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These stories were published 7 September, 2001
Two men held here
in interest-rate scam
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators here have arrested two men involved in a high-interest Internet investment club. Police also took over real estate, bank accounts, cash and a yacht.

The announcement came Thursday from Lic. Jorge Rojas Vargas, subdirector of the Judicial Investigation Organization.

He identified the two men as Allen Richard Waage, 55, a Canadian citizen, and James Michael Webb, 39, a U.S. citizen.

The investment club is called Tri-West Investment Club, and it operated from San Diego, Calif., Belize City, Belize, and Nassau, Bahamas. Rojas said that the club offered investors a 10 percent monthly return.

The men are being held in Costa Rica on currency transportation charges, said Rojas, because they entered the country with as much as $10 million. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is involved, he said, and the two may face fraud and money-laundering charges in the U.S.

Rojas said that the club attracted investors from 42 countries.

Mexican officials took Waage into custody in April when he landed on a leased Lear jet in Puerto Vallarta, according to news reports at the time. His flight was from Belize to Costa Rica to Mexico, and he was in the company of another Canadian and a Mexican police official, the reports said. He was carrying $4.5 million in cashier's checks, Mexican police said at the time.

The investment club was said then to have taken in about $50 million from some 6,000 investors. Police then identified him as Alyn Richard Waage. Waage is believed to have returned to Costa Rica from Mexico after he was let out on bail.

Tri-West halted monthly interest payments to investors when Waage was arrested. The club's website still was active Thursday with messages that software problems and the failure of a bank had halted club activities. The website promised that club activities would be reinstated in July. The messages were signed by Jason Kingsley, president of Tri-West. Some regulators in the United States and Canada claim that Kingsley is really Waage. The address is http://www.triwestinvest.com

Rojas characterized the operation as a pyramid scheme in which early investors were paid their monthly interest from money paid in by later investors. He noted that Tri-West had a new wrinkle in its operation in that it paid a 15 percent commission to investors who brought new investors and their money into the club.

Rojas noted that also involved in the operation was Haarlem Universal Corp., a Panamanian firm. News articles note that investors paid their money to Haarlem, which maintained the Belize office. Some of the money was shipped as far away as Latvia, reports said.

Taken over by investigators here, according to Rojas, were:

• a yacht at Los Sueños Resort in Herradura,
• a helicopter at Tobias Bolaños Airport in Pavas, 
• two late-model cars,
• the finca El Rancho Marquí in La Garita de Alajuela,
• two properties, each worth about $250,000, in Escazú and a house in Rohrmoser,
• 720 million colons ($2.2 million) in both colons and dollar   banknotes at the finca,
• paperwork showing deposits in Costa Rican private banks.

Rojas was accompanied during his explanation of the arrests by Lic. Carlos Arias, head of the Public Ministry, and Francisco Segura Montero, director of the Center for Antidrug Information. Rojas said that the investigation originally began as an anti-drug probe because of the large amount of money that was coming into the country.

Rojas said that investigators believe that Waage brought in about $10 million to Costa Rica when he arrived in April. The money was used to purchase the property  that was confiscated. he said.

The Tri-west operation had been targeted by securities investigators in a number of U.S. states, Canadian provinces, New Zealand and other countries since summer 2000. The Internet provides links to a number of individual legal actions against the club and residents who tried to recruit new investors and earn their 15 percent. Most securities regulations insist that anyone who gets a commission on a transaction be licensed.

The Internet also provides links to discussion boards where investors and would-be investors chat about the legitimacy of Tri-West. Some crow that they have gotten their original investment back. Others express fears that governments will try to crush small investors who deal offshore.

Tri-West said it made its money by dealing in bank debenture trading programs and prime bank instruments. The British Columbia Securities Commission in Vancouver issued a cease-and-desist order against Tri-West and local promoters in April. At that time, it said Tri-West had a $1,000 investment minimum and had nearly 21,000 investors.
 
 

The material here published

here Sept. 7 was deleted

because it was time-sensitive

to that particular issue.

 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

STREET SMART

I am not. But having been pickpocketed three times, having had a necklace ripped from my neck and having heard the stories of other people’s misfortunes on the streets of San José, I have learned a few things. 

First of all, I advise everyone to do what I did not do: report it to the police. Like most other people, I figured it would be useless because the police couldn't do anything, and it would just take a lot of futile time and paperwork. However, according to the theory of critical mass, with all of us reporting our misfortunes, the police might decide that it would be more interesting to go after the perps than to process more paperwork. 

And now some cautionary advice: Women should clutch their purses firmly, and if it is a shoulder bag, if possible hang it across your chest. Men, never carry your wallets in your back pockets. Beware if someone in front of you "accidentally" drops his/her backpack or whatever they are carrying. Immediately clutch your handbag or wallet. 

His cohort is behind you ready to rob you in the confusion. Men, beware of an attractive woman who seems to want your attention. While the two of you are smiling at each other and otherwise occupied, her partner in crime is going for your wallet. And you all probably know about the spot on your jacket ploy. If somebody "accidentally" spills something on you, before they can begin to wipe it off, run. 

For women, if you are in a crowded bus and a young man becomes charmingly chummy and chats with you, make sure your purse is zipped up. He is after what’s in it. And he is very clever at removing a wallet without your knowing it. 

I would love to witness the modern day version of Fagin’s School for Pickpockets. They are getting better and better at it. Muggers are different. Carolyn, who is pretty streetwise, insists that muggers are, in fact, very stupid. So, she says, what you should do is ask them a question and, while they are figuring out the answer, you run. If they have a weapon, she says you should throw your wallet as far as you can and, while they are going after it, you run. She may be right, I have bought another wallet to carry for throwing, but the only question I can think of so far is

"Excuse me, but when do you get off work?" 

Jo Stuart's earlier column here


Another big day
for Soccer fans

You might have noticed that the soccer celebration continued Thursday. There were little hints:

Like the big parade and the confetti.

Like the gigantic 11 a.m. crowd as Miguel Angel Roriguez, the president of the country, praised the national soccer team in a joyful ceremony at the Plaza of Democracy on Avenida 2.

Like the fact that most Costa Ricans took a holiday from 11 a.m. to about 2 p.m. in honor of the team.

Like the bars that were full until late at night.

Like the radio stations that played the highlights of the soccer match over and over.

For those on another planet, Costa Rica beat the U.S. national team Wednesday night and assured itself of a spot in the World Cup finals next year in Korea and Japan. 

The U.S. still must struggle for one of the two remaining spots.

Bush and Fox still not in accord on amnesty
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox visited the U.S. state of Ohio Thursday where they spoke to university students and visited a Hispanic community center.

Immigration remains the central issue of this first official state visit. President Fox wants a deal on immigration by the end of the year to address the needs of more than three million undocumented Mexican workers in the United States. It is a message he took to a joint meeting of Congress Thursday morning and one he repeated in the afternoon at the University of Toledo.

"It is a time for a commitment and hard work," President Fox said. "Let us not pass lightly over the countless sorrows and exemplary efforts of so many men and women who we call migrants. We must find the resolve and act quickly so that we can find shared solutions to this common problem."

President Bush opposes a general amnesty for illegal Mexican workers, but he clearly wants to come to some sort of agreement with President Fox that would protect the rights of undocumented Mexicans without appearing to reward illegal immigration. Bush would not commit to the Mexican leader's timetable but did say he would speed up the process.

Some members of Congress from both political parties oppose the move, saying it would reward people for entering the country illegally and is unfair to those waiting for proper visas. Supporters say an amnesty would protect the labor rights of 
 

currently undocumented Mexican workers who are not guaranteed a minimum wage.

President Bush says it is not about politics or economics, it is about  showing respect for people who come to America looking for a better life for their families. 

"I know there is a lot of talk about Mexican laborers coming to the United States, but I want to remind my fellow citizens of this fact: family values do not stop at the Rio Bravo. There are mothers and dads in Mexico who love their children just as much as mothers and dads in America do, and if they are a mother or dad who can't find work, worried about food on the table, they  are going to come and find work in America," said Bush.

Bush says solving the immigration problem means helping Mexico develop a larger middle class to expand economic opportunities there so fewer people feel the need to leave for a better life elsewhere.

In a joint statement, the two leaders announced plans to form a public-private "Partnership for Prosperity" that will look for ways to increase economic growth in Mexico as a way to slow migration. That panel would submit an action plan to the leaders by next March.

President Bush and President Fox also urged Congress to remove legislation blocking Mexican trucks from moving freely on American roads as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. If that language is included in an appropriations bill sent to the White House, Bush says he will veto it.

Foreign Service Exam
signups are double

More than 23,500 people have registered for the Sept. 29 Foreign Service Written Exam, nearly twice the number of registrants last year, the U.S. State Department said.

Preliminary data from the registration, now closed, also show an increase in the share of minority registrants to approximately 35 percent of all registrants, a department announcement said  This is the highest percentage of minority registrants in the history of the State Department's Foreign Service intake process, they said. African-American registration nearly tripled over last year to over 3,000.  Hispanic registration doubled to over 2,000.

The increase is the result of an administration-supported hiring drive,
including a targeted minority recruitment effort, to hire 1,433 new career employees in fiscal year 2002 for foreign and Civil Service positions.

Following a 10-year decline, the current totals represent a return to the high registration numbers of the 1980s, with a major change within
the demographics represented by a doubling of minority representation, the department said.

The exam is the first step in finding U.S. federal government employment, mostly overseas.

U.S. won't split Microsoft

The U.S. Justice Department has announced it is giving up efforts to break-up Microsoft, the world's largest computer software company. 

The Justice Department said in a statement Thursday it has decided to streamline the case and find another remedy as soon as possible. The officials say they want to seek prompt, effective, and certain relief for consumers. 

The Justice Department also says it will also no longer pursue its complaint that Microsoft illegally tied its Internet Explorer to its flagship Windows operating system, which prosecutors had argued gave Microsoft an unfair advantage over other software companies. 

A Microsoft spokesman reacted to Thursday's announcement by saying the company is committed to settling the case. But an unnamed justice department official says the government is not retreating from its contention that Microsoft has been operating an illegal monopoly. The U.S. case will now focus on restricting Microsoft's business operations. 

The Justice Department brought its case against Microsoft more than three years ago on behalf of 19 U.S. states. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson last year ordered Microsoft to split into two separate companies. But an appeals court later threw out that order, while upholding Judge Jackson's opinion that Microsoft was an illegal monopoly. 

Pastrana won't void enclave

Colombian President Andres Pastrana says any move by his government to end the status of the rebels' enclave in the south as a demilitarized zone would mean all-out war. 

Pastrana conceded a large parcel of land to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, three years ago in an effort to move peace talks along. This concession comes up for possible renewal early next month. 

Despite a renewed push by the Colombian army recently, the government and the rebels have resumed peace talks. Interior Minister Armando Estrada told Congress Wednesday that peace talks are better than all-out war. 

The United States is giving the Colombian army more than $1 billion to help it fight drug traffickers. Officials believe, however, that this also hurts the rebels because they, too, profit from illegal drug traffic. 

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Bogota next week to discuss the Colombian situation.
 

Colombian negotiation killed

Colombian politician Jairo Rojas, vice president of the national legislature's committee administering a peace process with insurgents, has been slain in Bogota.  Police said Mr. Rojas was killed Thursday as he was leaving his car, parked in front of his residence. 

Rojas was acting as temporary successor to the president of the Congressional peace process committee, Diego Turbay, who was killed last December. 

The Colombian government is attempting to end armed conflict with guerrilla groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, which controls a large demilitarized zone in the south of the country. 
 

Volkswagen to halt investments

 Volkswagen says it is halting investment in Mexico for the moment. The announcement came just hours after the German-based automaker reached an agreement with labor unions that ended an 18-day strike. 

Volkswagen was planning to invest as much as $1 billion over the next five years in Mexico. But a company official said late Wednesday that plans have changed, and a total reassessment will have to be carried out. 

The agreement that ended the strike was for a wage raise of just over 10 percent. The union began by demanding a 21 percent raise. 

The Volkswagen auto assembly plant in Puebla, Mexico, makes a number of models, including the old Beetle, the new Beetle and the Jetta.

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