold the condominium for a second time, according to court testimony.   His representative told the court he did not know the old board of directors sold the property in August of 2001 and it was not his responsibly to know this. 

His representative further testified that the
appeal couple

president's wife’s father was a lawyer and that the father-in-law checked out the property and it was still in the name of the company so the president sold it. At the trial, the father-in-law represented the two accused, the president and a former president.

This is how one sells a property twice in Costa Rica with apparently no legal consequences.  Here is the scenario again in baby steps: 1.) have the property in the name of a company, 2.) have one board of directors sell it the first time, 3.) incorrectly attempt to put the sale in the Registro Nacional, 4.) change the board of directors of the company, and 5.) have the new board sell the property to someone else while officers claim ignorance of the first sale.

Viola, this is the formula for a double property transfer.  Now to improve the recipe, add unsuspecting expats to the mix — it is even better if they are older and preferably retired — and pick a high ticket item to make the winnings that much sweeter.

This story happens more than most people believe.  More importantly, those who do so knowlingly get away with their crimes more often than not, too, according to recent news stories.

The principle, in dubio pro reo,  "when in doubt, favor the accused," rules in the criminal court system in Costa Rica.  Prosecutors spend much of their time determining all the reasons an accused is not guilty instead looking for evidence of wrongdoing.  Because of this, many cases just expire.

Is there hope for the expat couple?  Yes there is.  The whole trial was videotaped and put on DVD.  The video system is impressive and the court provided all the videotaped material within two days after the end of the trial.   There is an appeal process in Costa Rica, and new judges will look at the facts. 

Obviously, there is something wrong with the lower court's ruling:  The company owning the condominium sold it twice, and it is illegal to sell something twice. But no one is guilty, according to the court, and more importantly, the expats do not get their condo back — for now.

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 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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Arias tells television viewers
he will favor the poor in crisis

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez, with a husky voice, went before the country Sunday to explain why he is favoring the poor in the petroleum crisis. He defended his plan to drop the tax on diesel, increase the tax on gasoline and make private owners of diesel vehicles pay double for their annual road tax.

The televised speech was the first public comments by Arias since physicians diagnosed him with a cyst on his vocal cords. He has tried to remain silent since the first week in May.

Costa Rica does not live in a bubble, Arias said, as he explained the implications of the global petroleum crisis.

Costa Rica will have to pay twice as much this year as it did in 2007 for petroleum, he said. Nearly all the money generated by tourism, the exportation of bananas and the exportation of coffee will go to buy petroleum, he said. Costa Rica imports all its petroleum.

As president, he said he had decided to help those who have less in this crisis in spite of the counsel from some to treat all citizens equally.

He said the government would not sacrifice student scholarships, school lunches, pensions for the elderly or the creation of more health clinics. Nor, he said, would the government sacrifice the construction of housing or the development of schools of music or community computer centers or more police or help for small and medium producers.

In short, he said he would not sacrifice any of his social programs.

"I will not permit the effects of this energy crisis to be distributed equally," said Arias. "If for someone with money the increase in the price of petroleum means changing his luxury car for a more economical automobile and for a person of the middle class it means keeping his vehicle and travel by bus, for those who live in poverty it means to have to choose between using money to go to work or to buy food for the home."

Arias explained the executive branch is sending to the legislature the measure to eliminate the tax on diesel and place the same taxes on gasoline. Arias reasons that diesel is used for the transportation of goods, of the public and in agriculture.

In addition he is seeking a budget measure to help the poorest of families and farmers. In addition a measure will seek to double the road tax on private vehicles that use diesel. He called these diesel luxury cars. Administration officials said this increase is designed to lessen the advantage of the elimination of diesel fuel taxes.

In addition to other uses, petroleum is used extensively by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad to generate power.

Costa Rica has declined to allow offshore drilling although major companies wanted to explore for possible petroleum reserves.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 123

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Milanes might get off the hook with negotiated settlement
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Angel Milanes Tamayo has until Tuesday to create liens in favor of the Costa Rican courts on six properties that he owns in the area and to deposit a substantial sum of money into the judicial accounts.

That was the deal a judge accepted Friday to allow Milanes, accused of a multi-million-dollar fraud involving more than 2,000 persons, to remain free.

Milanes appears well-positioned to negotiate his way out of criminal charges by paying off a small percentage of his original investors. He ran Savings Unlimited, which promised from 3 to 5 percent a month to investors.

Milanes vanished Nov. 23, 2002, as Savings Unlimited crashed. However, he and associates retain control of a hotel and a number of rented casinos with positive cash flow.

A court source said that Milanes had been negotiating his return to Costa Rica for some weeks. He was snagged by police at an airport in El Salvador because he presented a false Costa Rican passport. Still, court officials said Friday that he surrendered himself.

Two lawyers have assembled groups of creditors who hope to cash in on the Milanes assets. Both groups together amount to perhaps 250 to 275 persons. Many others failed to file criminal complaints or to perfect their complaints by presenting documents. Some were fearful that their relationship with Milanes and his high-interest monthly payments would be made known to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Others just thought court action was a lost cause.

Some creditors over the weekend have been trying to join the criminal action. Most appear to be out of luck. The formal presentation of charges against Milanes and associates appears to be just weeks away.

Creditors who filed against Milanes have mixed opinions.
Most welcome the possibility that they will get some or all of the money they gave him. Others are amazed that Milanes might go free after years of financial manipulations.

He was seen over the weekend visiting some of his casinos.

Some creditors said that Milanes might surrender to the courts up to $18 million in cash. The Poder Judicial said that the money had been frozen, but creditors said there is no indication of that in the court file. If that money and the properties, which have been evaluated by a court-appointed appraiser, are accepted for full settlement of the case, Milanes stands to emerge an estimated $160 million to the good.

There may have been more creditors pressing the case, but an online site supporting the fugitive Luis Enrique Villalobos branded as a fraud a successful attempt to rally Milanes creditors. This is one of the two groups that stand to recover their investment. But the Web site Villalobosreports said incorrectly that the effort to unite creditors was a scam orchestrated by A.M. Costa Rica.

The Web site at that time was involved in an effort to reduce the number of creditors who were pressing claims in court against Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos. Observers expected the Villalobos brothers to seek a negotiated settlement once the numbers of litigants became low enough, but such negotiations never took place. Instead, a judicial tribunal sentenced Oswaldo Villalobos to 18 years for fraud and illegal banking.

The Milanes creditors fear a money laundering charge. The International Police Agency said in its online summary that Milanes was wanted to face trial for that crime. But local officials say the charge is fraud. The difference is that under a money laundering conviction ill-gotten gains are surrendered to the state.

Milanes told his investors that their money would be put into casinos, and many thought they were getting an ownership interest.

Aserrí claims crown as tamal capital of world this weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The town of Aserrí and the Asociación Cívica Cultural Aqueserí will hold the annual tamales expo-fair beginning this weekend and continuing during the weekend that ends July 6.

Tamales are wraps of corn dough stuffed with meat, commonly pork, and other filling, like rice, beans and olives. The wraps are steam cooked and served with any number of sauces or condiments, and have become a traditional Costa Rican dish, particularly at Christmas.

The traditionally native American tamal is a favorite here in Costa Rica, and Aserrí is “tamale world” according to an association release.
With 20 businesses in the area focused on tamale production, it is easy to see why. The event is aimed at encouraging both foreign interest in the Cantón de Aserrí area as well as local and foreign appreciation for the delicious tamale, along with its historic and cultural backgrounds the release explains. This will be the sixth such tamale fair held in Aserrí.

Tamales are the principal product of the Aserrí community, which will attempt to introduce its local performers and craftsmen through the publicity from the fair. The community has been focused on tamale production for the last 50 years, the release said.

A Web site contains the events scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as July 4, 5 and 6.

Fuerza Pública chase into city ends in collision in northeast San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers chased a suspicious vehicle from Heredia until the vehicle and a patrol car collided late Sunday at Avenida 15 at Calle 23 in northeast San José,
The vehicle which police said they thought had been stolen also collided with a utility pole.

Officers said they recovered a pistol from the car. The number of occupants and their injures were not known.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 123

Book lovers will have a blast at the Antigua Aduana fair
By Jeremy Arias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Miguel de Cervantes, Stephen King, Sartre, even more colorful characters like Garfield and popular Spanish-language cartoon character Mafalda line the walls of the Antigua Aduana building just south of the Santa Teresita church for the 10th international book fair of Costa Rica, open through Sunday.

The Costa Rican event coincides with the 12th international Central American book fair, and offers attendees a vast selection of local and international literature and retailers.

Books analyzing the political impact of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara are juxtaposed with fantasy and fiction titles like the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" series. Shelves full of Gabriel García Márquez's works of magical realism stand next to the latest Michael Crichton sci-fi thrillers, all in Spanish.

In fact, about the only drawback to the massive book fair for tourists and expatriates is the complete lack of books in English, but many of the booths offer language- learning books and software along with their usual wares.

Lectures are in Spanish, as well, but with even a basic grasp of the language the guest speakers and performers promise to be an entertaining group.

There will be a speech on rock music and fiction hosted by Grupo Editorial Norma at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and a performance by Spanish singer Emilio José put on by the Spanish Embassy at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The fair's schedule, available at the door, lists up to as many as 14 such events to be held at various booths or the
book fair animalito
A.M. Costa Rica/Jeremy Arias
For kids, it's not all books at the book fair, as this life-sized fantasy figure can testify.

main lecture podium at the back of the building.  The fair is open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day and admission is 500 colons.

Participating stores and organizations include Librería Internacional, Fundación Libros para Niños, LibroMax and Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica among others. The fair is hosted by the youth and culture ministry, Cámara Costarricense del Libro and the Spanish Embassy.

Police, coast guard detain three and confiscate two boats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Coast guard and police forces in Quepos and Parrita made several arrests and captured three suspects, two boats and three AK-47 rifles yesterday.

The arrests began just after 8:16 a.m. when officers of the Quepos-based Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas were warned of a suspicious boat in the mouth of the Río Naranjo. The officers located a Colombian-made speed boat with 23 tanks of fuel and three rifles, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad.

Continuing the investigation, the coast guard force located a second boat, the Cindy, nearby. The coast guard arrested two Costa Ricans on the Cindy, identified by the last names Chacón Rojas and Cascante Aráuz, according to the release.
The Cindy was registered in Quepos.

From these arrests, the coast guard informed the nearby Fuerza Publica about a suspicious vehicle in the area with five occupants.

Officers in Parrita eventually detained a man identified by the last names of Quirós Godínez after a 7 km chase. Godínez, a native of Pococí, surrendered at a roadblock, said the ministry.

It is not certain if Godínez's detention is related to the boats captured earlier.

Costa Rican boats have been implicated in providing fuel for Colombian drug boats that were headed to México and other points to the north.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 23, 2007, Vol. 8, No. 123

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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.

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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Shorter days are pushed
for domestic workers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Movimiento Libertario lawmakers are pushing shorter work days for domestic help again. The measure is one that has not been acted upon by previous legislatures.

The measure would cut the work day of a household worker from 12 hours to eight hours a day. Carlos Gutiérrez Gómez, a lawmaker, estimated that the measure would benefit 150,000 persons, mostly women. He said that the longer hours represented discrimination.

Domestic workers, by law, can work up to 12 hours a day six and a half days a week. They may get but a half day off each week, according to the labor code.
Gutiérrez said that such workers were victims of discrimination on salary, exploitation, aggression and sexual harassment among other forms of violations of their rights. Most members of the legislature employ domestic help.

Robbery suspect faces
42 separate complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bus company that runs a route into the poor section of León XIII said its drivers have been held up multiple times by the same individual.

The 22-year-old man, identified by the last names of  Campos Chaves, has 42 separate complaints filed against him, and he has been arrested many times, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He was arrested again Friday.

Due to the constant robberies, the bus company has been forced to relocate its terminal to a place opposite the local police station. The company said eight of its employees have quit over the situation.

The Fuerza Pública commander in Tibás, Delroy Hernández, said the man keeps getting free after arrests. The area is within the Tibás district. The bus robber uses a gun to take money from the driver and possessions from the passengers, police said.  The poor residents of the area have been forced to take taxis to avoid the robberies, said officials.

Ex-immigration agents
on trial for visa fraud

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three former immigration agents are going on trial this week to face allegations that in exchange for money they let Nicaraguan citizens enter the country without the required visa. They were identified by the last names of  Oporta Martínez, Guevara Torres and Brizuelas Canales. They worked for the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería at the Peñas Blancas border station.

They were arrested in January 2007 after an investigation that started months earlier when police stopped a bus with foreigners who had immigration stamps in their passports but no visas, said the Poder Judicial.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 123

Struggling Costa Rican national team stays alive in World Cup preliminaries
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican national team secured a spot among the final 12 teams hoping to represent the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football region in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Ticos scored three unanswered goals Saturday night
 against Grenada to secure their position. The victory came as a relief to a nation on the brink of failing to qualify.
Other qualifiers include Mexico, which defeated Belize 7-0, and Guatemala, which won against St. Lucia.

In related news, the Netherlands suffered a sour quarter-final loss to Russia in the Euro-2008 competition. Russia won, 3-1 in extra time Saturday.

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