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(506) 2223-1327       Published Thursday, June 25, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 124       E-mail us
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Why we call
it winter

The wet weather has been a drag at the new national stadium construction site in Parque La Sabana. The stadium, a gift from the People's Republic, is being built by an imported Chinese crew, as the signs announce in two languages.

National stadium rollover
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas



Investor case against Luis Milanes slows to a crawl
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 527 investors who hope to get money back from Luis Ángel Milanes Tamayo have suffered another reverse.

A preliminary court hearing scheduled for a few weeks has been put off and the case appears to be back to square one. In addition, investors have learned that Milanes never put up $15 million in cash that he promised when a judge let him out of prison after just a few hours a year ago.

Milanes was the operator of Savings Unlimited, one of several high-interest borrowing operations. He closed up his operation one weekend in November 2002 and vanished. The loss to investors was in the neighborhood of $200 million.

June 19, 2008, Milanes turned up at an airport in El Salvador using a false passport, said the International Police Agency. Instead of being held, law officers allowed him to continue his trip to Costa Rica where prosecutors awaited him. It was apparent that Milanes had made arrangements with prosecutors to surrender.

Milanes was ordered to preventative detention for  six months but got out in a few hours by posting some $10 million in property and promising to post $15 million in cash.

Estimates of the loss to those who have joined the fraud case against him range from $40 to $50 million.

In the meantime, representatives of Milanes have been negotiating with some investors and offering them cents on the dollar to drop their case. Milanes operated and continues to operate a chain of casinos in San José and elsewhere.

In all, the Milanes operation has about 47 separate companies, said court papers. Investors were led to believe that Milanes owned the Hotel Europa, the Hotel Royal Dutch, the Hotel Costa Rica Morazán, the casinos Europa, Tropical, Royal Dutch, Majestic, La Condesa and the Tobby Brown beauty shop chain. All but the Royal Dutch actually were rented properties, said court papers. Many investors thought they were part owners of the hotels and casinos.

The latest legal problem appears to have to do with the paperwork on the court file. A judge rejected the case. A judicial worker said that all parties to the case were not notified correctly. That means a preliminary hearing might not be scheduled until August at the earliest, one investor said.

Some get the sense that prosecutors want the investors, mostly U.S. and Canadian citizens, to settle their case. They may have good reason.
When Milanes left he cleaned out the offices in Centro Colon and did not leave behind much evidence.

There also has been turnover in the lead prosecutors.

Another reason may be because prosecutors cannot produce a principal witness, Adolfo Somarribas Arias, who was captured in Luxembourg last November. He is believed to be a close associate who handled the Milanes accounts in Europe.

He is fighting extradition there and also faces a local money laundering charge. Somarribas is a well-known lawyer here and once sought the job of defensor de los habitantes.

Also being investigated in the case, according to court documents, are: Enrique Pereira Oceguera, general manager of Savings Unlimited; Michael Gonzalez Espinoza, the manager of accounts; José Victor Poo, identified as a supervisor of the operation; Enrique Pereira Sila, auditor general; José Milanes Tamayo Coto, the brother of Luis Milanes, who worked as the general manager of an associated company; Mercedes del Carmen López Blandon, a former Milanes housekeeper who rose to a position of confidence in the operation, and Herman Zango Milgram, a man court papers allege hide money for the Milanes operation.  All are free but some served periods of preventative detention.

Although today the idea that a company can pay 3 to 5 percent interest a month on investments seems unlikely, when Savings Unlimited was in operation from 1999 to 2002, there were at least five similar firms offering about the same deal.

The most well-known was the defunct Luis Enrique Villalobos operation in Mall San Pedro. He was secretive about what he did with the money and paid his investors each month with cash stuffed in an envelope. He required a $10,000 initial investment.

Milanese had a different image. While Villalobos conducted business behind a nondescript entry, Milanes had etched glass doors. He had what appeared to be a teller's window inside the office giving the place a suggestion of a bank or loan company. The furnishings were plush and inviting.  He gave computer-generated statements.

While Villalobos gave Bibles to his creditors, Milanes associates would take investors on casino and nightlife tours.

Workers at the Milanes operation always said he was investing the borrowed money into casinos. He once offered $100,000 to the Abel Pacheco campaign in late 2001, but Pacheco rejected the money.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 124

Costa Rica Expertise
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Physicians and surgeons

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Lawmakers see casinos
as centers of drug use

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Are casinos hotbeds of drug use?

That appears to be the opinion of some lawmakers. Members of a committee voted Wednesday to send a measure that would jack up the taxes on casinos to the Instituto de Control de Drogas as well as the Ministerio de Hacienda.

Casinos have been taking a beating from officialdom. First Laura Chinchilla, when she was serving as vice president, branded casinos as centers of prostitution. She helped author a decree to cut casino hours.

Now that she is a leading presidential candidate, casino operators wonder what would be in store for them in a government she headed.

The casino tax bill has support from most of the political parties. It was Gilberto Jerez Rojas of Liberación Nacional who brought up the issue of drugs. He said many times anti-drug agents have said that in the casinos narcotics resources circulate and there are illegal activities.

"To me it appears that nothing better than the Instituto de Control de Drogas would be able to give us an opinion in this respect . . . that would let us enlarge the criteria and have more elements of judgment to improve the project," he said.

Also sent to the Ministerio de Hacienda and to municipalities was a proposed law to control online gambling.

Sending laws for opinions to various government agencies is normal, but this is the first time casinos were linked to drugs in the committee hearings.

Volunteer sweeps reduced
incidents of dengue, malaria


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Both cases of dengue and malaria are down 50 percent this year, and health officials are crediting in part the efforts of volunteers who sought out and eliminated mosquito breeding places.

In particular, a program run by Asociación Terra Nostra and the Cervercería Costa Rica got praise for putting up to 3,000 volunteers in the field during 16 sweeps in various geographical areas. The volunteers visited 23,000 homes, collected eight tons of plastic, nearly 10.5 tons of glass and 30 tons of scrap metal. They also collected 6,000 tires, which are perfect mosquito breeding places.

María Luisa Ávila Agüero, the minister of health, said that the results generated by this program deserve to be pointed out as a valuable tool to lower the incidence of dengue.

According to health ministry figures, at the end of the year's 23rd week, ending June 13, there were 1,465 cases of dengue, some 49.6 percent fewer than the 2,905 in 2008 at the same time.

There are fewer cases of malaria, just 128, which is 131 cases fewer than at the same time in 2008, said the health ministry.

But Dr. Avila said that the good showing is not a reason to lower the guard because the rainy season is just starting.

Volcano monitoring unit
gets money for equipment


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Universidad Nacional agency that keeps track of volcanoes and earthquakes got 1.4 billion colons Wednesday to improve monitoring systems.

The money for the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica came from the national emergency commission, the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

The amount is about $2.4 million. Juan de Dios Segura, director of the observatory, said that the money will be used to provide real-time monitoring of the volcanoes Turrialba, Arenal, Poás and Irazú, which are the most active.


Our reader's opinion
Victims should not resist
when confronted by robber


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
Every time I see an article on a tourist being killed in a robbery, it is almost always connected with the tourist resisting or showing aggressive behavior.  This is not just the case in Costa Rica. It is pretty universal everywhere.  If the robber has a gun or knife, don’t resist.  Be polite and give them everything they ask for.  Your life is far more important than anything they can take from you.

Costa Rica of course could help by passing very severe penalties and jail time for any armed robbery with a gun or knife or other dangerous weapon.  They should also make it a serious crime to posses a handgun in Costa Rica, unless you have the proper permits.

However, that doesn’t change much if your robber has a gun or knife.  BE POLITE, NON-AGGRESSIVE AND SMILE.  Don’t talk, put your hands on top of your head and let the robber take what ever they want.  If the robber points to your pockets, take things out of your pockets slowly.  Be non-aggressive, be non-angry, don’t try to negotiate, give them everything.  Better to give them more than what they ask for, since you probably won’t understand their Spanish anyway, assume they want everything, including rings, watches, necklaces, everything. 

This is a passive culture. Most people react well to smiles and will feel non-threatened.  Most robbers, I suspect, are terrified of the aggressive cultures of many other countries, especially the U.S.A.  They don’t know if you have a gun or weapon, so don’t act as if you do. 

Use two fingers to empty your pockets, don’t thrust your entire hand into your pocket.  Best to simply put your hands up or on top of your head and let the robber empty your pockets.  Best not to speak at all.  If you have to speak, just say “Bueno,” “Tranquilo,” “Esta bien.”  Be cooperative and save your life.

Don’t forget to smile, it could save your life and is the universal language of non-aggression.

Edward Bridges
Desamparados
18 years, never been robbed, knock on wood.
 
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 124


Red Mango Real estate
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Organized crime law will generate money for police agencies
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The law against organized crime would result in big paydays for the judiciary, the nation's drug institute, police and prosecutors, if it is passed by the legislature. Discussion begins Monday.

A draft of the proposed law in Wednesday's La Gaceta official newspaper contains few significant changes from what officials have been talking about for months. Basically with the order of a judge, prosecutors can make use of special rules for organized crime cases. One or more serious crimes in which two or more persons are involved is the definition of organized crime.

Investigators involved in an organized crime case would be able to get a wiretapping order good for up to 12 months and also have the benefit of elimination of bank secrecy. The wiretapping order includes all modes of electronic communication, even Internet.

A Centro Judicial de Intervención de las Comunicaciones is envisioned as a 24-hour center that will eavesdrop on suspected criminals. Telecommunication companies are ordered by the proposal to help with the wiretapping.

A large section of the proposal involves how to handle money and property confiscated from criminals. In most cases, the money or goods goes to the Instituto Costarricense Sobre Drogas, which takes 20 percent for administration. The Poder Judicial, the Ministerio Público, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública each get 10 percent and the Judicial Investigating Organization gets 50 percent.

In cases involving sexual abuse of minors, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia also receives a share of confiscated property.

The Judicial Investigating Organization gets the lion's share in most cases not only for use in conducting investigations but also because the law imposes another responsibility. That is running the Plataforma de Información Policial
The Plataforma is a computer network available to all law enforcement officers in the country, according to the law. There are varying degrees of access, but the platform will be linked to all government data bases, investigative files, all the national registries and international networks.
There are penalties proposed for misusing the data.

Those accused of an organized crime can spend as much as 24 months in preventative detention, twice as long as usually is the case. And prosecutors can seek to extend the term for a year more, for a total of three years without conviction.

The proposal also includes some actions unrelated to organized crime. For example, one section eliminates a turf war by placing the national office of the International Police Agency, INTERPOL, under the director of the Judicial Investigating Organization. It has been part of the Dirección de Seguridad Nacional, which answers to the minister of the Presidencia.

The bill also includes a section that established a prison term of from six months to eight years for persons who wear official uniforms and for those who use them to commit crimes. These include uniforms of police, Cruz Roja and the Cuerpo de Bomberos, the firemen.

The section lifting bank secrecy allows investigators to go back 10 years to study any unexplained increase in capital in a private person's bank account or that of a corporation. This anti-money laundering provision puts the burden of proof on the individual to show that the money was earned legally.

Franciso Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor has been urging quick passage of the proposal. Absent from the bill are any mentions of encrypted communications.  Downloadable privacy software can encrypt e-mail messages sufficiently to frustrate the most tech savvy investigator. There are similar devices for telephones.

In addition, criminals have been known to use multiple disposable cell telephones to keep ahead of wiretaps.


American Colony Committee provides map for July 3 picnic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The only thing that was missing at the American Colony Committee annual Independence Day picnic was a map.

The Cerverceria Costa Rica picnic ground has as its most distinctive landmark an overpass bridge. There are no other obvious landmarks on that stretch of the Autopista General Cañas west of San José.

But now there is a map, downloadable from the committee's Web site. Usually there are clear signs at the location, but a map is handy for drivers to study ahead of time.
Says Margaret Sohn, the picnic chairlady:

"Start the day with a cup of Café Britt coffee, then mosey 
on over to the hot dog stand and pick up one or two with all the trimmings. Add a tasty side of coleslaw then grab a beer or a soft drink (all free!). Don’t miss the square dancers or the cheerleaders or the flag-raising, while you’re at it."

This year, as usually, attendance is being restricted to U.S. citizens and their immediate families. Entrance is ¢2,500 ($4) for all U.S. citizens and their dependents. Children 5 and under are free.

The picnic was started more than 40 years ago to give the children of expats a taste of a traditional July 4 celebration.  This year the event is July 3 because of the availability of the picnic grounds. It runs from 8 a.m. to noon.

Attendants usually check passports at the front gate.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 124


World's cocaine economy reported by U.N. to be declining
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U. N. Office of Drugs and Crime says global production of heroin and cocaine has decreased during the past year.  But it says production and use of synthetic drugs appears to be rising in developing nations. 

The annual report calls for better treatment for addicts and increased cooperation to combat illegal drug trafficking.

The report cites a downward trend in the worldwide cultivation of heroin and cocaine.

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan — the source of 93 percent of the world's opium —  was down 19 percent last year, the report said.

Colombia, which produces half of the world's cocaine, saw an 18 percent decline in cultivation of coca, it added.  Global production of coca was at a five-year low.

Antonio Maria Costa is executive director of the U. N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

"The declining purity, the increasing prices, decreasing consumption in the United States, in Europe as well as declining cultivation — you definitely see the world
cocaine economy, or the cocaine economy in the world, is shrinking," said Costa.

Cannabis, or marijuana, remains the most widely cultivated and used drug in the world.  The United Nations says marijuana is more harmful than commonly believed and that there was a significant rise in the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana use last year.

The use of synthetic drugs — such as amphetamines, methamphetamine and ecstasy — appears to be on the rise in the developing world.  The U.N. report says massive quantities are being produced in Southeast Asia and that Canada has become a major trafficking hub for methamphetamine and ecstasy.  The report recommends that addicts should be treated with compassion, not as criminals.

Gil Kerlikowske is director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy:

"The earlier we can intervene with people with drug problems, the better — it just makes sense," he said.

In the fight against drug-related crime, the study recommends that governments enforce international agreements against organized crime and use existing U.N. conventions to tackle corruption and money laundering. 


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 124



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.

Searching

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.

Newspages

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.

Classifieds

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.

Advertising information

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

Statistics

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

Contacting us

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

Visiting us

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


Robber who used needle
convicted in San Carlos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who is believed to be a member of the robbery band known as "los doctores" has been sentenced to two years in prison for an attack on a 71-year-old man in his home near San Carlos.

The band is called the doctors because they use hypodermic needles to inject chemicals into their victims so they will not resist.

The case that led to the conviction before the Tribunal de San Carlos happened in Oct. 11, 2008, when two men confronted a victim with the last names of Araya Monteo in his home in Tres Perlas de Pocosol. As they injected him with the chemical, they also tied him up.

Later family members found the man in a critical state of health and took him from the area to avoid reprisals from the gang.

The bandits took a four-wheel drive vehicle, a quadracycle and cash.

The convicted man has the last names of Araya Rojas. He was detained just three days after the crime.

It was unclear why the man was convicted of the lesser crime of simple robbery. An aggravated robbery conviction would have drawn more time.

However, under Costa Rica law, the robber has to break into the building and use a weapon for the more serious crime. The needle probably is not a weapon as defined in the law.


Two homes are invaded
by lurking criminals


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits invaded two area homes Tuesday night, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. In both cases the bandits appeared as a homeowner was about to enter.

The first was in Alajuelita where four men pulled guns on the homeowner and forced him into the home where he and others there were tied up while the crooks took household appliance and a vehicle and fled, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The second stickup was in Barrio Los Angeles where similar events transpired about 6 p.m. A woman resident was about to enter her home when gunmen appeared. They took her inside, tied her up and beat her to find out where cash and valuables were located, said the Judicial agency.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 124


Latin American news digest
New terminal contract
approved for Liberia


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Liberia will be getting a new $35 million airport terminal under terms of an agreement approved Wednesday by President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his ministers.

The agreement is with Coriport S.A., a consortium which has agreed to design and build the two-story structure and to operate the terminal at Daniel Oduber airport for 20 years.

The company will have five months after the Contraloría de la República approves the agreement to submit a design. Once the design is approved, the company will have six months to build the structure, according to the agreement

The new terminal will handle 1,500 passengers a day instead of the 900 now.

The first floor will house immigration officers, customs, equipment handlers, airline offices and the airport administration offices.

The second floor will be departure lounges and gates for boarding aircraft, according to the proposed plan. The structure will be 22,949 cubic meters or about 810,436 cubic feet.

More restrictions coming

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial and the transport ministry will soon issue another edict restricting traffic in the area in and around San José.

Officials are reported to be waiting for official notification of the Sala IV constitutional court case that voided the previous restrictions that were based on the last digit of a license plate. They will try to circumvent the constitutional problem of restricting free transit.

Officials are convinced that restrictions are needed to prevent massive tie ups downtown. The Policía de Tránsito has had officers on the street issuing tickets for incorrectly parked and stopped vehicles.




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