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These stories were published Monday, Aug. 25, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 167
Jo Stuart
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Lawmaker wants to crack down on cell phones
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional will get a chance to punish motor vehicle operators who talk on cellular telephones at the same time.

Carlos Avendaño, of the Partido Renovación, said he is unhappy that only 2,185 tickets have been given for this infraction when the number a year ago was 5,449. He blamed a lack of clarity in the law and said he wants to establish a 20,000 colon ($50) fine for this violation.

Avendaño said he would present such a measure for legislative consideration.

The lawmaker said that speaking on a cellular with the use of a hands-free device would not be punished.

The current law is more general than cellulars, according to a statement from the legislative assembly. The law simply establishes a violation if a driver had a child or some object in his arms that impedes the operation of a motor vehicle. Avendaño wants to make it clear that such an object is a cellular telephone.

The legislator said he wanted the law to be enforced rigorously if passed.

A number of automobile manufacturers have systems whereby motorists can speak on cell telephones without using their hands. But most Costa Rica cars predate these advances.

A 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine claims that a driver is four times as likely to be involved in an accident while talking on a cell telephone. But that conclusion is controversial.

An American Automobile Association study found that using a cell telephone is a lot less dangerous than other activities like eating and driving.

Only three U.S. states have passed laws on the topic, and even the most harsh only requires a driver to keep one hand on the wheel. None forbids use. Some local laws do. Others have said the true danger in talking on the cell telephone is the topic of the conversation and whether it distracts a driver from what is happening on the road.

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Chicken firm settles its U.S. financial dispute
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s largest chicken producer has accepted a judgment from the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission that levies a $25,000 civil fine on the firm’s chairman and founder.

The individual fined is Calixto Chaves, 56, a former presidential adviser and minister. According to the firm, he is the chairman of Rica Foods, Inc., the parent company of Corporación Pipasa, S.A., and Corporación As de Oros, S.A., both Costa Rican firms. Rica Foods is a U.S. corporation chartered in the State of Nevada with executive offices in Miami and Costa Rica.

The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission alleged that the firm, Chaves and Gina Sequeira, 32, its chief financial officer, submitted an annual report even though its accounting firm had not provided a signed audit and the firm’s financials contained errors.

The Securities & Exchange Commission said last week that Chaves and Ms. Sequeira consented to the entry of the judgment without admitting or denying the allegations. She was not fined. The agreement forbids the company or the individuals from violating financial reporting requirements in the future.

In the original complaint, the Securities & Exchange Commission said that the firm’s accountant, Deloitte & Touche, had a reason for 

not submitting the signed audit report. Said the complaint: "At least part of the reason for the absence of an audit report was that, as Deloitte had told the company, the financial statements contained a number of material classification errors. Among other things, the company's financial statements recorded $5 million in loans due from its shareholders as an asset (thereby increasing Rica Foods' assets from $91 million to $96 million on the balance sheet) instead of as a reduction of its shareholders' equity."

The accounting firm resigned the contract, and the American Stock Exchange stopped trading in Rica’s stock the same day, Jan . 26. The stock was trading at 95 cents a share.

The firm’s Web site said that another politician, Frederick Vargas, the former Costa Rican ambassador to the United States, a former national deputy and minister of finance and an official in the Partido Liberación Nacional, is a member of the board of directors of Rica.

Corporación Pipasa, S.A., founded in 1969, and As de Oros S.A., founded in 1954, provide nearly 70 percent of Costa Rica’s chicken, said the firm’s Web site.

In addition the companies produce eggs and up to 500 other products, mostly in Costa Rica. As de Oros also owns about 36 fried chicken restaurants here.

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Chiropractor wanted judge and prosecutor to quit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A San José chiropractor got in trouble with the Costa Rican judicial system because he asked a prosecutor and the investigating judge in the Villalobos case to resign.

The man, Dr. Matthew Shirzad, has been summoned to court today. But in one afternoon the man became a hero to some Villalobos creditors and galvanized the sagging cause.

Shirzad says that the officials investigating the Villalobos case have mishandled the money that was confiscated and have restricted access to the files.

Shirzad, who himself gave money to the Villalobos brothers, has been a frequent visitor to the courts. Shirzad was down there Thursday afternoon when agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization briefly took him into custody. He was there to file a criminal complaint against the prosecutor, Walter Espinoza, and the judge, Francisco Sánchez Fallas.

Shirzad has been sending letters to both the prosecutor and the judge, and it appears that this is the action that got him in trouble rather than his desire to file criminal charges. The complaint is menacing, the chiropractor has said, although the exact specifics are in dispute.

Meanwhile, creditors of the failed high-interest Villalobos operation are split on whether they will show up at 1 p.m. today at the Tibunales de Justicia in San José to support the chiropractor. Shirzad is a U.S. citizen living in Costa Rica.

Many creditors are at the end of their financial rope and highly volatile. Some cooler heads fear there may be incidents that would tend to embarrass the creditors.

Some creditors still cling to the belief that  Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and his brother Oswaldo were run out of business by a greedy government and a banking conspiracy. They hope for the end of a criminal investigation which they are certain will vindicate the brothers. 

The investigation is for fraud, money laundering and illegal banking.

Some of the more optimistic believe when vindicated the fugitive Luis Enrique will return and begin to distribute the estimated $1 billion that was on the company books when the brothers closed their Mall San Pedro office Oct. 14.

These are generally the same people who believe that the Villalobos brothers had some secret, legal method for generating the estimated 3 percent a month interest they paid to their primarily North American creditors.

In all, there were about 6,600 credit accounts in the Villalobos operation. Some 600 individuals have filed against the brothers, and a handful of highly vocal creditors are here agitating against the government in Costa Rica.

The creditors probably are in error if they think the Costa Rican investigation will end soon. Many of the same persons and departments involved in the Villalobos case also are involved in the failure of other high-interest borrowing operations, and Costa Rica’s scant resources are stretched thin. 

In addition, U.S. officials have been asked to conduct some investigations, and these inquiries may result in separate investigations being launched by federal officials there. In addition, there is the continuing possibility of action by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the tax collecting agency.

Three murder cases
keep police busy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An unusual wave of murders continues. A San Tomás de Santo Domingo de Heredia woman, 21-year-old Ariella Andrea Cartín Feoli, was shot to death by an assailant Friday afternoon.

She was dragged from her vehicle when she was driving on a back road en route to the center of town. Police said she had a footprint on her white sweater where the murderer placed his foot to hold her to the ground before shooting her once in the cheek and into the head.

The woman was a veterinary student. Her father is a well-known businessman, and her mother comes from a family that runs an automobile firm. They were on vacation.

In Coronado a 24-year-old Cartago man was stabbed in the chest by a young woman and died at the scene Sunday. The man, identified as Juan Carlos Masis Rojas, was visiting a brother in a neighborhood there.

The woman and a male companion fled and are being sought.

In the southern San José district of San Sebastián police said a man, Walter Ramírez Fuentes, 41, was found in a home with a fatal head injury caused by a blunt object Friday night.

Intruder is shot
by owner with gun

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A suspected robber broke into a home in Tibás early Sunday but was surprised by the homeowner who happened to have a .22-caliber firearm.

Fuerza Pública officers said they found a 41-year-old man identified by the last names of Guerrero Cabezas wounded in the patio of the home. He suffered bullet wounds of the chest and leg, they said.

The homeowner, identified by the names of Miranda Salas Guerrero, said the man tried to burglarize the house. 

Another fishing boat
explodes and burns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The commercial fishing vessel Asconia exploded and burst into flames Saturday morning in international waters near the Isla del Coco, according to the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas. 

The six crewmen were rescued immediately, according to reports from the scene. The rescue boat was the Papateck 4 out of Quepos, officials said. The survivors are expected to be in port Wednesday.

The Asconia flew the Costa Rica flag and was based in Puentarenas, said officials. They said it was a sister ship to the commercial fishing boat that exploded and sunk three weeks ago killing half the crew.

Colombian riverboat
destroyed by blast

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian authorities say seven people have been killed and 38 others injured in a riverboat bombing blamed on leftist rebels. 

Investigators say the blast happened Sunday after a boat carrying 56 people docked along the Ariari River in the central town of Puerto Rico. 

Army helicopters were dispatched to the scene to rush the wounded to hospitals as combat between government troops and rebels raged in the area.  Officials also say a woman was carrying the bomb inside a box and that she died in the blast. They are looking into whether she was a rebel or if guerrillas had tricked her into carrying the box. 

Authorities suspect the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia carried out the attack. 

In separate violence, suspected rebels have again bombed Colombia's Cano Limon oil pipeline, which carries oil for the Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp.

The blast shut down pumping of the 110,000 barrel-per-day pipeline in northeastern Arauca state. Army troops have been deployed to the sabotaged pipeline to protect repair crews. 

Some 70 U.S. special forces soldiers are in the oil-rich Arauca state to train Colombian troops to defend the pipeline. The pipeline was bombed a record 170 times in 2001.

Hurricane takes aim
at Baja California

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A hurricane warning is in effect for Mexico's Baja California peninsula, as Hurricane Ignacio bears down on the popular tourist destination. 

The hurricane gained strength Sunday as it pushed into the Gulf of California, forcing local authorities to evacuate low-lying areas and close a major airport.  As area residents stood in long lines to buy food, water, and batteries, forecasters warned to prepare for the storm. 

At last report, the Pacific storm was centered 135 kms. (84 miles) east - southeast of La Paz, moving to the north at 7 kms. per hour, some 4.5 mph. Ignacio was packing maximum sustained winds of 165 kms. per hour (103 mph) and was expected to gradually turn north in the next 24 hours. 

Ignacio is the first hurricane of the Pacific Ocean season and formed rapidly from a tropical storm. The system is expected to dump enough rain in its path to trigger flash floods and mudslides.

Canada arrests
suspected terrorists

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Canadian police have arrested 19 Pakistani men for reportedly having ties to terrorist activity similar to the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. 

A spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Michelle Paradis, Friday, confirmed the arrests occurred last week. Ms. Paradis said some of the men have already been charged with breaking immigration rules. 

A Canadian newspaper, the Toronto Star, Friday, reported the arrests came after the men engaged in a pattern of suspicious behavior.  The newspaper says court records show one of the men was taking flight lessons, which included trips near the Pickering nuclear power plant, east of Toronto.  The records also say police found two of the men outside the gates of the Pickering plant. 
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Shrimp send a strong message on free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just when it seemed that Costa Rica needed a little nudge toward a free trade treaty, the United States cut off importation of this country’s shrimp production.

The United States used to get about 20,000 pounds a month. The cutoff is a temporary measure, the U.S. announcement said, and the stated purpose is to penalize those countries whose fishermen represent a danger to endangered turtles.

Analysis on the news

The U.S. announcement Thursday urged the use of turtle exclusion devices on shrimp nets that allow turtles, if caught, to swim free.

But the action comes at a time when its implications would not be lost on other producers here. A similar message was delivered informally more than a month ago when some members of the U.S. negotiating team happened to mention to 

Costa Rican officials that some tightening might take place if this country did not subscribe to a free-trade treaty.

Costa Rican agricultural producers had said they see no benefit to a free-trade treaty with the United States because their exports now are not subject to duties there.

But producers here cannot expect that condition to continue without a free-trade treaty, U.S. negotiators warned. The shrimp ban applies a strong punctuation mark to the end of that warning. Also in the works are complex sanitary and health rules, ostensibly to guard against terrorism. Costa Rican exports are being schooled in the requirements now, but they also can see that a mechanism exists to cut off their products.

The free-trade treaty with five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic is supposed to be finalized by the end of the year. Teams are discussing a number of issues face-to-face each month.

Fatal explosion sets back the space hopes of Brazil
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAO LUIS, Brazil — Brazilian investigators have begun the process of recovering and identifying the remains of the 21 workers killed in a rocket explosion Friday.

Authorities suspended the investigation late Friday because of intense heat at the accident site, in northeastern Maranhao State. Forensic investigators from the nearby city of Sao Luis Saturday said they will use DNA testing to identify some of the remains. 

The Brazilian Air Force has released the names of workers they believe were killed in Friday's explosion, which also injured 20 people at the Alcantara Launch Center.

Officials say they are investigating why one of the

rocket's four engines ignited by mistake, three days before its scheduled launch.

The incident triggered a blast that devastated the launch site as technicians were carrying out final tests and sent a huge plume of smoke over the seaside launch center on Brazil's Atlantic coast.

Brazil's defense minister, Jose Viegas, was due to visit the site Saturday.

This was Brazil's third attempt to become the first Latin American nation to send its own rocket into space. All the attempts have failed.

The unmanned vehicle was to have taken two satellites to collect weather data for research programs. Rockets launched in 1997 and 1999 were destroyed shortly after take-off because of technical problems. 

Ex-diplomat's arrest causes Iranian-Argentine rift 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TEHRAN, Iran —  Iran says it is cutting economic and cultural ties with Argentina to protest the arrest of a former Iranian diplomat in connection with a 1994 bombing of a Jewish charitable organization in Argentina. 

Iranian state media Saturday reported that the foreign ministry in Tehran summoned Argentina's charge d'affaires, Ernesto Alvarez, to express Iran's strong protest over the arrest. 

Thursday, British police arrested Hadi Soleimanpour, Iran's ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing. He was wanted on an international warrant issued by Argentina that charges him with conspiring with others in the attack, which killed 85 people. 

Iran has denied any involvement in the bombing of the headquarters of the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. Iranian officials say Thursday's arrest was politically motivated.  Iran has also lodged protests with British officials over the arrest of Mr. Soleimanpour.

The former Iranian ambassador will remain in custody in Britain pending a court decision on whether to extradite him to Argentina. The court 

adjourned the extradition hearing Friday and ordered the former envoy held until Aug. 29. 

A lawyer for the former ambassador says his client has always publicly and strenuously denied the allegations that have been leved against him.

Soleimanpour is now a researcher at Durham University in northeastern England. Earlier, an attorney for the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association in Buenos Aires said Soleimanpour's arrest is extremely important in the process of unraveling details about how the attack was organized. Argentina has the largest Jewish population in South America, estimated at around 300,000.

Last March, Argentina's arrest warrants for four other Iranian diplomats caused tensions between Buenos Aires and Tehran, and the current Iranian ambassador to Argentina was recalled.

Just weeks ago, Argentina's president, Nestor Kirchner, called the slow progress in the investigation a "national disgrace." He vowed, on the ninth anniversary of the attack, to bring those responsible to justice. 

Soleimanpour has been in Britain since February last year. The 47-year-old entered the country on a student visa. 

Fires in Western Canada still rage out of control
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

KELOWNA, Canada — A devastating wildfire in western Canada has destroyed more than 200 homes in this city. About 30,000 people, which is almost a third of the population, has been evacuated.

The out-of-control fire is estimated to be over 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) in size. Fueled by a summer drought and dry winds, the city of 100,000 has seen a large number of high priced homes go up in flames.

Kelowna's main sports arena, schools, and churches have become emergency shelters for the evacuees. Thousands more have been put on evacuation alert.

The fire is described as having flames shoot up to 120 meters (390 feet) high and at one point was advancing over 100 meters (325 feet) a minute.

Steve Bachop, an information officer with the provincial British Columbia Fire Service, says this fire is the worst in recent memory for the area.

"Certainly, the Okanagan Mountain fire was displaying fire behavior that we haven't seen in a long, long time in B.C. (British Columbia)," he said. "And it's added to the complexity that it's burning so close to populated areas."

The blaze has already destroyed a nearby provincial park and covered the city, about 380 kms. (234 miles) east of Vancouver, with smoke and ash. It is believed lightening started the fire.

The fire is one of over 800 that have been burning across British Columbia in recent months. Three thousand 600 firefighters and Canadian soldiers are attempting to control the flames. 

Military commanders have been calling up reserves, who are getting quick instructions on firefighting before joining existing fire crews. It is the largest military peacetime deployment in the region in over 50 years. 

Here in Vancouver, dry weather has created conditions so that a similar fire could easily erupt. To prevent any more destruction, authorities have shut down many popular urban trails and banned smoking in city parks.

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