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These stories were published Tuesday, July 2, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 129
Jo Stuart
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Pacheco takes two steps against corruption
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of President Abel Pacheco took two steps Monday to investigate allegations of corruption.

The president appointed a former vice president, Germán Serrano Pinto, to head the troubled governmental insurance agency. 

Then Rina Conteras, the minister to the presidency, said she asked the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores and the Fiscalía General de la República to get additional information on claims a U.S. company paid massive bribes to Costa Rican officials.

Almost immediately, Roberto Tovar, minister of foreign relations, said he would participate in the fight against corruption. His ministry also said that Jaime Daremblum, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States, was returning to San José to discuss the bribery situation.

Daremblum told a Kansas City reporter that there were no bribes and that the principals in the U.S. company made up the story to fleece investors.

In the case of the insurance agency, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros and the bribery allegations involved a proposed port development in Limón, the Pacheco government is handling situations that developed during the four-year term of his predecessor. Both Pacheco and former President Miguel Angel Rodríguez are members of the same political party, the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

The government insurance monopoly suffered a blow last month when Pacheco’s appointee to the job of executive director abruptly quit for what was called personal reasons. Then allegations were made about excessive foreign trips for managers and a 35 million colon (about $100,000) insurance settlement in a case where the son of a former director said he had hit a cow. Later, police said a pedestrian was killed.

Minister Conteras told reporters Monday that the government supports the creation of a superintendent of insurance and a new law 

that would "place order" in the contracts between the agency and the public.

The Kansas City case is complex.  Last week a U.S. federal jury convicted a man there of conspiracy and involvement in a plan to bribe Costa Rican officials in order to win his company a big port concession on the Caribbean. Such bribes are illegal under U.S. law. 

A Costa Rican, Pablo Barquero Hernandez, also was indicted in the case, but he remains a fugitive in Costa Rica.

The case centers around a plan by King and Owl Securities & Investment of Kansas City to develop a major port facility on Costa Rica’s Caribbean. The former president of Owl, Stephen Kingsley, secretly taped a number of conversations with King that were used at the trial. Kingsley, himself, was found dead last year floating in the Missouri River.

The U.S. government said that King and others paid up to $350,000 to Costa Rican officials and had plans to pay $1.5 million more in bribes to expedite the plan. 

King did not testify at the trial, but an FBI special agent, Robert Herndon, testified that an examination of the financial records of Owl showed that the $350,000 had been paid. He did not name the Costa Rican officials who were supposed to have gotten the money, and he may not even have the names.

The bribery case has been going on for some time, but there has been no apparent action by Costa Rica officials to obtain documents or names from the U.S. government. Nor has there been any effort to question Barquero.

The new insurance chief, Serrano Pinto, served in that job in 1978 and 1979. then he was vice president under Rafael Angel Calderón.

Pacheco said that what was needed for the insurance bureaucracy was a man of honesty and a will of steel. Serrano Pinto, a lawyer, is 62. He said he took the job because the country needed him. He had been approached earlier, but it took a meeting with Pacheco Monday to insure that he would accept the post.

Another warning for U.S. citizens abroad
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department has issued a new world-wide travel alert for Americans abroad, saying that new terrorist attacks, including possible suicide operations may be "imminent." The warning came as Americans prepared to celebrate the July 4th Independence Day holiday. 

The advisory issued late Monday said U.S. officials had no information as to specific targets or the timing or method of attack. But it said the government continues to receive what it said were "credible indications" that "extremist individuals" are planning additional attacks against U.S. interests. 

The warning, which updated a previous global travel alert issued in March, said the actions may be imminent, target civilians and include 

suicide operations. It said Americans abroad need to remain vigilant with regard to personal security during the summer season and to exercise caution. 

The statement alluded to terror attacks earlier this year against a church in Pakistan and a synagogue in Tunisia, which, it said, underlines a "growing possibility" that terrorists may seek out "softer targets" as security at official U.S. facilities is increased. 

U.S. citizens should take extra care at, or avoid altogether, locations where Americans are known to congregate, the announcement said, and it also warned that Americans may be targeted for kidnapping. No countries were specifically mentioned in the global alert, but other U.S. advisories currently in effect focus on the Middle East, South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia.

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Transit official directs cars near bus without window. 
Were you in a traffic jam Monday?

A.M. Costa Rica photos
Shaken passengers leave beached bus.
Tico law: Two buses cannot occupy the same space . . . 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The word bus comes from omnibus and today means a public conveyance. The word buss means to kiss.

So when two buses buss, some confusion may result, and, in the case of two buses Monday afternoon, one heckuva traffic jam.

The Sabana Estadio bus from downtown was just crossing the Autopista General Cañas when a Station Wagon de Alajuela bus, also leaving the city, clipped its left rear. For some reason, the Alajuela-bound bus could not stop or the driver failed to see he had a red light. Or maybe the traffic signal was out.

The thump was like a small detonation, and the bus aft section leaped to the right.

The Sabana bus filled with downtown office workers and students lurched out of its lane and 

momentarily threatened oncoming vehicles with a
headon. The wayward bus finally settled for lopping off a light pole and a small tree in the median of the Bulvar las Americas. The pole and tree clipped a four-wheel utility vehicle as they fell.

Instantly, transit police, rescue workers and Red Cross medics were on the scene. They seem to stake out major intersections. 

But no one was injured on either bus, although some on the Alajuela bus were sprayed with glass fragments when the front bus window shattered.

Instantly east and west traffic froze on the boulevard that runs north of Parque la Sabana. The Alajuela bus blocked two lanes of the autopista. They were there for awhile as bus passengers scurried for other vehicles.

P.S. You don’t get your 75 colones back when your bus crashes.

Higher court reaffirms
decision on Pinochet

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Chilean Supreme Court has thrown out charges against former dictator Augusto Pinochet, accused of human rights abuses during his 17-year rule. 

In a 4-1 ruling on Monday, the judges upheld an appeals court decision from last year which said the general cannot stand trial because he is mentally incompetent. The ailing general suffers from dementia as well as other health problems. 

Pinochet was charged with 18 kidnappings and 57 homicides carried out by the "Caravan of Death," a military death squad that executed political prisoners after he seized power in 1973. 

The former dictator has denied any criminal conduct during his hold on power that ended in 1990. The suspension of the trial is widely seen as ending long-standing efforts in Chile and abroad to prosecute him. Despite Monday's decision, the general's opponents have emphasized that the case was suspended because of his health. He was not declared innocent of the charges, they stress.

Montesinos handed
his first sentence

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Peru's former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, has been sentenced to nine years in prison and fined nearly $3 million for abuse of authority. 

Montesinos was convicted of usurping the duties of head of the Peruvian Intelligence System when he served as an advisor to former President Alberto Fujimori. This is the first of some 70 court cases the former spy chief faces on charges including extortion, drug trafficking, illegal arms deals and directing a death squad. 

Montesinos lawyers say they will appeal his conviction. Peruvian judges are now determining how they will deal with the series of cases against Montesinos, set to be tried in public later this year. Peruvian Congressman Rafael Valencia, of the opposition National Unity Party, said the sentence, with the likelihood of early release, does not correspond to the seriousness of the crime. 

"For this case, Mr. Montesinos will only have to serve a prison term of three-and-a-half years, if I calculate correctly," Valencia said. "And this would be an extremely soft term for the enormous damage that this Fujimori adviser did." 

Under Peru's justice system, convicts serve concurrent sentences, meaning any future prison terms resulting from the cases against Montesinos cannot be added on to his current sentence. 

Montesinos' fall from power began in September 2000 with a videotape showing him bribing a congressman to switch to the government party. Montesinos fled the country but was captured eight months later in Venezuela and returned to Peru. 

Then-President Fujimori fled to Japan, his ancestral homeland, where he is in self-imposed exile. The Peruvian government is seeking to extradite him to face multiple charges.  A cache of videotapes found in the wake of the scandal led to charges against dozens of executive officials, judges, congressmen, military officers, and journalists. 

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U.S. death penalty
ruled unconstitutional

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, New York — A U.S. judge here Monday declared the federal death penalty unconstitutional. The ruling is expected to be appealed by the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff called the Federal Death Penalty Act "tantamount to state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings." 

He ruled that people are not given enough opportunity to prove their innocence, creating a risk executing innocent people and denying the right to due process. This is the first time since 1994 that the Federal Death Penalty Act has been declared unconstitutional. 

Although the decision does not affect state death penalty laws, it could halt federal executions in several states. U.S. District Court Judge Rakoff said he based his decision on recent studies of death penalty cases in state courts, which indicate that numerous innocent people have been sentenced to death. 

Norman Olch is a law professor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Professor Olch says that in the past, a national debate about the death penalty in the United States centered on ethical issues. Now he says science is fueling the debate. 

"I think that the engine that at the moment is driving the increased dialogue about the death penalty is science," he said. "And I think one of the questions that the proponents of the death penalty, it seems to me, must answer is the question of the execution of the innocent. It simply has been shown recently that there are a number of wrongfully convicted people either on death row or serving long-terms of imprisonment." 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that the execution of the mentally retarded is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the U.S. States of Maryland and Illinois have declared moratoriums on executions pending review of the system. In the past, bias based on racial and geographic grounds in death penalty cases have been revealed. 

New York's highest court is also reviewing a death sentence case for the first time in nearly 20 years. 

Federal prosecutors, who are expected to appeal Judge Rakoff's decision, argue that no one sentenced under federal law has later been found innocent. 

Two people have been executed under the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Juan Garza, convicted of murder related to drug smuggling. 

Judge Rakoff made his ruling during pre-trial arguments in a case involving heroin ring partners accused of torturing and killing an informant. 

Venerable currencies
in history’s dust bin

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Many European currencies, including marks, francs, pestas, escudos, lire, guilder and others, have really gone out of style. 

As of Monday, July 1, they have lost their status as legal tender and are only accepted by the central banks of the 12 European Union countries that have adopted the euro as their official currency. 

The euro, which has been in use for six months, has had its share of highs and lows. When it first made an appearance in financial transactions in January, 1999, it was worth about $1.17. Since then it has lost value - down as low as 86 cents, although it recently rebounded to about 99 cents, nearly on equal footing with the dollar.

Also beginning Monday, Europeans traveling in the so-called eurozone no longer had to pay higher fees to withdraw euros from another member country's automatic teller machines.

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