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The stories on this page ran in the newspaper of Aug. 24, 2001

Spoonbills probe for goodies in the shallows of an eastern Costa Rican river. They have plenty of water to probe this time of year, the rainy season.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Do the Nigerians have a wonderful deal for you

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Has Rasheed Bello got a deal for you.

He' s a director of the National Nigerian Power Authority, and he wants to give you $16 million.

Or at least that's what the e-mail from the a Yahoo Internet mail account said this week as the latest round of the so-called Nigerian scam began to hit electronic mailboxes of Costa Ricans and foreigners living here.

Despite the obvious humorous aspects of this scam, there is a sinister side. A least one scam victim was murdered in 1995, and a number have vanished when they traveled to Nigeria to pick up "their" money.

Varyingly called the Nigerian advanced fee scam or the 4-1-9 scam based on a section of the Nigerian penal code, the offer of instant wealth has been around for a long time. The Internet simply has given the scamsters a technological advantage over the letter and telephone call that had been used in the past.

The e-mail or letter or telephone call is purportedly from a high government official in Nigeria, although lately Ghana is being used in some letters. The high official says that his office has a surplus of cash, obviously from some under-the-table deal. If you help him get the money out of the country, you get 30 percent or more. The total amount is anywhere from $25 to $60 million.

In Rasheed's case, the money fell through the cracks of a 1994 construction contract, the e-mail said. Mrs. Chinyere Kofe of Ghana said she is a friend of the former power and steel minister, and she just happens to have an extra $42.2 million, according to her letter.

Bode Olamide warns you in his e-mail to disregard all those bad things you hear about Nigerians. He seeks to do business based on mutual trust. And he accidentally came into $28.8 million he wants to share.

You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, and the Nigerians are aggressive in seeking a prince. The Financial Crimes Division of the Secret Service receives about 100 telephone calls from victims or potential victims and 300 to 500 pieces of related correspondence per day about this scam, according to one source.

The Nigerians, if they are Nigerians, frequently get their money from an advance fee for government taxes or some other small financial stumbling block to spiriting the money out of their country into your account that they need to use to avoid suspicion.

They ask recipients of their letters to provide detailed bank information via e-mail or FAX, presumably to see how good a target a victim is.

Although the Central Bank of Nigeria denies any knowledge of this local cottage industry, scamsters in the past have been able to produce official-looking documents with seals. Sometimes the telephone numbers provided the victims are legitimate phone numbers in Nigerian government offices.

If a victim is unwise enough to accept an invitation to Nigerian, the scamsters sometimes will lure him or her into the country through a backdoor and without an entry visa, a serious offense there. Using that crime as a lever, they frequently just hold the victim and extort money.

International police sources say that the scam has spread to former Soviet republics, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, now with the speed of the Internet .Time was when the scam invitation was reserved for businessmen and people who obviously had access to chunks of money. Now the scamsters are less choosy, sending their missives to random Internet mailboxes.

The U.S. Secret Service has a special e-mail set up for reports of this type of crime.  It is 419.fcd@usss.treas.gov Other governments have similar monitoring teams.









University research projects from palmito production to electric circuits are on display Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the University of Costa Rica.

This is the university's way of making public what researchers have been doing. In all 208 projects are featured in what is called Expo UCR 2001.

About a third of the project involve the prevention and mitigation of disasters. One project considers the 15 tsunamis that have hit Costa Rica in the last 100 years and suggests ways of avoid loss of life and property in the future.

Volcanoes get emphasis, too, and one project addresses the monitoring of gas emissions from volcanoes as a way of predicting eruptions.

Nearly 100 projects are listed under the heading of competitive and emerging 

technologies. This is where one can find research into palmito production and ways to build better electrical circuits. Palmitos are those tasty hearts of palms used in salads.  There is also some consideration of more effective ways to promote Costa Rica's tourist attractions.

The society and culture division addresses the many social problems, including the rights of women and children and even something as basic as more effective ways to teach reading and writing.

The expo is in the Faculty of Economic Sciences at the university's San Pedro campus. The event is open Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday the hours are from 9 a.m.  to 3 p.m.

More information, including a detailed outline of each project, can be found at:


Congressman finally admits relationship with missing intern

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Rep. Gary Condit acknowledged Thursday night that he had a five-month "close relationship" with missing intern Chandra Levy, but said he knows nothing about her disappearance.

In an interview with ABC television Thursday, Condit would not say whether he and Levy were romantically involved. He said he was not in love with Levy but liked her very much.

Condit said he has no idea what happened to Levy when she disappeared April 30 and does not know anyone who would want to harm the woman.

He also said no one in Washington has been more cooperative in helping police with her case than he has been. Police have interviewed Condit four times and searched his Washington apartment, but 

they do not list him as a suspect in her disappearance.

Analysts say the ABC interview is apparently part of Condit's efforts to salvage his political career. Three newspapers serving his northern California district have called for Condit to resign.

Two popular U.S. magazines - People and Newsweek - plan to print their own interviews with Condit in their next issues.

The California Democrat has also sent more than 200,000 letters to his constituents, in which he admits making mistakes and denies having anything to do with Levy's disappearance.

Despite a massive search, police have found few clues in the Levy case and have scaled back the investigation. 

Extraditions approved

for drug lords

in Colombia

The Supreme Court of Colombia approved a U.S. request to extradite a top drug lord to the United States for trial on charges of cocaine trafficking and money laundering. 

A Florida grand jury two years ago indicted Fabio Ocher (Vasquez) and two other suspected drug traffickers also approved for extradition.

Ochoa once was a leader of the notorious and violent Medellin cartel, which is now defunct. The cartel at one time was shipping an estimated 30 tons of cocaine a month to the United States. 

Ochoa has been fighting extradition since his arrest in October, 1999, with ads on the Internet and on local billboards. He is being held in a Bogota prison.  The extradition request now goes to President Andrews Pastrami for his approval. 

Drug gang leaders fear extradition to the United States because penalties for drug trafficking are much harsher in the United States than in Colombia. U.S. courts frequently sentence top drug gang bosses to life in prison. 

During the 1980s, Medellin cartel waged war against the government with a wave of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations. The violence by the drug gang finally came to an end when the cartel's top leader, Pablo Escobar, was killed in a shootout with police in 1993. 

A.M. Costa Rica wire services


Himalayan quake feared

Scientists say the Himalayan region is overdue for a major earthquake that could threaten the lives of more than 50 million people in northern India,
Pakistan and other neighboring countries. 

A study appearing in the latest issue of the journal Science warns that several lines of evidence point towards large earthquakes in the region in the coming years. 

Rioters gassed

in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES Argentine police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of people who took to the streets of Buenos Aires in the latest protest over government cost-cutting measures. 

At least 20 people were reported injured in the capital Thursday as the anti-government protesters voiced their displeasure over President Fernando de la Rua's austerity plan. Critics say the program will hurt the poor since it calls for cuts of up to 13 percent in salaries and pensions for government workers. 

They are also angered by plans by the province of Buenos Aires to issue special coupons, known as "patacones," as a supplement to the national currency to pay local government workers. The latest rally took place one day after President de la Rua announced he will hold an unusual referendum to test public support for his austerity plan to balance the national budget. 

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, de la Rua said the vote will take place after legislative elections set for October. 

The president said he wants to reduce what he calls the "political cost" of the austerity measure. His comments follow a decision by the International Monetary Fund to extend $8 billion to Argentina to stave off a feared economic collapse.

Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo said the additional aid will restore public confidence in the country's ability to pull itself out of the three-year recession that has sent unemployment rates above 16 percent. There have been fears Argentina could default on its $128 billion foreign debt. 

Earlier Thursday, President Bush telephoned his Argentine counterpart to discuss Argentina's economic problems. A spokesman for de la Rua said President Bush was pleased that Argentina had reached a deal with the IMF. Bush is on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. 

A.M. Costa Rica wire services
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