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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, July 20, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 143       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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BetonSports shuts down its gaming Web pages
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

BetonSports has taken steps to comply with a temporary restraining order issued by a U.S. federal judge Tuesday.

But at the same time its lawyers in the United States are believed to have asked for a quick hearing to appeal the judicial edict.

Web sites for BetonSports and Millennium Sports now says: "In light of court papers filed in the United States, the company has temporarily suspended this facility pending its ability to assess its full position. During this period no financial or wagering transactions can be executed. Further information will be posted once the company is in a position to do so."

Jaguar Sports International's Web site simply redirects Internet users to BetonSports.

In San José Costa Rica some employees of the company at Mall San Pedro report they have been furloughed.

The company's U.S. lawyers have a tough job.

The temporary restraining order signed Tuesday afternoon by U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry of Missouri's Eastern district accepts as a given that the companies were involved in illegal activities. In signing the order, Judge Perry ruled that the U.S. government would suffer more harm than BetonSports if the order were not granted. because the government is seeking to protect the public interest.

The order is for 10 days, and a hearing is supposed to be held during that time. The government will seek to make the civil injunction permanent. This is a separate court case than the indictment and criminal charges against individuals associated with BetonSports.

In addition to the Costa Rican employees, out in the cold are U.S. bettors who had money posted with BetonSports or its associated companies.

The judge's order told the company to close down its Web sites and its telephone betting operation. It also was told to halt any fund transfers from the United States and advertising of its gambling activity.

The order also prohibits the transfer to third parties of any Internet domain names held by the company. A nine-page, single-spaced list of such names is attached to the order, an estimated 700 domain names. Domain registry companies were ordered not to process any transfers without the permission of the court.

The order also told BetonSports to return to U.S. bettors any funds being held on their behalf for the purpose of gambling. And the company was told to set up a toll-free telephone number for each Web site it operates to provide refund information. The company does not seem to have done this.

The judge also ordered the company to put notices on its Web sites saying that it does 

Once-active Web pages contain just a notice

not take bets on sporting events from persons in the United States. This had not been done either.

In addition, the judge ordered the company to take out a full-page ad in a U.S. newspaper of national circulation saying that BetonSports PLC will no longer accept bets from the United States.

The judge also ordered the company to provide a list of all its bank accounts for the last five years, all business records and a list of names under which the company has operated in the United States along with the names of individuals.

If the company complies, the names of U.S. citizens who worked for the company will become known to government investigators.

The company's lawyers are expected to fight each of these demands. The order was prepared and signed without the knowledge of the sportsbook firm with only input from prosecutors and investigators.

Other Costa Rica-based sportsbooks do not seem affected by the plight of BetonSports. There also has been no word from the Costa Rican government.

Although up to 2,000 employees work at the Mall San Pedro operation of BetonSports during the U.S. football and basketball seasons, the number working there this week was not known. Many are bilingual college students, and some are U.S. expats.

David Carruthers, the BetonSports chief executive, is expected to be arraigned on a multitude of charges Friday. He is a British subject and any bail likely will be high. He was arrested Sunday as he changed planes in Dallas, Texas, during a London-San Jose flight.

At large in Costa Rica is Gary Kaplan, a U.S. citizen, and the BetonSports founder who also is named in the 22-county criminal indictment. It is not known if U.S. authorities have asked Costa Rican officials to arrest him. He is the man who was known to BetonSports employees as Greg Champion or simply "G."

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 143

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Costa Rican, Nicaraguan
foreign ministers to meet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foreign ministers of Costa Rica and Nicaragua will meet next week in an effort to iron out issues that have eroded relations.

Bruno Stagno, Costa Rica's foreign minister, said that a major goal will be the reestablishment of a binational commission that last met in 1997. The commission would be a place to air differences.

Two of those differences have ballooned into embarrassing international issues. Costa Rica had hailed Nicaragua into the International Court at the Hague over the right of its citizens to transit freely the Río San Juan, which is in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua has brought Costa Rica into a hemispheric commission on human rights over alleged abuses to Nicaraguan citizens living here.

Stagno, in a release from his Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, said that the agenda for the visit here of Norman Caldera of Nicaragua was open. Caldera is coming ostensibly to officiate at the opening of two more consulates of his country here.

Stagno also had a grocery list of other issues as he discussed the visit with reporters after the weekly Consejo de Gobierno at Casa Presidencial Wednesday.

Christian Fellowship get
Stacey Steck as pastor

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Escazú Christian Fellowship, an English language, international, multidenominational congregation, has called the Rev. Stacey Steck to be its next pastor.

Steck is an ordained Presbyterian minister and succeeds the Rev. Ken MacHarg, who served for nearly two years. Steck was most recently pastor of First Presbyterian Church of St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he served for five years.

“I am very pleased to be able to serve ECF. I’m very ecumenical at heart, so I think this will be a really good fit,” said Steck, referring to the wide variety of Protestant denominations represented in the church.

In recommending him for approval by the congregation, church Council President Judith Hamje noted that Steck’s “presence has been a gift that God has placed in our congregation at this time and we feel that Stacey is who we need to lead us as our next pastor.”

Serving the English-speaking community in Costa Rica since 1985, Escazú Christian Fellowship offers worship services, small group Bible study, and children’s ministry among its many activities. The group has members from North America, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia.

Former Pastor MacHarg is retiring to the United States but will continue in ministry as a missionary journalist, chronicling the work of Christian missions and ministries throughout the world.

Escazú Christian Fellowship meets each Sunday evening at 5 p.m. in the facilities of the International Baptist Church in Guachipelin. For more information: Pastor Steck at 395-9653 or info@ecfcr.net or  www.ecfcr.net.

Minister called on carpet
over security guard plan

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The idea seemed like a good one when the security minister outlined it last week.

The minister, Fernando Berrocal, was going to create strong links between the police and the 18,000 security guards who work in the country.

But the idea did not sit well with legislative deputies. They called Berrocal in to explain Wednesday. Lawmakers wanted to know if he was giving away any rights that belonged to the state.

The minister is about to sign an agreement on the topic with major security firms.

Berrocal said that at any time there are only about 2,500 officers of his 11,284 Fuerza Pública available to fight crime. Many police stations are in poor condition and many police vehicles are out of service awaiting repair, he said.

The agreement with the security firms would make guards auxiliaries to the police but without the power to arrest, pursue or do other activities reserved for police. But they will be expected to pass on information, he said.

Berrocal also said last week that some effort would be made to coordinate the radio frequencies of security guards so police could communicate with them.

Another suspect held
in murder of officer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents late Tuesday raided a home in Hatillo 8 south of San José and apprehended a fifth suspect in the murder of a Fuerza Pública officer July 9.

The man, who has the last name of Mata, was moved to Limón early Wednesday where he faces court action. The man is being presented as the ringleader of the band that committed robberies and other crimes along the Caribbean coast.

Four men already are in pretrial detention and two women are facing allegations that they aided the suspects after the fact.

Men in two vehicles gunned down the victim, Mario González González, early Sunday at a police checkpoint in Tuba Creek, just north of Cahuita. The men were believed to be fleeing an armed robbery and both vehicles were stolen.

Other policemen were at the checkpoint when the crime happened, but they were not hurt.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 143

New taxes and levies topic at governmental council
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxes on financial transactions and on corporations will be part of the government's fiscal plan that it soon will present to the legislature. These will join changes in the income tax and a value added tax.

This was the summary provided by Guillermo Zúñiga, the minister of Hacienda, after a meeting of the presidential Consejo de Gobierno Wednesday. Crucial details are still unknown.

One emphasis will be the use of new income to eliminate slums, he said, as well as changes in the law to provide greater flexibility for budgeting.

The tax on financial trasactions has been discussed before but there still are no specifics. Some administration officials have suggested a levy of five colons for each 1,000 colons. That would be a half-percent tax. The tax would be $500 on a $100,000 transaction. Presumably this would be collected by financial institutions.

The value-added tax was part of the massive tax plan that was not approved by the previous Asamblea Legislativa. The tax, believed to be equal to the 13 percent sales tax, would be levied on the value added at each stage of production.
Corporations already are taxed each year, but the amounts are small, perhaps 10,000 colons or $20.

Zúñiga also said that the central government would have to absorb the losses run up over the years by the Banco Central de Costa Rica in  defending the colon. That amount is $2.8 billion. This will reduce inflation and interest rates, he said.

The Banco Central can only cover its losses by printing more money, thus contributing to inflation.  The central government can issue internal and external bonds to cover the debt.

Zúñiga said that half of the budget already goes for  interest and mandatory principal payments and much of the other half include inflexible payments like salaries and pensions. So officials are looking for new money.

The new money will provide infrastructure, science and technology to push competitiveness and investments in the social welfare, he said.

There still has been no authoritative word whether the government will seek to tax the global income of citizens and residents. This has been a concern of expats who have the bulk of their investments in other countries.

Researchers play tag with hammerheads at Coco
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An underwater expedition near the Isla del Coco has tagged 15 hammerhead sharks, according to the  Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas.

Some 16 divers from the United States and the United Kindom worked from July 3 to July 15 putting transmitters on the underwater predators.

Five fish were given tranmitters that can be tracked via satellite, said the organization. Some 10 more were fitted with acoustical trasnmitters that could be tracked in the area around the island.

This was the fourth of seven planned expeditions. The sharks fitted with satellite transmitters will be tracked to learn about migration routes, the group said. Some of the transmitters will operate for four months. Others will work for less time.

All the sharks fitted with transmitters were adult females encountered some 70 feet or so below the surface, the organization said.

The project was done in conjunction with the U.S. Shark Research Institute and the local diving firm  Undersea Hunter.

The Isla del Coco is a national park with extensive amounts of sea creatures about 330 miiles west of the mainland.

Programa Restauración de
Tortugas Marinas/Andy Reid

Two divers dance with a shark near Isla del Coco

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 143

Canadian border is the new challenge for U.S. security
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Border security in the United States has traditionally focused on the United States' southern neighbor, Mexico. But the emphasis at the borders has shifted radically since Sept. 11, 2001, with a new priority on terrorism and more attention than before being given to the northern border with Canada.

In March, the Government Accountability Office — an investigative arm of the U.S. Congress — made a startling announcement. In a test of border security procedures, G.A.O. investigators, using forged documentation, managed to transport radioactive material past U.S. border agents at two entry points on the Canadian border.

Gregory Kutz, chief of special investigations at the G.A.O., told Congress that the radioactive material was discovered by detection equipment. But, he said, the phony documentation was never challenged by the Customs and Border Patrol agents.

"Although both of our vehicles were inspected in accordance with C.B.P. policy, we were able to enter the United States with enough radioactive sources to make two dirty bombs. The C.B.P. inspectors never validated the existence of our fictitious company, or the authenticity of the counterfeit bill of lading and N.R.C.  documents," says Kutz, referring to the  Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The test not only shows the vulnerability of U.S. borders, but also illuminates the difficulty of trying to strike a balance between free flow of trade and tight security in the terrorist age.

U.S. border security has traditionally focused on Mexico. In the age before Sept. 11, 2001, the bulk of border agents' time and energy was on stopping illegal immigration and drug smuggling across the Mexican border. But the focus has shifted radically since that September day, and the top priority now, say officials, is stopping terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from entering the United States.

However, that represents a huge challenge. The U.S.-Canadian border stretches from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans for some 6,500 kilometers (4,039 miles) — more than twice as long as the 3,200-kilometer (1988-mile) U.S.-Mexican border. Nearly another 3,000 kilometers lines the boundary between western Canada and Alaska. It is the longest non-militarized border in the world, and much of it is across remote terrain.

At a recent congressional hearing, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California noted the small number of federal agents physically monitoring the border.

"At any given time you've got between 200 and 300 people on that whole border. And we've had reports that people drive, walk, sail, ski, sled, crawl, and probably a few other things across the border with impunity," says Ms. Lofgren.
Luis Barker, deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, says security efforts along the Canadian border have increased, and there are more joint efforts between U.S. and Canadian security officials than ever before.

"We have almost tripled the size of the force on the Canadian border. And certainly we're smarter now than we were before using, again, intelligence working with our Canadian counterparts to identify those people. And certainly the arrests that occurred recently are an indication of that," said Barker.

The arrests occurred in May when Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 17 men in Toronto. Officials allege that they were part of an Islamist cell intent on carrying out al-Qaida-inspired terrorist attacks on targets in southern Ontario.

The border is quite open. Travelers have traditionally been able to cross freely without a passport, using only a driver's license for identification. That has helped to facilitate trade. According to Canadian government statistics, two-way trade has tripled since the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1989.

But under a new system enacted by Congress, the United States will begin requiring passports from all travelers crossing into the United States from Canada and Mexico in 2008.

In a recent speech in Washington, Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson said Canada wants to strengthen cooperation with anti-terrorist efforts. But he said many Canadian livelihoods depend on open borders, and asked for an extension of the 2008 deadline.

"We neither want to be harmed nor do we want to be the source of any harm to our southern friends. We understand that the highest priority in the United States is security and we're on the same page with you in that regard," said Wilson. "But with approximately one-third of our G.D.P. dependent on trade with the United States, like any prudent businessman, Canadians also want to protect their livelihoods and our fruitful trading relationships with your country."

Asked if any border can be made totally secure, Deputy Chief Barker of the Customs and Border Patrol said he believes so. "It's not in the number of people that we arrest. It's certainly in being able to detect people using technology in its smartest way, having the right mix of infrastructure, technology, and personnel to be able to do that. So, yes, we can [make it secure]," said Barker.

The only truly sealed borders in the world have been militarized ones like North Korea's and those of the now-defunct East Germany.

As in many other aspects of this struggle against terrorists, democracies will continue to strive to find the right balance between openness and security along the borders that divide them.

Press mission expresses its concern after chilly Venezuelan visit
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Florida — An international delegation of the Inter American  Press Association said Wednesday that the climate of press freedom and free speech in Venezuela has deteriorated sharply and is marked by restrictive legislation, prosecution of journalists in the courts and harassment of news media.

The organizaton's mission, headed by the organization’s president, Diana Daniels, during its three-day visit to the South American country met in Caracas and Puerto Ordaz with representatives of the Venezuelan press, news associations,  non-governmental organizations, civil society and academics who revealed details of the plight the press is facing there.

Ms. Daniels, vice president of the Washington Post Co., Washington, DC, said she regretted that Venezuelan national and provincial government officials refused to meet with the delegation, whose objective was to exchange views and clearly state the organization's
position on repeated complaints the organization has received and which are featured in its biannual reports on the state of press freedom.

“This attitude shows the lack of interest on the part of the government to seek solutions through dialogue, reflects intolerance of the independent press and
its essential role in any democracy, and reveals the serious problems that lack of access to official information represents,” Ms. Daniels said, adding:

“We are concerned that far from improving conditions for the press in this country, freedom may become even more restricted during and after the electoral
process” — a reference to the run-up to presidential elections in December.

The mission confirmed the existence of what it described as a dangerous and restrictive legal structure enacted in recent years, that provides for stiffer penalties for those found guilty of crimes committed through the press, and passage of an insult law and a contents law used to hound journalists and
media in the courts.

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Jo Stuart
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