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These stories were published Monday, July 7, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 132
Jo Stuart
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U.S. joins 
Villalobos case

Creditors have 
opinion choice

Parmenio Medina
effort criticized

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A country band and the local square dance group were additions to July 4 activities near San José Friday. The Coffee Pickin’ Square Dance Club did the instructing for U.S. citizens and family. More photos HERE!
Damage, floods reported from heavy rains 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains Sunday in the central Pacific coast and in the Northern Zone created landslides and flooding typical of the rainy season.

Officials said that even the InterAmerican Highway was closed when a tree fell across it. Other local roads also were closed by slides.

The mountainous geography of Costa Rica is well designed for slides and road closing when rains hit. Several rivers were reported out of their banks and causing flooding, said officials.

The Central Valley was generally spared from the rain damage. During July Guanacaste has 

been the driest part of the country, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

Rain hit San José only a few days this month and always in the afternoon or evening. Alajuela has had rain every day, the weather institute said. Rain fell in San José Saturday afternoon and Sunday night.

The period is known as the little summer of San Juan, but the weather bureau warned that the conditions were not stable. This is usually a period of a break in the rain. For today, the weather forecasters said there would be more heavy downpours in the central Pacific and south Pacific as well in the Northern Zone and the Caribbean slope.

No new leads in case of missing Zapote girl, 8
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police still do not have any firm leads on the whereabouts of an 8-year-old Zapote girl who vanished Friday afternoon within 400 meters (1,300 feet) from her home.

The girl is Katia Vanesa González Juárez, and police requested wide distribution of her photo Friday night. A.M. Costa Rica complied with a photo as part of the Friday newspaper.

Investigators are handling the case as foul play because the girl was only going to a friend’s house to retrieve a school book. And there have been several kidnappings of youngsters within the last 17 months. 

Jessica Valverde Pineda, 4, vanished near her 
home in Los Guidos de Desamparados in 

February 2002 and has not been seen since.

The son of a drug enforcement officer was kidnapped four months later on June 4. His 
body turned up in a lake behind a dam a week later The boy, Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, 3, of San Miguel de Higuito, Desamparados.

The missing girl is older than the two other kidnapped youngsters, but police officials have spoken of a black market in children for adoption and other purposes.

Katia Vanesa González Juárez

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A third Villalobos brother identified as case figure
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Villalobos investigation has been expanded to include a third brother, Freddy, now believed living in the United States.

That was revealed in a U.S. federal court order in Miami issued a week ago that appointed a top U.S. prosecutor to help Costa Rica build a criminal case.

The judge’s order, made after a request from Costa Rica, appoints the prosecutor, Yvonne Rodriguez-Schack, as a "commissioner" to issue subpoenas and to gather evidence. She is like a one-person grand jury in that individuals are obligated to answer her questions or face court penalties, according to the judge’s order.

The request for aid came from Walter Espinoza Espinoza, the prosecutor here on the Villalobos case.  He did that in October. The country’s chief prosecutor, Carlos Arias, approved the request that then went to the Corte Suprema de Justicia and then through diplomatic channels.  The request was made under the United Nations Convention Against Drug Trafficking, said the order.

Espinoza is primarily interested in the origin of money that entered the many bank accounts held by the Villalobos brothers and associated corporations in the United States. The request for aid lists 39 separate bank accounts, most in Miami and New Orleans. Freddy Villalobos Camacho is mentioned as a person who had possible access to some of the accounts.

The Costa Rican-based brothers, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho are mentioned more extensively. Oswaldo Villalobos is in custody here. Luis Enrique Villalobos is a fugitive.

The request from Espinoza was supposed to be sealed to prevent publication, but for some reason the judge involved released the document. A.M. Costa Rica obtained its copy from Offshore Alert, a publication of KYC News, Inc., that tracks scams and frauds worldwide. That company is based in Miami, the same place as the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, which issued the order. The judge was identified as Magistrate Judge Brown with no first name.

The petition for help by Espinoza was officially translated into English here and included in the U.S. court file. The Costa Rican prosecutor basically recounts how the offices of Oswaldo and Luis Enrique Villalobos were raided July 4, 2002, at the request of The Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The suspects in the Canadian case were Betrand Henri St. Onge, his wife, Sandra Kerwin St. Onge, his brother Luc St. Onge, Richard Rivers and Norman Denault.

Espinoza said that by the time of the raid a year ago Betrand Henri St. Onge had died of cancer, but the Canadian authorities believed that before his death he had conspired with his brother and others to import cocaine into Canada and that Rivers put $80,000 into a St. Onge account at the Villalobos operation that would be used in the deal.

Espinoza said that the evidence includes material confiscated in a raid a year ago at the St. Onge 

condominium in Jacó and that this evidence included fax messages to and from the offices of the Villalobos Brothers in the San Pedro Mall that referred to investments made by St. Onge.

Espinoza also listed other suspicious transactions involving the Villalobos brothers, employees and some of the companies controlled by the men.

"The prosecutor is trying to establish whether money in certain accounts was used in, or resulted from, the narcotics trafficking or money laundering financial transactions . . . ," said the application filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rodriguez-Schack in her application to the court under the name of her boss, U.S. Attorney Marcos Daniel Jimenez.

The banks involved are the Whitney National Bank of New Orleans, Barclay’s Bank, First Union Bank in Miami, Amtrade International Bank of Miami, Bank Atlantic in Miami, BICSA Bank in Miami,  Popular Bank of Florida in Miami, BAC Florida Bank of Miami, the International Bank of Miami, Gulf Coast Bank in Miami, City Bank in Miami, and Cuenta del Pacific Industrial Bank (a subsidiary of Banco Uno). 

Magistrate Judge Brown’s order empowers Ms. Rodriguez-Schack to work in conjunction with FBI agents, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and/or Costa Rican officials until Aug. 30, unless the order is extended.

The request from Espinoza also outlines Costa Rica’s penalties for money laundering, which is eight to 20 years in prison and from 10 to 20 in the case of laundering drug proceeds.

In the request, Espinoza gives the U.S. officials a briefing in the Villalobos operation that is well known to persons here: That the brothers paid up to 3.5 percent interest on deposits of $10,000 or more and that they had specific rules on withdrawals.  Espinoza said that based on the minimum amount, the Villalobos brothers were handling at least $62 million in deposits. But he points out that many persons deposited far more money.

Some of the investors mentioned and the original amounts of their investment from the court record are:

David Brown, $674,252; Michael Sterling, $1,163,809; Carlos Badilla, $2,016,303; Omar Fonseca Vargas, $1,937,430; Mario Borges Soubirus, $1,616,887; an entity identified only as Favillale, $6,410,000, and Forbes & Stobart S.A., $592,297. 

Espinoza also said that the raid on the Villalobos operation had resulted in the confiscation of detailed records of customers, including photocopies of passports and other identifying information. 

There is nothing in the judicial order or other documents that say a parallel U.S. investigation of Villalobos has been or will be launched. However, A.M. Costa Rica has learned that some investors have made complaints with the Miami office of the FBI. 

Ms. Rodriguez-Schack is one of more than 200 assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of Florida offices. She has had experience as a public defender as in prosecuting death penalty cases.

Creditors have their choice of legal opinions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Creditors of the fugitive financier Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho had a choice this weekend.

They could attend a meeting of the United Concerned Citizens of Costa Rica and hear lawyer José Miguel Villalobos Umaña again tell them that there are no indications that either Luis Enrique Villalobos or his brother Oswaldo Villalobos committed any crime. About 90 did, a steep reduction from the estimated 500 at a similar meeting Feb. 2.

Or they could read an e-mail statement from the Investment Recovery Center, a group of lawyers representing creditors. That statement said "Confidential sources state that the investigators came to the conclusion that there were integration activities carried out by the money capturing office of EV [Enrique Villalobos], and the Money exchange house Ofinter, and Osvaldo participated in both.  This blending of activities made it possible to hide the origin and mobilization of money." 

The messages, either oral or written, were consistent with the goals of the lawyers. José Villalobos is raising money so that he can get the Costa Rican government to terminate an investigation into the Villalobos Brothers. Members of the informal group he represents believe that once the criminal investigation is over the Villalobos who is in hiding will return to Costa Rica and pay them the money they loaned him and accrued interest. Villalobos has been in hiding since October. His bother is in custody.

The Investment Recovery Center, however, said of the Villalobos high-interest operation "There is a pattern of activities or behavior that fits into a possible money-laundering scheme. . . ."  The lawyers said that their objective for their clients was the eventual recovery of whatever funds become available through legal means.

At his meeting Sunday José Villalobos endorsed two other proposals to put pressure on the Costa Rican government. He praised Jack Caine, who 

seeks to hail Costa Rica into international arbitration so creditors can recover their money directly from the government. He said that Costa Rica failed to adequately supervise financial operations on its soil.

José Villalobos also encouraged promoters of a scheme to lobby the U.S. government to invoke an amendment to a foreign aid act that would cause the U.S. president to cut off money to Costa Rica.

At the start of the meeting where a 1,000-colon ($2.50) admission was charged, petitions also were passed demanding direct U.S. intervention of the U.S. government. This appeared to be a call for some kind of U.S. military operation. The petition was addressed to the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica.

Whoever circulated the petition also claimed that the death of Vault owner Roy Taylor was suspicious. Taylor died two weeks ago while in police custody. Police said he committed suicide when he went to the bathroom. The petition said that Taylor was "gunned down." It also said that U.S. citizens were being held in custody without charges. 

The last point would not be unusual for Costa Rica where the actual charging of a criminal suspect comes late in the legal proceedings. For example, no charges have been filed against the Villalobos Brothers.

Although the Investment Recovery Center did not mention José Villalobos in its message, the timing was obvious in anticipation of the Sunday meeting. It was sent Saturday.

However, José Villalobos took a crack at the e-mail and he criticized a line that said "Other names of suspected drug traffickers are also in the list of investors, which may turn out to be significant."

José Villalobos called this insulting to the rest of the investors. He challenged whoever wrote the document for the Investment Recovery Center to report the names of suspected drug traffickers to authorities.

Orotina restaurant owner
faces Italian drug count

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Italian man sought to face trial on a charge of trafficking in cocaine was arrested Friday. The man, identified as Igor Simmi, was a car salesman and restaurante operator in Orotina.

The operation was coordinated by the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad, the International Police 

Agency (INTEPOL) and the Fuerza Pública in Orotina.

Police have been investigating since last year the cocaine connections between Italy and Costa Rica. On June 18 of that year, Italian police grabbed a big quantity of cocaine from Latin America, and they suspected a ring operated by Simmi, said a release.

Igor Simmi

Simmi first came to Costa Rica Sept. 22, 1998, and on Oct. 8, 2001, he sought residency due to a marriage to a Costa Rican, said police.

Simmi is being held on an Italian arrest order under the jurisdiciton of the Tibunal Penal Primer Circuito de San José.

Solar system found
with giant planet

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An international team of scientists has discovered a planetary system consisting of a star similar to the sun that is orbited by a gas-giant planet larger but very similar to the planet Jupiter, the National
Science Foundation says.

Scientists, using the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Siding Spring, Australia, made precise calculations of light spectra from a star identified as HD 70642, revealing a barely detectable "wobble" that
indicates the presence of a planet about twice the size of Jupiter.

"The planet, a gas giant, is right where it should be if the solar system evolved like ours, suggesting that other planets may be found nearby and that the system could potentially harbor life," according
to the press release.

Light vote turnout
reported in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — A mid-term election appears to have dealt a blow to the government of President Vicente Fox. Turnout was light in Sunday's election to select all 500 members of the lower house of Congress, as well as governors in six states. No single party gained enough votes to enjoy a congressional majority. 

Preliminary, unofficial results indicate a slight lead in the overall percentage of votes for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71-years uninterrupted, until President Fox won the 2000 election. 

Exit polls give the PRI around 34 percent of the overall national vote for the House of Deputies. Fox's National Action Party, known as the PAN, is a few points behind, with around 31 percent, according to exit polls conducted by Mexican news media organizations. 

The results, even if they change slightly in the final, official count, represent a disappointment for President Fox and his party. The PAN had hoped to expand its numbers in Congress in order to pass major reforms that have been blocked by the PRI and other opposition parties for the past two-and-half-years. 

No single party has had a majority in the legislative body and Sunday's vote has not changed that. That could produce three more years of gridlock at a time when the country desperately needs a coherent policy to increase economic growth. 

But PRI national president and presidential hopeful Roberto Madrazo struck a tone of reconciliation in a post-election interview with Mexico's Televisa television network. He says his party is leaving behind the confrontation of the campaign and that the time has arrived for all the political parties to make an effort to respond to the voters' mandate. He says the PRI is inviting President Fox and the leaders of other parties to come together to work for a more prosperous country. 

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A.M. Costa Rica photos
You can’t beat a stack of U.S. flags to brighten up the party, as these youngsters found out Friday at the American Colony Committee’s Fourth of July.
Chris Ward as Uncle Sam

Skyleen Serrat and mom made the party

Fourth of July
fiesta for thousands

As did U.S. Marines from the U.S. Embassy
Here are some snapshots from the July 4 celebration at the Cervercería Costa Rica grounds Friday. This was the 42nd annual observance of U.S. Independence Day here.

The event, put on by the American Colony 

Committee may have drawn as many as 5,000 persons.

In addition to free beer and hot dogs, the event was especially geared for youngsters and perhaps a third of the attendees were under 17.

Parmenio case concerns Amnesty International
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Amnesty International says the Costa Rican justice system should not be allowed to suffer the same fate as its neighbors. In a release to mark the second anniversary of the murder of Parmenio Medina Pérez, the international Secretariat of the organization said that if such a high profile crime cannot be solved "it is questionable whether  justice can be done in Costa Rica."

The anniversary is a time when the news media focuses on the case. Medina, a radio commentator was gunned down near his home in Santo Domingo de Heredia. He hosted a radio show that combined satire and political commentary. He had received death threats.

"We share the concerns of Costa Ricans, particularly journalists and  broadcasters, that the failure to clarify this crime is a threat to press 
freedom and places all broadcasters and journalists in potential danger, if they publish 

anything which reflects badly on politicians or church figures," Amnesty International said.

Parmenio Media had been critical of Radio María, a religious station run by a priest. Popular suspicion fell on the priest and his associates, although other indications are that another as-yet-unrevealed scandal prompted the murder.

The case has had many leaks, as investigators try to use the news media and public opinion to further their efforts. But most of the evidence is testimony from gangsters. Amnesty International also said that reporting on the case had been hampered by Costa Rica’s defamation laws that allow even high-placed public officials to sue.

The Parmenio Medina case would be a tough one in any jurisdiction because there was little physical evidence at the scene linking a killer to the corpse. Gunmen apparently opened up on the radio broadcaster as both the victim and the killers drove in separate cars adjacent to each other. 

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