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(506) 2223-1327              Published Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 197           E-mail us
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Does the Calderón case have meaning for expats?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What is the effect of the verdict in the Caso Fischel for expats? That was a question posed by a reader Monday afternoon.

The reader was responding to the news that a court had convicted Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier and six other persons.

Does the decision, if upheld by an appeals court, mean that public officials and those in the public sphere will be less likely to do corrupt acts. Or will the decision just mean such future crooks will just be more careful.

What will be the effect on Costa Rica's image in the world and the flow of investments here?

An analysis


The trial court cited as key evidence against Calderón that money he said he received as professional fees followed the same route into his bank accounts as money paid to others accused in the case. Calderón also declined to say who had paid him the fees, and, as the lead judge, Teresita Rodríquez pointed out, there were no invoices or facturas produced to show a legitimate source for the money. There also was Wálter Reiche Fischel, who confessed his role as head of Corporación Fischel and implicated Calderón and others.

Prosecutors followed the money and had extensive reports on banking activities.

Ottón Solís, the Partido Acción Ciudadana, leader and presidential candidate, quickly said that there
Caso Fischel verdict
HERE


were many more cases of corruption in other political administrations.

A kickback trial of Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, the former president, is expected to start soon. He is charged with taking money on a cell telephone contract.

For most expats, these types of business arrangements are out of their league. Perhaps of more personal impact has been the allegations of shakedowns against Fuerza Pública officers. Nearly a dozen and the downtown regional chief have been arrested and some 50 more are under investigation.

Expats who live in the downtown have reported that the evening shakedowns by motorcycle policemen have stopped.

Many North Americans living here doubted that the criminal trial panel would convict Calderón. After all, he was a presidential candidate and might soon become president. Cynicism is easily cultivated in a country where bribery is obvious.

Now the question is will the Sala III appeals court uphold the verdict. Is the case so complex that judicial error is inevitable?

That may be only an abstraction to expats here. For many the primary concerns are street crimes, home break-ins and thefts of land by crooked lawyers and notaries. They hope the headline-grabbing complex cases do not consume so much of the prosecutorial resources that more common crimes are overlooked.


Pedestrian dies as innocent victim of city shootout
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A gun battle in north San José riddled a public bus with bullets and claimed the life of a passer-by Monday afternoon.

The Fuerza Pública detained one suspect after his vehicle collided with a traffic signal.

The shootout happened in the area known as Tierra Dominicana because of the large percentage of Dominican immigrants who live there. This is the section along Avenida 9 between Calle 2 and 6.

The shootout appeared to be between Colombians and Dominicans, said the Fuerza Pública.

Dead is a man identified as José Aguilar Aguilar
 who died almost immediately when he suffered a wound from a stray bullet, said police. He was a pedestrian walking in the area, they added.

A bus owned by the company La 400 was passing the scene of the afternoon shootout enroute from San José to Heredia by way of La Uruca. The unidentified driver is credited with fast action as he urged his passengers to fall on the floor as bullets came through the front and rear windows, said the Fuerza Pública.

The suspect, identified by the last names of Palacios Mondragón was turned over to the Ministerio Público for questioning.

The Judicial Investigating Organization attempted to make sense out of what happened.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 197

Costa Rica Expertise
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Honduran government lifts
its state of emergency decree


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The interim Honduran government has lifted a week-old emergency decree that had restricted civil liberties.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti made the announcement Monday, telling a news conference in Tegucigalpa "the decree is completely overturned." 

Earlier, he was quoted as saying the decree is no longer necessary because "we have peace in the country."  The revocation order is expected to take effect when it is published in the government's official gazette.

Micheletti has been under international pressure to restore the civil liberties and negotiate an end to the political crisis stemming from the ouster of president José Manuel Zelaya in a June 28 coup.

The interim president imposed the restrictions as protesters rallied in Tegucigalpa following the surprise return Sept. 21 of  Zelaya, who is now holed up in the Brazilian embassy.

The decree allowed the de facto government to shut down pro-Zelaya media outlets and ban unauthorized meetings.  It also allowed police to make arrests without warrants.  The emergency restrictions triggered a wave of international condemnation.  Supporters of Zelaya demanded that the decree be lifted before the two sides hold talks.

A mission from the Organization of American States arrives in Honduras Wednesday for meetings on the political crisis.

Separately, three Republican South Florida U.S. representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and brothers Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, traveled to Honduras Monday for meetings with interim government officials. 

Last week, another delegation of Republican lawmakers defied the Obama administration's position of trying to isolate the de facto government and flew to Honduras for talks with Micheletti.  South Carolina's senator, Jim DeMint, led the four-person delegation.

The United States and other nations have condemned Zelaya's overthrow.  Washington also has revoked the visas of Honduran officials and has cut aid to the Central American country.  Many conservative U.S. lawmakers have criticized President Barack Obama's support of the leftist Zelaya.

The de facto government says Zelaya was ousted because he was trying to illegally change the constitution to extend his term in office. 

Another insurance firm
seeks to enter market here


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another private insurance company, the second, has had its constitution approved as a step to conduct business in Costa Rica.

The company is ALICO Costa Rica S.A., a branch of the ALICO international group of companies.

The  Superintendencia de Pensiones that oversees the newly opened insurance market said that the company would offer personal insurance like life, health and accident.

Javier Cascante, superintendent of Pensiones, said that the approval does not mean the company can begin to offer services,  There still are other requirements to meet.

Tomás Soley, superintendent of Seguros, said that four companies have confirmed interest in entering the market here. The New Orleans-based Pan-American Life Insurance Group, a provider of insurance and financial services, announced  last week that the company has filed a request for authorization to enter the Costa Rican Market. 

Soley said that companies interested come from Colombia, the United States, Puerto Rico and Panamá.

Soley also pointed out that independent insurance agents also have to be authorized.


Trio of smuggling arrests
made at airport and in south

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

FuerzaPública officers at a control point near San Isidro intercepted a vehicle early Monday that contained what they said was 133 kilos of suspected cocaine.

Police maintain the control point to intercept drug shipments and illegal merchandise coming from Panamá, they said. This vehicle was traveling on the Interamerican Sur.

Meanwhile, at Juan Santamaría airport, anti-drug agents detained two foreigners, an Italian and a Spaniard on allegations of international drug trafficking. The Spanish citizen, identified by the last names of Fernández Mejias, carried more than 5.5 kilos of cocaine in his luggage, said agents.

The Italian, who has the last namee of Cimarelli carried 2.7 kilos, said anti-drug agents of theMinisterioo de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.


Patrolman faces allegation
of theft from judge's home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another Fuerza Pública officer found himself on the wrong side of the law over the weekend. The officer, who has been on the force since 2001, was accused to taking an item from a home where he arrived in response to a burglary call.

The 28-year-old officer was identified by the last names of  Fonseca Calderón. He was assigned to the Zapote-San Francisco area.

He is facing an allegation in the criminal courts and also in the institutional process of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The home where he is accused of swiping an Ipod is occupied by  Olman Zumbado Brenes, a judge in the new flagrancia courts.

Both Janina del Vecchio, the security minister, and  Eric Lacayo, director of the Fuerza Pública, reaffirmed their stand against police corruption.

Fonseca, however, stands accused of another theft, this one of a cell telephone at the home of a woman where he responded on a domestic violence call, said the ministry. That case is being investigated by prosecutors, too, said Lecayo. The officer still was on duty.

In the most recent case, which took place Friday night, the Ipod was found in the officer's patrol car, said the ministry.


Circunvalación detour today
at Alajuelita construction site


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorist on the Circunvalación are being detoured onto single-lane service roads starting today at the construction site for an overpass at the Alajuelita traffic circle.

The contractor, Constructora MECO, has installed asphalt service roads to take the traffic.


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Technicians from the telephone company finally managed to locate the correct switches, and the new A.M. Costa Rica offices have telephone service since about 6 p.m. Saturday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 197

Calderón promises that he will appeal his conviction
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who thinks they have heard the last of the Caso Fischel is wrong.

Former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, convicted of two counts of peculado, said Monday afternoon that there were many issues to carry on appeal to the Sala III high criminal court.

Calderón was speaking minutes after a three-judge panel convicted him and six others of taking money from a contract for medical equipment for the nation's public hospitals.

Calderón immediately announced that he was no longer the Unidad Social Cristiana candidate for president in the February elections and that the party would have to meet to pick a new standard bearer.

The tribunal promised a verdict for Monday, and the judges began promptly at 2:30 p.m. The lengthy criminal verdict came from Alejandro López. He said Calderón was sentenced to five years in prison as was Eliseo Vargas Garcia, the former legislator who had been head of the Caja Costarricensee de Seguro Social. Sentenced to four years was Wálter Reiche Fischel, the former head of Corporación Fischel whose testimony implicated Calderón and others.

Also convicted were Gerardo Bolaños, former director of the Caja; Juan Carlos Sánchez Arguedas, another Caja manger; Randall Vargas Pérez, the former Fischel lawyer, and Marvin Barrantes, another Fischel executive. They received lesser sentences, and some were convicted on lesser charges.

Olman Valverde, the former financial manager of Corporación Fischel was acquitted.

This was the case that began with an unhappy real estate salesperson. The sales person approached reporters because she failed to get a commission on a luxury home in Valle del Sol in Santa Ana. The home was being occupied by Eliseo Vargas, and it turned out that it had been purchased by Corporación Fischel, a company that does extensive business with the Caja, which Vargas headed at the time. News reports sparked a criminal investigation that grew and grew.

Eventually the $39.5 million contract between the Caja and a medical supply firm in Finland came under study. This is the contract that prosecutors said Calderón and others exacted a commission, perhaps as much as $9.5 million. The contract was financed by the government of Finland. Like many governments, Finland provides special financing for overseas purchasers from their country's products.  Reiche said he sought political help in
Calderon
Unidad Social Critiana photo
Calderón testifies on the final day of his trial

order to get the contract through the Asamblea Legislativa in late 2002.

The prosecutors in the case also allege that the accused deliberately restricted their purchases to equipment supplied by the firm in Finland, Instrumentarium Medko Medical, even though medical personnel at the various Caja hospitals had requested other products for their patients.

Key evidence in the case came from bank accounts controlled by Calderón and his wife, Gloria Bejarano, in Panamá and the United States. As part of the  penalty, Calderón and his wife have to surrender bank an account with more than $500,000 at Banco de Costa Rica and one in the United States, said Judge Rodríguez.

She said the money from the medical deal followed the same banking routes as money paid to others in the case. She rejected Calderón claim that these were legitimate payments for professional legal services. She said he had presented no facturas, no invoices, showing who paid this money.

The trial court also rejected appeals by the defense lawyers that the banking information had been obtained incorrectly and should not have been admitted.

The trial lasted more than 10 months and generated more than 150,000 pages of testimony. Judges will present a more detailed decision Nov. 3 in which they explain their reasoning in detail.


Criminal charge in the case not easily translated to English
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The charge for which judges convicted Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier is not identical to possible crimes in U.S. courts.

The conviction is for two counts of peculado, which was translated various ways by English news media.

The  New York Times called the crime embezzlement, which is a dictionary definition of the word. The AFP international news agency headlined the charge as graft in an online account. In the body of the story it simply said corruption and later embezzlement. Then the writer refered to a kickback case.

A.M. Costa Rica called the crime bribery in an online note and then used the dictionary definition in a special update on its Web page.

The Costa Rican penal code says that peculado is when a public funcionary takes money or goods that have been
entrusted to him or her because of his or her position. The penalty is from three to 12 years in prison. The description
in Article 354 also mentions using work or services paid for with public funds.

The best U.S. characterization of the charge might be malfeasance in office.

Defense lawyers quickly jumped on the point that Calderón, at the time of the alleged crime, was not a public official. How could he be convicted of peculado, they asked. Wálter Reiche Fischel, the pharmacuetical company executive, also was not a public official.

What the court found that Calderón did was take money as a commission from $39.5 million that was supposed to be used for the purchase of medical equipment for the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. It will be up to the Sala III appeals court to determine if the definition of peculado is broad enough to involved third persons who are not public official or if Calderón, by accepting the commission, made himself a temporary public employee or agent.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 197


U.N. report cites benefits of making migration easier

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.N. report says migrant workers improve human welfare at home and in host nations. The report says governments should make it easier for workers to travel abroad.

A new report by the U.N. Development Programme says migrant workers bring significant benefits to both their host and home countries.

The Programme's annual human-development report says migration not only increases incomes and access to education and health care for the workers, it also creates jobs and innovation in host nations.

The report says the money migrant workers send home exceeds official development assistance by about four times in most developing countries, except in Africa.

But Helen Clark, the administrator with the Programme, says the global economic slowdown and rising unemployment have led to a backlash against migrants in some countries.

"This report suggests that fears about migrants taking the jobs or lowering the wages of local people, placing an unwelcome burden on local services, or costing taxpayers money, are generally exaggerated," she said.

The U.N. report says most people in host nations are not against migration when jobs are plentiful and says governments should take steps to help migration advance human development.

The report says official procedures and fees can slow migration and encourage illegal migration.

It cites as example agreements between Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand that make recruiting fees as much as five months of a migrant worker's salary, take four months to
process, and require withholding 15 percent of wages until the worker returns to their home country.

The report says smugglers in the region charge migrant workers about one month's salary, but notes that migrants who choose the illegal route risk exploitation, fines, and jail time.

Jeni Klugman, the author of the report, says the Programme encourages governments to simplify procedures and lower the costs of migration, especially for low-skilled workers.

"The key argument in the report is not that migration is a substitute for development. It is no substitute for sustained and accelerated efforts to develop at home," said Ms. Klugman. "At the same time, it can be an important complement. And in countries around the world we can see that the flow of ideas, of people, of money, can bring all sorts of transformative effects to home countries."

The U.N. report says governments also place undue restrictions on women migrants. It cites Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Swaziland's restrictions on women leaving the country and says more than 20 nations do not allow women to apply for passports on their own.

The U.N. report also ranked people's wellbeing on a human development index based on data from 2007.

Out of 182 countries and territories, the top three on the development scale were Norway, Australia, and Iceland, while the worst off were Niger, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone.

The report says a person in Norway earns an average income 85 times what someone in Niger earns, while a child born in Niger is expected to live 30 years less than a child born in Norway. The ranking is based on gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy, literacy, and school enrollment.


   
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 197

Casa Alfi Hotel

New book predicts future
of unexpected changes


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In the century ahead, there will be wars fought from space, between nations that are friendly with each other today. Populations will decline and industrialized nations will compete for immigrant labor. Poland, Turkey, Mexico and Japan will emerge as great powers.

These are just some of the startling predictions made by George Friedman, founder and chief executive officer of Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based global intelligence company. In his new book, "The Next 100 Years," published by Doubleday, Friedman provides a look at how he believes the world will change over the course of this century.

One of the major issues discussed around the world these days is the challenge of feeding a growing population.

But, in the decades ahead, George Friedman believes this concern will be swept aside by the challenge of a declining birth rates coupled with the aging of the largest segment of the current population. "On the one hand, everybody still talks about the population explosion; on the other hand everybody knows about the graying of society. Beyond the graying of society is the death of the gray hairs and the fact that many countries like Germany and Russia are going to have populations 25, 30 percent smaller," he said.

Friedman says industrialized nations with declining populations will need more immigrants from less developed nations to do their work. "As you have a labor shortage, somebody is going to have to come in to these advanced industrial countries, first of all, to do the labor that no one else is available to do. So we are going to be competing for immigrants," he says.

When it comes to climate change, a very real problem, in his opinion, he sees a clean energy future provided by giant solar arrays in near-earth orbit. "In space you have plenty of room to put solar collectors and your only problem is beaming it back to earth and there are two ways to do that, one is by cable and the other is by microwave radiation," he says.

Friedman's book also contains a number of startling political predictions.

He says Poland and Turkey will emerge as major powers and that by the end of this century Mexico will challenge the United States for dominance in North America. "This is a great power. It is next door, it has 100 million people and it has a problem with the United States and the United States has a problem with it. It is very difficult to imagine an evolution in which Mexico drops back in the pack or one in which is very strengths do not challenge the United States," he says.

He says U.S. irritation over illegal immigration and drug smuggling and  Mexican resentment of U.S. dominance will eventually grow stronger, even though the two countries have strong trade relations.

Friedman predicts the United States will face some serious challenges in the next decade or two, but no emerging power, not even an economic powerhouse like China, will displace the United States. "When you take a look at the fundamentals, it is impossible to imagine another country surpassing the United States in the time frame of this century," he says.

Friedman is the first to admit he has no crystal ball and that he could be wrong on how events will unfold, but he says final judgment on his forecasts can only come from those who will be alive 100 years from now.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 197


Latin American news
World Bank seeking
$40 billion to fight poverty

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Donors to the World Bank say the organization needs to become more efficient in using its resources and give more say to developing economies. The bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, are holding their annual meetings this year in Istanbul, Turkey, where the discussion has focused on internal reforms as well as the fragile recovery from the global financial meltdown.

Augustin Carstens, the head of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank development committee, made a stark announcement at a news conference Monday on the growing impact of the world economic crisis on developing countries.

"The World Bank estimates that by the end of 2010 some 90 million more people risk being forced into extreme poverty," Carstens said.

The Washington-based bank loans money and makes grants to developing and poor countries to pay for investment in education, health care, infrastructure, agriculture and natural resource management, but demand is growing and the bank says it will face serious constraints in the middle of next year.

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick made an appeal to the leaders of the developed world that his bank will need significantly more funding to help less developed economies as the world economic crisis continues to loom.

"We'll likely have another record level of lending, $40 billion or plus this year on top of the $33 billion last year, Zoellick said.

Zoellick says despite the urgent need for more funding, there is strong resistance from some of the main donor countries, including the United States, Great Britain and France, who are demanding reforms in exchange for any more cash. Among the reforms is increased transparency in the way the bank does business.


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