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(506) 223-1327               Published Tuesday, July 17,  2007, Vol. 7, No. 140        E-mail us   
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Compared to others, Quintavalle case moved along
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The case of Matteo Quintavalle highlights a dramatic change in Costa Rica's enforcement of its financial laws.

Quintavalle is the Italian hotel and casino operator who faces fraud and financial intermediation charges stemming from complaints by 17 U.S. investors. The sum involved in the complaints is at least $4.6 million.

Quintavalle collected the money through a U.S. investment associate, Christopher George Coulter, for tourism projects here. As soon as the investors complained and their lawyer here filed a complaint, Costa Rican law enforcement was all over the case.

The drama increased last week after an arrest warrant was issued for the Italian. Investigators thought he was in flight. They began to search. A man detained Saturday night in extreme south Costa Rica was thought at first to be Quintavalle.

Agents were in Guanacaste over the weekend seeking the financier in communities where he had made social investments.

Quintavalle turned up with his lawyer Monday and said he did not show up earlier because the courts were closed. He said he spent the week in Escazú. With courts being closed, Quintavalle's lawyer would have had trouble appealing a decision to commit the man to preventative detention.

In contrast to the Quintavalle case, Costa Rican officials closed their eyes to the Brothers Villalobos for years. Even after an unhappy investor complained that he could not get his money, law enforcement did not act even though the high-interest operation was under investigation for at least two years. It took the excuse of links to drug dealers for Costa Rican agents to conduct the initial raids on the Villalobos businesses July 4, 2002.

Thanks to the collapse of the Villalobos high-interest empire, Costa Rica is facing a $200 million damage suit in an international arbitration agency association with the World Bank.

Investors lost perhaps as much as $1 billion on the promise of 3 percent-a-month returns.

Consequently, the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, the nation's investment watchdog, is tightening the rules. Among other efforts, the Superintendencia will now require notaries to register and report transactions. Notaries in Costa Rica are the individuals who make property transfers, sometimes with dirty money.

In the Villalobos case, the Superintendencia tried to duck its responsibility. It argued that because the high-interest operation was not registered with it, there was no responsibility to be concerned with the massive amounts of foreign money that was pouring in. The agency limited itself to technical inspections of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange operation that was associated with the Villalobos Brothers. Now the agency seems to take a broader view.
Quintavalle
Matteo Quintavalle
Christopher George Coulter
Christopher Coulter

Oswaldo Villlaobos has been tried and convicted of fraud and financial intermediation, which means illegal banking. So he is the most visible of the dozen or so persons who ran the same kind of business. Another is Luis Milanes, the Cuban-American who ran Savings Unlimited and vanished shortly after the Villalobos operation shut down 2002. But there are others whose cases are still pending and may never be resolved in the local courts.

This dirty dozen were the persons who helped give Costa Rica such a bad name as an investment black hole.

Quintavalle also did two things that the Villalobos brothers did not. While Luis Enrique Villalobos told his victims that secrecy was paramount, Quintavalle bragged that he had millions and even tried to create a top-level professional soccer team. He turned himself into a public figure.

And Quintavalle also tried to register a company as a bank. Last month the Banco de Costa Rica closed out 11 accounts he had there. The bank said Quintavalle moved $10.5 million through those accounts in a year. Bank officials suggested he had crossed a legal line by getting investment money from others and putting the money in the account. He also got in trouble with regulators for calling a corporation  "Depository Pacific Bank."

The term "bank" is regulated in Costa Rica. Quintavalle's corporation is in the process of filing paperwork with the Superintendencia to become a registered institution, he has said. Costa Rican law prohibits individuals from collecting money as an intermediary from other persons for investments unless there is registration.

Costa Rica has never been known for aggressive law enforcement. For one thing, investigators and prosecutors do not have the resources. And the Ministerio Público plays musical chairs with the staff, including the prosecutors. They never get a chance to really know a case because they are assigned another job and then another and another.

This fact is the biggest complaint of most Costa Rican lawyers, why the criminal justice system is such a mess and why the bad guys get away with their crimes.

As the country seeks to attract more investment capital — with or without the pending free trade treaty with the United States, investors need to have assurances that fraudsters and scamsters will not operate for years with impunity. The Villalobos brothers were in business for at least 10 years.

In addition to Quintavalle and Coulter, other suspects in the case are Marvin Hernández Zúñiga, Ricardo Urbina Paniagua and Ismail Gelle Fosia, the owner of a hotel on which Quintavalle had an option.


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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 140

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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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Embezzlement suspect
encountered in California

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman who fled to the United States to avoid an embezzlement charge here has been arrested in California.

She was identified as Elizabeth Ramírez González, 45.

Law enforcement officials here said that the Costa Rica Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad, the local representative of the International Police Agency, provided the information for U.S. police to locate her.

Ms. Ramírez was using the identity of a Mexican woman while running a cell phone and satellite antenna store in  Corona, California, near Los Angeles. She was arrested Sunday.

The woman is accused of stealing about $100,000 from her employer, the Organismo Internacional Regional de Salud Agropecuaria, from 1998 to 2002 when she was a manager of funds, said law officers here. She entered the United States by air on a legal visa in 2002 and continued to live there, officers said.

Agents here said that the woman probably would be deported from the United States because she is an illegal alien there.

Despite bullet, store owner
runs down robbery suspect


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two robbers followed a woman into a small store in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados, took her purse and a cell phone and then fled. The owner of the store followed them and managed to grab one of the robbery suspects, a woman, at the cost of getting a bullet in his leg.

Shot was Arturo Vargas, who runs the small diaper and infant wear store with his wife. The robbery victim was not identified.

Vargas was not present during the robbery but heard about it seconds later and ran into the street seeking the criminals. He grabbed one of two suspects, but a third person got out of a car and shot at him four times. Then the car fled with two of the three individuals.

The third, the woman, was left at the mercy of an angry crowd that beat her until police arrived.

Violence flares again
in Mexican town of Oaxaca


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Police in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca have used tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to take control of a stadium.

The demonstrators threw rocks at police Monday and set fire to vehicles as they tried to enter the stadium where the renowned Guelaguetza festival is scheduled to start on July 23. Dozens of people were injured.

The leftist demonstrators said they wanted to hold their own event as an alternative to the official festival.

The city was paralyzed for much of 2006 by political upheaval which prevented the Guelaguetza festival from being held.

Demonstrators took over parts of the city to demand the resignation of the governor of Oaxaca state, Ulises Ruiz. Mexican federal police regained control of the town in October and ended the protests.

The crisis began in May of last year when teachers walked off the job demanding better pay and school funding. The demonstrations became violent when protesters critical of Ruiz joined the cause. At least nine people were killed in the violence, including a U.S. journalist.

Water to be out most of day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados will cut off the water today in Santa Ana, Escazú, parts of Desamparados, Ciudad Colón and Alajuelita today because the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz is doing work that interrupts electricity to various pumps maintained by the water company. The outage is planned until about 6 p.m.

A.M. Costa Rica
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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.


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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.


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A typical edition will consist of a front page and three other newspages. Sometimes there will be four additional newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


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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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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 140


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Summit of presidents will mark 20 years of regional peace
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country will host three foreign president Aug. 8 for a celebration of 20 years of peace in Central America.

Attending will be Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, Elías Antonio Saca of El Salvador and Óscar Berger of Guatemala, according to Casa Presidencial. There was no mention of Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, a key player 20 years ago.

The regional summit, hosted by President Óscar Arias Sánchez, also will discuss regional challenges the countries face, said Casa Presidencial. Tight security is expected.

Those who visit the country's beaches or marvel at white-faced monkeys in a national park today probably do not realize the tragedy of Central America in the 1980s.

The revolution in Nicaragua against a tyrant resulted in a leftist government that attracted the attention of the United States. At the same time Guatemala and El Salvador were in civil war, the wealthy elite against the working class. Thousands died.
With the Cold War as a backdrop, the United States paid for a revolutionary force, the contras, to attempt the overthrow of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas led by Ortega. Honduras was a staging area for northern Nicaraguan rebels.

Costa Rica was becoming militarized, too, in the mid-1980s. Police forces had been transformed into light infantry. Hidden airfields in the north provided landing sites for planeloads of supplies to Nicaraguan rebels from the United States. There was even a contra radio station beaming propaganda from San José.

Arias based his first presidential campaign on a peace platform. His work toward peace became the Esquipulas Accord in August 1987 that eventually resulted in 1990 elections in Nicaragua.

For that he was awarded the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.

But it was even more years before rebels in El Salvador accepted a peace plan and even longer before the army war against the Indian populations ceased in Guatemala.

By that time the Cold War had become history.



This tiny bird likes people
and prefers to hang around


By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Little Toto is free to leave at will but prefers to stay at a home in Santa Clara near San Carlos, according to its owner.

The bird is an orange-chinned parakeet (Brotogeris jugularis), called a períco, or periguito in Costa Rica. Owner César Torres Vargas says the bird so far appears to prefer people.  Toto loves to be petted and has learned to talk, whistle, and make other noises.  It tries to pet its owner with its beak and is well aware of its surroundings.

All perícos have a little orange or gold patch just under their beak, are generally green with a bluish tinge and grow to seven inches.

When flocks gather by the hundreds they may create incessant noise and jibber-jabbering, but are well-camouflaged up in the trees. 

Perícos like to eat various fruits with a preference for mango, but also eat a variety of seeds, berries, flowers, and other vegetation, including rice.

Parakeets like this prefer to find mates in December, January or February, so Toto may disappear at that time. Until then, the free ranging bird that likes to hang around is just another benefit of being in the perpetual spring in Costa Rica.

parakeet one
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Toto loves to demonstrate its personality for visitors

parkeet two
César Torres Vargas shows off his bird's wings




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This is the first rate increase in the six-year history
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 140


Chubby mice might help scientists fight obesity in humans
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Medical researchers have been looking for what some people call a magic bullet in their hunt to fight rising obesity rates worldwide.  In less than a decade, studies show, 75 percent of adults in the U.S. will be overweight.   Medical researchers have yet to find any magic cure for obesity, but scientists at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., say they may have something close. 

Scientists have known for a long time about a link between chronic stress and obesity. Now researchers at Georgetown recently made what they call a stunning advance. 

Dr. Zofia Zukowska, with Georgetown University's Medical School, says of the discovery: "The stunning thing is that we have actually discovered the exact mechanism by which people get fat when they are stressed and eat high fat, high sugar diet. And by knowing the mechanism, we can now manipulate the fat."

Dr. Zukowska and her colleagues put laboratory mice under the same type of stress they would experience in the wild such as meeting up with a more aggressive mouse.  They then fed these mice an equivalent of a fast food diet. The mice became obese.

Dr. Zukowska and her colleagues found an increased
amount of a chemical called neuropeptide Y in these mice.  This chemical is activated by stress and helps stimulate the growth of fat cells. "So now you have a constellation of more vessels supplying nutrients to the fat, fat cells multiplying and growing."

And the fat in mice grew around their middle, just as it does in humans. Midsection fat is the most dangerous kind because it affects the heart and liver, causing heart disease, adding to cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. But the researchers found they could block the fat-causing neuropeptide Y with a different chemical.

"We found that in addition to reducing the abdominal fat, we also improved the metabolism. And all those problems that the mice had such as hypertension and glucose intolerance and fatty liver, it became markedly reduced or prevented" said Dr. Zukowska.

What is more, fat-causing neuropeptide Y seems to work in the human body much like it does in mice.  If so, Dr. Zukowska said it would be a major advance in the battle against obesity. "We think we not only are able to manipulate fat composition and maybe make the body more beautiful, but also actually treat obesity and metabolic syndrome."

The researchers say many more studies need to be done before human trials can begin.


Venezuelan television station is now back on the air via cable providers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan station Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) is now being shown on cable and satellite after being forced off the air by President Hugo Chávez May 27.

The opposition-aligned TV station began its new programming Monday.

The chief of RCTV told a news conference last week that the station's return is a victory for Venezuelan people who want its programs.
Chávez refused to renew RCTV's license to broadcast on a public frequency for allegedly backing a failed coup against him in 2002. Other national private networks also opposed Chávez, but their criticism of the government is now softer and they have retained their licenses.

In Caracas, VenezuelAnalysis.com estimated that the new signal will be available to about 50 percent of the national audience via cable companies. The Web site news story said that the television station may begin offering its signal to other cable providers, including some in Central America and the Caribbean.


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