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These stories were published Wednesday, July 10, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 135
Jo Stuart
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Bank account lock may endure for some time
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police say that bank accounts frozen in the investigation of Ofinter S.A. may be kept that way for some time. The length depends on the length of the investigation and its outcome.

Ofinter is the money exchange house and private investment firm that was raided Thursday in connection with a probe of Canadian drug-smuggling suspects.

The firm also is the one on which many North Americans depend for their monthly incomes. The company has been paying from 2.5 percent to 3 percent on investments of 

Timothy Coombs 
age-enhanced photo

Otto Barquin
sought for flight

Now he's being called
a 'domestic terrorist'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In 1994 Timothy Thomas Coombs shot a Missouri highway trooper, according to police there, and now, thanks to unrelated circumstances, he is being considered a domestic terrorist.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation thinks the man may be hiding out in Central America or in Costa Rica, among other possibilities.

The Heart of America-Joint Terrorism Task Force, formed just this January, has put a $10,000 reward on Coombs. The task force said it believes the shooting was in support of Coombs' extremely radical anti-government and white supremacist beliefs. This qualifies him as a domestic terrorist under the definition that has become current after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Coombs shot the trooper using a high-powered hunting rifle while the victim was standing in his own home, said an indictment. The victim survived, and Coombs has been on the run since.

The trooper has arrested a friend of Coombs, said investigators.

Since its creation, the task force has been aggressively pursuing investigations involving international and domestic terrorism, according to a release by the FBI. The strength of the task force lies in the fact that it has been formed from an alliance of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, with a common mission of preventing future terrorist acts through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence, the FBI said.

The task force currently is comprised of full-time investigators from the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department; Kansas City, Kan., Police Department; Overland Park, Kan., Police Department; Missouri State Highway Patrol; Kansas State Highway Patrol; Kansas Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Postal Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Immigration and Naturalization Service; and the FBI. 

The task force held a press conference and issued a press release in June specifically to raise interest in Coombs. The fugitive has been a tree planter and volunteer firefighter. He has identified himself in the past as a Christian Israelite pastor, Nazarite, ambassador for the Kingdom of Christ, and legal ambassador, said the FBI.

He was born in New Jersey Feb. 21, 1959.

Cuban physician sought, too

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Inverstigation also is looking for Otto Pedro Barquin Morales, a Cuban-born physician who is accused of being the physian in a string of California automobile insurance scams.

Barquin, born Aug. 20, 1934, skipped out on a felony complain in 1993 and has been on the run since. Police charge that Barquin prepared false insurance claims for supposed auto accident victims and instructed them on how to pretend to have pain. The FBI is involved because he fled to avoid prosecution.

Although he may be in Europe, the FBI said Costa Rica, Argentina and Veenzuela were likely hidng places for the fugitive.

$10,000 or more. The money is paid in person on the last days of the month, so the company has more than two weeks to find additional revenue sources.

Costa Rican officials froze some 30 to 50 bank accounts maintained by the firm and some 30 additional corporate entities. The firm has an office in downtown San José and one in the San Pedro Mall. The principals are Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and brother Osvaldo. The firm has not commented.

Police officials are releasing information selectively to suggest that the firm transferred upwards of $1 million a month to international locations. However, investigators have only just begun to dig through the paperwork they seized Thursday and in another visit to the mall location Monday morning.

The Royal Canadian Mountain Police were interested in money transfers involving the six persons arrested there on money laundering charges. The Costa Rican investigation is much broader than what is required to assist the Canadians. Local police officials said their own investigation of the private investment business began two years ago.

Meanwhile, police investigators from as far away as Australia are in San José to participate in the investigation. 

Investors with money on loan to the firm are beginning to dig in for the long haul. One pessimistic Costa Rican police official who has money invested in the same firm said Tuesday that he doubted he ever would see his investment.

Most North Americans are not so grim, but many wonder what will happen if the government seizes the assets of the firm, including their investments. Because the company is a private business there is no deposit insurance or obligations on the part of the government. Investigators also probably will follow the money trail to locate company assets in other countries.

For its part, Ofinter has said it would pay interest that is due investors. 

The firm may have upwards of 5,000 North American investors, each of whom put in at least $10,000. Many are here, but others are part-time residents in Costa Rica and live in Canada or the United States. If each investor put in only the minimum $10,000, the total amount invested would be $50 million. That amount would generate a monthly interest payment of about $1.5 million.

Many investors roll their interest over as additional principal, thus adding to the total assets of the firm. And some investors say that the total worth of the firm’s assets are many times greater than $50 million.

Investigators will take weeks to put together a final estimate. Meanwhile, the police probe will likely finally answer the question of exactly what the Villalobos brothers do with the investments that generate such high interest rates. They have said they are in the factoring business and purchase commercial paper from business that have to maintain a cash flow. They have declined to be too specific in the past, citing their right to maintain trade secrets.

A factoring business would generate many payments to Costa Rican retail sales outlets.

The police activity is putting a strain on some investors, who are not well off but manage to eke out a living on the interest paid them from a minimum investment in the firm.

Here’s a new Escazú resident, born about 5 a.m. Sunday. The happy event was on Nancy Bruno’s place. She is a local real estate agent who reports the foal does not have a name yet. The father is Bensadoro and the mother is Barbie.

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The afternoon rain causes a crowd to gather under the protection of the entryway of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

Dry weather fooled some pedestrians into leaving their umbrellas home. Not a good idea from now until January.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

New software generates tons of spam messages
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you think you have problems with unsolicited e-mail messages now, just wait.

The latest spam message, sent out with a false return e-mail address, promotes a software product that marketers claim can deliver 7 million e-mail messages a day and fool traditional blocking programs.

The program slightly varies the return address so message monitoring programs do not realize each message has originated from the same server. That way the program can dump thousands of e-mails on Hotmail.com and Yahoo.com accounts without being intercepted.

A.M. Costa Rica became aware of the program when unsolicited e-mails with forged A.M. Costa Rica return addresses began to bounce to the newspaper from deleted America Online accounts.

The company apparently had sent everyone at American Online news about their super spamming 
software and used an A.M. Costa Rica return address.

The message contains a Web page link that describes the products.

"Spam" is what computer technicians call unsolicited e-mails messages. There is concern that the dramatic increase in spam messages might destroy the Internet by making incoming e-mail messages difficult to read because of pure numbers and by overloading Internet computer servers.

Customers of the free Hotmail.com e-mail service now get upwards of 150 unsolicited e-mail messages a day.

Spammers also have software that can collect e-mail messages from Web pages, such as Internet news groups.

Casa Alianza makes
peace with Pacheco

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza, which has filed two criminal complaints against former Costa Rican officials, is mending fences with the new government.

Bruce Harris, regional director of the child advocacy organization, sat down to lunch with President Abel Pacheco Monday to discuss Costa Rica’s children.

Harris has documented what his organization says is the commercial sexual exploitation of thousands of children in Costa Rica. Former president Miguel Angel Rodríguez thought the number of exploited children was far fewer.

Harris, in a pre-lunch statement, praised the new government and said its change in attitude was like a breath of fresh air.

The organization filed criminal charges against two former ministers of Hacienda because they had not allocated 7 percent of the national budget to the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, as stipulated in the constitution. Officials have said there was not enough money to go around.

In addition to sexually exploited children, Harris’ group is interested in the plight of street children and in eliminating child pornography. The organization is active in other Central American states where street children are routinely killed by police or vigilante groups.

Long-time bartender
will be remembered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friends will be gathering today about 1 p.m. to commemorate Jay Trettien, 54, a daytime bartender for 15 years at the Blue Marlin Bar in the Hotel Del Rey.

He died Sunday after medical treatment in a hospital, according to friends.

The gathering will be at the Monkey Bar, across Aveida 1 from the Blue Marlin.

Trettien, a U.S. citizen, lived in Barrio Escalante, was married and was a fan of motorcycles, according to coworkers at the bar. Hotel officials had no additional details.

Pacheco is bound
for San Juan River

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will go to the San Juan River between Costa Rica and Nicaragua July 21 and 22 to meet with his counterpart, Enrique Bolaños.

Navigation on the San Juan was a point of friction between the two countries under the presidency of Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Arnold Almena Lacey of Nicaragua.

Fisherman abducted
on way to Liberia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 27-year-old fisherman was abducted by three men Monday night and held until 3 million colones ($4,900) in ransom was paid by an uncle, according to investigators.

The victim was identified as William Garcia Cambronero, who was en route from his home in Playa Junquillal on the Nicoya Peninsula Pacific coast to the Guanacaste city of Liberia, agents said. The abduction happened about 10 p.m.

U.S. boats can come,
assembly decides

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After much debate and hand wringing, the Asemblea Nacional approved Monday night a plan to let 38 U.S. gun ships dock at national ports.

The boats are used in anti-drug patrols and to support U.S. operations in and near Colombia.

Some deputies voted against giving permission because they were not happy with the military presence in Costa Rican ports. They said the visits were unconstitutional.

The docking of such boats is covered by a joint U.S.-Costa Rican treaty, but the deputies have final say.

Protestors disrupt
Thompson’s speech

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BARCELONA, Spain — Several dozen protestors disrupted a speech by Tommy Thompson, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, Tuesday at the XIV International AIDS conference.

Blocked by the protestors and flanked by security, Thompson delivered his speech, though the crowd of several hundred delegates in attendance couldn't hear his remarks because of the din raised by the chants and whistles of the protestors. The demonstrators called for greater funding for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to which the United States is already the greatest single contributor.

Speaking to reporters after he delivered the brief speech and the protestors disbanded, Thompson said he planned to work with the protest group during the course of the week. "I'm willing to work with them, and I want to work with them."

Thompson said the protestors are objecting to U.S. policy without realizing the details of the various HIV/AIDS initiatives the government has launched. He urged the protestors to take a closer look at the recently announced $500 million program to reduce mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus in African and Caribbean nations.

"I wanted to give a message that the United States is passionate about this issue," Thompson said, emphasizing that the United States is the leading global donor to international public health programs. With various actions to double funding for these programs, "The Bush Administration has gone light years in the last 18 months," Thompson said.

Rather than protesting his speech, Thompson suggested the activists would do better to take their demands for greater funding to governments, corporations and private foundations that have not yet made commitments on the scale of that made by the United States.

Autopsy fails to give
child’s cause of death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The autopsy on a 4-year-old boy believed kidnapped June 4 was inconclusive, according to investigators.

The boy was Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, the son of an anti-drug agent, who was found in a reservoir June 11 in Santa Ana. He had vanished from near his home a week earlier. He lived in Higuito de San Miguel de Desamparados.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said medical examiners were unable to determine a cause of death, in part because of the decomposed condition of the body.

The autopsy results seem to suggest that the boy was alive when he went into the water, wherever that was, but that there was no water in his lungs, as there would be if drowning was the cause of death.

The autopsy ruled out death by shooting or from a stab wound, and the boy’s skull was not damaged, said the spokesman.

The leading possibility for the cause of death is asphyxiation, either accidentally or by strangulation, although the autopsy could not confirm that either. When the body was discovered, agents suggested that asphyxiation was the cause of death.

Two men are in custody in the case, but investigators still are searching for a mysterious couple that they say the arrested pair gave the boy before they were nabbed. One man in custody is a neighborhood guard, and the other is a taxi driver.

Because the father also works with the Judicial Investigating Organization, activity on the case has been extensive. However, no new developments have been reported.

Would-be diplomats
have to face test

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of State announced that registration is open for the Fall 2002 Foreign Service written exam. Foreign Service officers are placed in Washington, D.C., and at 250 U.S. diplomatic posts around the world and serve as U.S. embassy and consulate employees. 

This is the first time in the department’s 221-year history that the exam will be given twice in one calendar year. The exam was last administered on April 13.

The exam will be held at hundreds of locations throughout the United States and around the world on Sept. 21. Online registration is available at www.careers.state.gov.

Three countries off
financial watch list

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has relaxed scrutiny of U.S. financial transactions with Israel, Lebanon and St. Kitts and Nevis, the Treasury Department says.

The department said in a press release Tuesday that the governments of those three countries had made progress in fighting money laundering. The department noted that the 30-country Financial Action Task Force, which leads the international charge against money laundering, dropped the three countries from its list of non-cooperative countries in June.

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