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(506) 223-1327              Published Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 185           E-mail us   
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Dispute over single word could crimp statute
U.S. money laundering law faces high court review

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Supreme Court will be asked early next month to hang the federal money laundering law out to dry.

The appeal comes from a small-time East Chicago lottery operator but legal observers agree that the case will have widespread impact in international drug and fraud cases.

The appeal is by Efrain Santos, who was arrested in 2004 and later convicted. As is typical in federal cases having to do with money, prosecutors laid on a laundering charge. They said he was using the lottery proceeds to advance his illegal operation.

That's the description of money laundering in the federal statute, and a number of U.S. expats with Costa Rican ties have faced similar charges.

They include the operators of Anderson Ark & Associates, the tax-fraud scheme busted by the FBI in 2002.

In fact, annually a U.S. report characterizes Costa Rica as a major money laundering country. The fugitive Luis Enrique Villalobos, the man who left more than 6,200 investors hanging when he shut down his high-interest borrowing operation in 2002, certainly would face a money laundering charge if he ever fell into U.S. hands.

His brother Oswaldo managed to avoid conviction on such a charge because the Costa Rican legal definition is far more restrictive.

A string of Costa Rican residents facing charges in the United States also have to deal with money laundering allegations, including those arrested for running sportsbooks here and for running Internet scams.

The U.S. attorney in New York's Southern District also accused the founders of Neteller, the Internet payment service, with laundering billions in illegal gambling proceeds for the benefit of offshore gambling operations.

Of course, the biggest money laundering operations are involved in the drug trade, and the United States estimates that from $8 to $25 billion is laundered for the benefit of Mexican 
money laundry

and Colombian cartels every year.

Santos argues that the use of the word proceeds in the law, U.S., 18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1), means the net profit from illegal activities and not gross receipts. The U.S. government argues that the word means all income from an illegal activity.

Because criminals keep poor records and because many illegal operations are hidden, a future conviction would be very difficult if the court accepts the definition given by Santos, said government lawyers.

Two levels of courts have agreed with Santos, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Oct. 3 in the case.

The U.S. Congress did not define the word proceeds when it wrote and approved the law.

The money laundering law has a maximum sentence of 20 years, enough to force many suspects into making deals with prosecutors. If they don't, they can spend many more years in prison, if convicted.

Many expat business operators in Costa Rica fear a money laundering allegation about as much as they fear a visit from U.S. Internal Revenue Service tax collecting agents. They worry that day-to-day activities in Costa Rica might be construed as money laundering up north.

If the U.S. Supreme Court justices uphold the argument by Santos, the decision will at least put a crimp in the wide-ranging U.S. money laundering law — until the U.S. Congress passes a clarification.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 185

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Solís gets his treaty debate,
but with central bank chief

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ottón Solís, the leader of the Partido Acción Ciudadana will debate the head of the Banco Central Thursday. The topic, of course, will be the free trade treaty with the United States.

Solís opposes the treaty and said he thinks that Costa Rica could have negotiated a better deal. He has made trips to the United States to present that view to politicians there.

The central bank executive president is Francisco De Paula Gutiérrez.

Solís originally sought to engage President Óscar Arias Sánchez in debate, but Arias declined.

Solís was the principal opponent of Arias in the presidential race. He carried much of the Central Valley by narrow margins but Arias and the Partido Liberación Nacional organization won heavily in the provinces of Limón and Guanacaste.

Arias made no secret of his support of the free trade treaty, and some saw the election as a referendum on that document. Arias managed to gain just enough votes in the Asamblea Legislativa to pass the treaty, but Acción Ciudadana and other opponents have been successful in stalling the vote and then forced Arias to call for a referendum.

That vote will be Oct. 7.

The debate will be at 4 p.m. in the Auditorio de Ex Rectores at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia.
Motorists must circumvent
asphalt work on main street

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Calle Central, otherwise known as Calle 0, will be getting a new coat of asphalt Wednesday, and this will disrupt traffic all over San José.

Crews will start tonight preparing for the job. The asphalt will go on Wednesday during the day. The job will run from the Estación al Pacifico on Avenida 20 north to the Terminal Autobuses Caribeños at Avenida 9.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes is chopping up the surface of streets that run some 47 city blocks to install new asphalt. Calles 11 and 9 are already done, but Calle 0 also runs through the heart of the city crossing major through streets.

Buses are being rerouted as will traffic.

Brennan back at embassy
after tour in Nicaragua

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Peter M. Brennan has returned to the U.S. Embassy in San José as deputy chief of mission. That means he is the No. 2 person after Ambassador Mark Langdale.

Brennan, who left San José in 2004 to be deputy chief of mission in Managua, Nicaragua, is one of 18 persons in the diplomatic corps who have begun a tour of duty in Costa Rica. U.S. Foreign service employees usually are rotated every three to four years.

When he was here in 2000 to 2004, Brennan was a counselor for public affairs, but he served a stint as acting chief of mission before Langdale, a political appointee, arrived.  He joined the diplomatic service in 1984.

Our readers opinions
False accusations common,
this Alajuela expat says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In regards to today's article about fraudulent spousal abuse, I have also experienced the incredible ability for police or just regular people to file false claims where it causes people to take their time and expense to try and disprove allegations.

First, I was checking for fun online one day my personal Costa Rica drivers license to come to find out that I had an accident and fine filed on my license. After my investigation it stated that I had an accident in Curridabat which I fled in a car that I have never been in along with in a car of someone that I did not know. Also, they wrote my name on the ticket without any ID number associated with my license.

So, in essence a police office put my name on a ticket without any verification of the person which then led to the government just automatically associating it to my driver's license without any investigation. Then when I reported to the court with all verifications and people supporting, they did not know me they would not take the ticket off my license! My attorney suggested that I pay the fine and then protest in court.

Second, I received a subpoena to appear for a hearing to be accused of sending some people to a house of a person I do not know and have never met to threaten them to stop assaulting people in the street.

This is the scary part of living in this country as a foreigner as they will not give out traffic tickets to Ticos driving in violation of the laws but they will go after the foreigners with no shred of evidence with false accusations.
Tony Webber

A Tica tells other women
not to cry wolf on abuse

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I believe that neither women nor men should abuse the law of domestic violence.

There are many people out there who are abused, such as myself (Tica abused by a U.S. citizen in the U.S.), and playing with the law just may affect the credibility of the ones who are in real danger. It happens everywhere around the world.

So all the women out there who are trying to take advantage of this law have to think twice and be grateful if it is just an argument as all people have in a relationship. Being killed is something else. This is not a game.

Viviana Rojas
San José

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 185

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Neighbors seek to reopen park that was closed to cut crime
boy at playground
A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
Alec Brenes, 3, can't enter the local playgound now
By Bryan Kay
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An increase in home and street robberies in one of San Jose’s wealthier neighborhoods forced the closing of a children’s playground there. Concern is growing in Montelimar, north of downtown, after a spate of incidents, some of which involved the use of a firearm. The revelations follow similar well-publicised troubles in Rohrmoser, Santa Ana and Escazú.

Residents in Montelimar – particularly the families of Calle Boruca – said the list of crimes has included car jackings, house and car break-ins and assaults on children in the street in broad daylight.

The decision to close the local park was taken after it was discovered a number of suspicious characters were gathering in the area late at night, they said.  An action group set up to fight the crime spree took the decision to scrap a security guard in favor of round-the-clock- surveillance by a private security company.

The neighbors are to lobby the security mininstry and ask that an unused police booth within the playground to be
reopened and manned by Fuerza Publica officers in a bid to reinforce public safety. Steps also were being taken to reopen the park under tightened security measures. 

Organizers from the Calle Boruca Committee are preparing a petition for Gerardo Lascarez Jimenez, a vice mininster.

Central bank's museums getting ready to celebrate 25 years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many Costa Ricans and expats are not aware that there are four floors of museums under the well-known Plaza de la Cultura. And few who were not here then know that the whole arrangement is only 25 years old.

The plaza is the pigeon-filled space just north of the Teatro Nacional. Up until 25 years ago, the space was just another city block filled with a two-story wood building.
If a visitor looks closely, he or she will see that the guards of the plaza are not municipal policemen. They are guards of the Banco Central, which also operates the museums.

The title is a bit strange: Museos del Banco Central. But that is because inside are several museums, including one devoted to Costa Rican currency and another containing the world-class prehistoric gold collection.

To celebrate the 25th birthday, the Banco Central plans a big fiesta Saturday at the plaza and the museums. The facility also will kick off a temporary exhibit showing the planning and construction of the country's only underground public building.

Historian Vivian Solano Brenes also has researched the history of the area on which the facility stands, and her work is included in the exhibition, too. Dora María Sequeira, director of the Museos del Banco Central, said that the construction created an urban meeting place and changed the face of the city.

The fiesta will start at 10 a.m. with music, clowns and masked characters. At 11:30 a.m. the group Mestizo will entertain with folkloric music accompanied by dancing.

The museums also plan a big concert Nov. 24 with  Escats and Son de Tikizia.
plaza de la cultura
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Many passers-by do not know the museums are below

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Emphasis on solar cooking has health, environmental goals
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The use of technologies that combine solar power and energy efficiency is helping a growing segment of the more than 3 billion people in the developing world who burn traditional biomass fuels — including wood and animal dung — indoors for cooking and heating.

The current cooking practice, according to the World Health Organization, traps high levels of pollutants in the living area and causes 1.6 million premature deaths every year, mainly among women and children.

It also ravages trees, brush and other ground cover, promoting erosion and flooding in many areas that already are vulnerable to such occurrences.

“If this is the last tree in the whole country,” Patricia McArdle said, referring to a photograph from Afghanistan, “and that lady has to cook dinner, she will cut that tree down and take it home. That’s why we have to work with governments to implement these policies locally and promote the use of solar cooking.”

But it is an integrated approach, added Ms. McArdle, with “solar cooking when the sun is shining, combined with energy-efficient cooking methods for nighttime and cloudy days.” She is a former State Department foreign service officer and now a board member with organizations that deal in solar cookers.

The three most common solar cookers are heat-trap boxes, curved concentrators (parabolics) and panel cookers. Hundreds of variations exist, instructions for making them are freely available on the Internet, and there are many manufacturers.

Box cookers, the most common around the world, cook at moderate to high temperatures and can heat several pots at once. There are several hundred thousand in India alone, according to one Web site.

Parabolic cookers focus sunlight into a single point and cook fast at high temperatures. They need frequent adjustment and supervision for safe operation. Several hundred thousand exist, mainly in China. They are especially useful for large-scale institutional cooking.

Panel cookers have elements of box and parabolic cookers. They are simple and relatively inexpensive to buy or produce.

To keep food warm or extend cooking time, people can use an insulated basket. Solar cookers also can be used to dry foods, heat water and pasteurize water for drinking.

Combining solar cookers, insulated baskets and energy-efficient cook stoves “can reduce your use of fuel by about 85 percent,” said Ms. McArdle, who has met with officials from a range of U.S. government agencies to seek funding for solar cooking projects worldwide.
Small nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits, and larger organizations like Rotary International and the German/international cooperation enterprise GTZ are helping spread the word about the technology.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Partnership for Clean Indoor Air approved grants for five organizations, including Bolivia-based CEDESOL Foundation, which stands for Center for Development with Solar Energy.

The grant, said David Whitfield, the foundation's executive director, is for a scale-up project involving a uniquely designed wood-burning device called a rocket stove that has been certified to be at least 42 percent efficient, does not pollute the environment, and gets about 95 percent of all the harmful gas particles out of the living space.

“This is significant, Whitfield said, “because many chimney stoves just get smoke out of the kitchen.”

Thanks to the EPA funding, the Center for Development with Solar Energy will be able to purchase industrialization equipment and will receive consultations by research institutes to improve production of improved wood stove,” Whitfield said. “Our goal is to deliver 20,000 stoves by mid-2009,” he added.

The foundation will build and sell the stoves to customers in Bolivia. GTZ is paying a $26 subsidy, he added, that helps make the stoves more affordable. GTZ is also part of a program to eradicate smoke in 100,000 homes in rural Bolivia.

A big part of making a success of the integrated cooking system — efficient stoves, solar cookers and extended cooking devices — is helping users develop the habit of using the new system.

First, Whitfield said, people must be able to buy the systems, “but unless there is some kind of marketing practice, the technology will not continue to exist.”

Ms. McArdle agrees that there are issues with solar cookers.

“Technology transfer — you’ve got to get the local leaders involved,” she said. “In many cases, unless it’s a real disaster situation, you want people to purchase [the equipment], so you have to have a microfinancing component.”

But the benefits — to households, businesses, governments, humanitarian and development organizations and environmental programs — outweigh the issues.

“I see very positive growth in the industry,” Whitfield said.

“The people are more sophisticated, the equipment is better, and I believe it’s time, from an ecological and an economical standpoint, that we start focusing on disseminating this type of technology.”

U.S. annual drug report faults Venezuela and Burma again
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A White House report says Burma and Venezuela failed during the past year to make substantial efforts to curb drug trafficking or cooperate with the United States on the issue. Venezuela and Burma were among 20 countries listed in the report as major drug-producing or narcotics-transiting countries.

Officials here say being on the list of major drug-producing or transit countries does not necessarily mean a government is not trying to deal with the problem.

The report said only Burma and Venezuela have failed demonstrably to make substantial efforts to adhere to international counter-narcotics agreements or to cooperate with Washington in accordance with U.S. anti-drug laws.

The annual report, compiled by the State Department and issued Monday by the White House, is required under an act of Congress.

Countries determined to have failed in anti-drug efforts can face major cuts in American aid, though the President has broad authority to waive penalties, if that is determined to be in the U.S. national interest.

The 20 countries appearing on the so-called majors list were the same as the previous two years and include Afghanistan
and Colombia, the largest producers of illicit opium and cocaine.

The White House report said despite expressions of good intentions, drug seizures by Venezuelan authorities have been limited and there is a lack of significant drug inspections at ports of entry and exit, including along the Colombian border.

It said Venezuela's importance as a transshipment point for drugs continues to increase, a situation enabled by corrupt officials and a weak judicial system.

But President Bush has waived aid penalties so that the United States can continue support to what were termed "beleaguered democratic institutions in Venezuela".

The report said Burma is the largest source of methamphetamine pills in Asia and that its efforts against traffickers in that synthetic drug have been inconsistent.

It cited an uneven anti-drug effort by Bolivia, whose President Evo Morales once headed the country's coca-growers federation.

It also said the West African state of Guinea-Bissau, though not among the 20 major drug countries, is becoming a refuge and transit hub for cocaine traffickers from Latin America.

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