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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 13, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 202
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica photo

Not a lot of bands in Costa Rica have an Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo as part of their instruments, but Amunsulu did at a presentation of rhythms from India, Africa and Australia Sunday at the Museo National. the band’s name means welcome in an unspecified Indian language.


Pensionado and rentista files are targets
Immigration investigates hundreds of expats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican immigration authorities have launched an investigation of foreign residents here and hundreds, perhaps a thousand expats with rentista and pensionado status have been thrust into a legal limbo.

An employee of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería confirmed the existence of the investigation Friday, and Ryan Piercy of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica gave verification.

Neither immigration officials nor the Association of Residents has been notifying individual residents, although the impact could be significant. Foreign residents learn about the investigation when they seek to renew their identity papers, as is the custom every two years.

Pierce, manager of the association, is involved because immigration lawyers associated with his group are among the individuals being investigated.

The immigration employee said that the probe has been going on for about a month and that it at least involves the way certain documents were validated when applications for rentista and pensionado status were processed through the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Other lawyers who are not involved with the residents association also are being investigated, the employee said. Piercy said that he met with Belisario Solano, a vice minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, who is the chairman of the Consejo Nacional de Migración, the assembly of officials that dictates policy to the Dirección de Migración. Percy said that Solano promised to bring the concerns of the foreign residents here to the Consejo the next time it meets. Piercy did not know when that would be.

Immigration officials gained more control of the rentista and pensionado processing within the last year. A proposed law that would give immigration full control languishes in the Asamblea Nacional.

The specific point raised by the immigration employee is a rule that requires documents submitted with a residency application to be validated by Costa Rican consuls in the applicant’s country of origin. The consuls charge $40 a page to validate such required documents as birth certificates, marriage licenses and local police reports. The process is seen as a barrier to false documents.

Since at least 1999 some lawyers who process a lot of residency applications received 

permission from the tourism institute to simply notarize these documents. This expedited the process.

Piercy said that his association and affiliated lawyers have letters approving this notary process. Even more, he noted, all final applications eventually were approved by the immigration department.

Now immigration is questioning the documents it already has approved. This is being done because there has been a major turnover in personnel in the rentista and pensionado division of the immigration department.

The change also should be viewed as part of Costa Rica’s attack on sex tourism and unsavory characters from abroad. 

Pensionados are those people who can show a legitimate pension elsewhere generating at least $600 a month income. Rentistas are persons who may not have pensions but who can show at least $60,000 on deposit in a bank here or elsewhere. Rentistas promise to bring $12,000 a year into the Costa Rican economy.

The rentista category basically allows someone with money to buy a form of Costa Rican residency regardless of their age. Current immigration officials are unhappy with this situation and have eliminated the rentista category as a legal status in the proposed immigration reform law.

The Procuraduría General de la República, the nation’s top lawyer, in a general review of the residency process agreed with the Consejo de Migración in August 2002 and stipulated that laws must be followed to the letter. That means that all applicants for residency must start the process in their country of residence outside Costa Rica. This includes the validation of documents.

Piercy said his association got a letter to that effect  a year ago. This is the way residencies are being done now.

However, in August 2002 both the Procuraduría General and Rogelio Ramos agreed that applications received before that Aug. 27 would be processed as they have been in the past. Ramos is minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, the ministry in which immigration is a department.

Because the status of rentista and pensionado must be renewed every two years, these older residency applications are being reexamined as they again come under the eye of immigration. And this is where Piercy gets his estimate of "hundreds and hundreds" and perhaps thousands of expats are affected.

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Villalobos departure is a year old
It's an anniversary that no one wants to celebrate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho closed his office exactly one year ago tomorrow, and little seems to have changed.

A percentage of Villalobos creditors blame Costa Rica although the high-interest operation known as "The Brothers" was showing signs of stress even before investigators raided the various offices July 4, 2002.

The bulk of the creditors seem to have vanished. Villalobos had an estimated 6,600 separate accounts. Some were from individuals and couples. Others were from small groups of investors. Others were corporate accounts that represented large groups of investors or, in at least one case, an entire Costa Rican town.

Of these creditors, some 150 have joined efforts to seek international arbitration with a Canadian law firm at $500 apiece. 

Some 600 or more have filed claims against Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos in the Costa Rican judicial system, alleging fraud. 

At least two creditors have died. Several have been jailed for unrelated reasons.

And somewhere in excess of 80 persons still are supporting José Villalobos Umaña, whose stated purpose is to frustrate the Costa Rican investigation and permit "the prompt return of don Luis Enrique and the return of the moneys which belong to the investors."

Luis Enrique Villalobos characterized the closing of his operation as "temporary" in a FAX to A.M. Costa Rica the morning of Oct. 14.  But then he vanished and became a fugitive from justice on the capture list of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

Taking the brunt of the legal impact is brother Oswaldo, who is in preventative detention at Clinica Catolica. Lawyer Villalobos was reported to have visited with Oswaldo Villalobos at the clinic last week, but there has been little said about what the pair discussed. Others have talked to Oswaldo, at least by telephone, and he refuses to discuss the matter of the failure of the family business.

He was jailed in November after his brother vanished. Had both brothers remained visible, both probably would be on bail now.

There was no indication that the lawyer asked Oswaldo Villalobos the key question: Where is the money?

Lawyer Villalobos is on a three-part fee arrangement with a group of creditors. He has received $100,000, according to the creditors. But another $100,000 is overdue, and the informal group of investors had only $11,000 in uncollected checks on Sept. 28, according to a Web site.

Lawyer Villalobos has announced he wants to form a new political party and run for president in two years. He has been campaigning while working for the creditors part-time.

Enrique Villalobos contacted A.M. Costa Rica once more, just after New Year’s. That was when he told creditors that if he is jailed or if he dies no one will get any money back. Creditors may have as much as $1 billion on the Villalobos books, if the books still exist. The operation paid up to 3 percent interest a month.

Later, the group of investors that had contracted with José Villalobos said they had received a message from Enrique Villalobos, too. But the contents were not particularly revealing either.

The Villalobos case is extraordinarily complex because of the sheer number of persons involved and the convoluted flow of money. The Costa Rican prosecutor, Walter Espinoza, is working with limited resources, awaiting among other things a report from the United States on Villalobos banking activity there.

For readers who wish to refresh themselves on the case, the following are available:

The statement from Villalobos when he closed his office:


Jan. 2 statement from Villalobos:


The A.M. Costa Rica Villalobos archive is current up to Feb. 13, and it is here:


On the same page a reader can search for later stories by keyword.

False taxi suspects
grabbed by agents

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have arrested two men they believe were involved with a taxi scam that lured young women into robbery and rape.

Agents said the criminal group used a fake taxi and a female accomplice to trap mostly university students in the vicinity of San Pedro and Curridabat. The woman would get out of the cab within sight of the expected victim to cause her to let down her guard.

In addition to robbing the students, the three men involved would rape them, according to police and a victim.

A man and the woman are fugitives, police said. The two arrests came Friday. One of the female victims was able to provide good descriptions, and Judicial Investigating Organization agents were able to locate the presumed phony taxi.

Storm cuts lights
at major airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sudden heavy storms hit sections of the Central Valley Sunday and flooding was reported in Alajuela and Heredia.

Lightning strikes and storm cells near the Juan Santamaría Airport forced traffic controllers to detour some commercial jets to alternative airports shortly after sundown. The airport was closed for the rest of Sunday night because the lightning bolts may have damaged the runway lighting system.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that despite a general drying of the air there still is a chance of heavy downpours particularly in the afternoon.

For central San José Sunday was the second day in a row without heavy daytime storms. The day was perfect for family outings and celebration of the Día de las Culturas at the Museo de Niños and the Museo Nacional.

Court says overpass
vital to security

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has ordered the Ministerio de Obras Públicas to immediately begin work to install a pedestrian overpass on the 
Autopista Próspero Fernández just north of Centro Commercial Multiplaza in Escazú.

The overpass is necessary for the security of citizens, the court said. The order specifically names Javier Chavez Bolaños, the minister, and the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, which builds the roads.

The case was brought by a man named as Edgar Castro Sandí, who was not further identified in the report of the decision.

The four-lane highway has bus stops on each side. In order to go west, a pedestrian must cross the highway south to north. Workers at the Multiplaza mall get off their bus on the north side and must make their way through traffic to the south side of the highway.

Several pedestrians have been killed and injured at the site this year alone by cars that travel at superhighway speeds.

A typical overpass  costs about $1 million, the ministry has said on other occasions.

Emergency flights
save nine children

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency workers airlifted nine children from the wilds of Talamanca to medical facilities last week, but two children died.

All were victims of a respiratory infection believed made worse by the wet weather. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the children ranged in age from nearly newborn to 3 years.

Pilot Martín Sanabria and copilot Jorge Lozano were credited with the effort in the Talamanca region. They are members of the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea.

Some seven infants were rescued in Jaky, one from Alto Almirante and one from Sitio Gilda, the pilots reported. All three places are in mountainous areas where foot travel is difficult.

In all, the pilots made 11 trips during the waning hours of Wednesday.  Each flight was about 15 minutes to bring a child to the local hospital, they said. 

The Talamanca area is inhabited by a heavily Indian population that does not receive the most complete health care. Access is limited and the population is prone to periodic epidemics.

Los Cuadros swept

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers, Policía de Tránsito and agents from several police units sealed off the Los Cuadros section of Goicoechea Friday night and swept the area for illegal activities.

In all, police reported investigating 46 persons. They said they found three who were supposed to go to court. They also found 20 packs of marijuana and 30 persons with transit violations.

Bank  robbed in Coronado

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guards at a Banco de Costa Rica office in Coronado were surprised by three men with guns who tied them up and then robbed the bank about 10 p.m. Saturday, they told police.

The bank structure is being remodeled. One guard, José García Cruz, works for Miller y Cia., the contractor. The other guard is Mario Hernéndez Brenes of Seguridad Roma, according to police.

TV equipment swiped

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Criminals have no respect for the press. An employee of Repretel, Channel 6, said that someone broke into his company vehicle and took a box containing microphones, batteries, small TV sets and other articles used for television.  This took place in southwestern San José.

His anger flared up

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man with the last name of García Alegría got so mad at his female companion, who has the last name of Rugama, that he set their home on fire about 7 p.m. Saturday in Barrio Cristóbal Colon, Limón. The fire destroyed the dwelling, but no one, including the couple’s two children, were hurt, according to the Fuerza Pública.

Trio held in tourist theft

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men who are suspects in robbing several tourists in Alajuela and taking some 29,000 colons ($70) were arrested in a car near Mall International about midday Friday, the Fuerza Pública reported.

Man killed in Cóbano

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A foreigner, an Italian, died Friday with a bullet in his head. The killing happened on the Nicoya Peninsula town of Cóbano. The dead man was identified as Bruno Ghif Lansony, 60. 

Investigators said that the main suspect, identified by the last names of Badilla Alfaro, 45, at first said the man plunged into a ditch on a quadracycle. Then he said the man died in a game of Russian roulette. No weapon was found, police said.
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Two museum exhibitions that are worth seeing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday being the Día de las Culturas, Costa Ricans take some time to consider who they are.

Self-consciously, their themes revolve around the Indian cultures, Nicaraguans and those from the Caribbean coast. These are the groups that are not fully integrated into Costa Rican society.

Two new exhibits at the Museo Nacional are worth seeing. The first is "Gente en su lugar," a rather non-threatening phrase dripping with irony. That phrase translates to "People in their Place" in English, as in "putting someone in his place."

Photographer Roxana Nagygellér has simply taken photographs of Nicaraguan housemaids standing or siting in the luxurious surroundings of their employers’ homes. Many of the first families of Costa Rica can be recognized from the names given with the photos.

The museum knows exactly what it is doing. "‘People in the Place,’ despite its innocent structure, shoots a dart straight to the conscience of the spectators and makes them question the way the other in looked upon in societies like ours which prize themselves of the pluralism.," says a placard in English at the exhibit.

The viewer knows that none of the objects in the photos belong to the women who are pictured. The furnishings are elegant. There are sculptures. paintings and other art works that probably are worth more than the housemaid brings home in a year.

Yet the Nicaraguan housemaids, of all ages and sizes, are the truly authentic object in each photo. In at least one case, two generations are pictured.

These people have come to Costa Rica because of war and economic conditions in their homeland to the north. These are the lower working class of the society, and you see the separation of sexes because there are no housemen pictured. 
Nicaraguans, principally men, have an 8.8 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
unemployment rate here, some 2.4 percent higher than the population at large.

Nicaraguans face discrimination here, and intellectual Costa Ricans who publicly accept a multi-ethnic society are privately embarrassed at the hypocrisy.

The second exhibitions is more upbeat and encourages Costa Ricans to take a look at themselves. Literally. The exhibition contained mirrors where a visitor can evaluate his or her face and compare it to the many faces pictured.

The exhibition is aptly called "Costa Rica Multicolor" with an emphasis on mulTICOlor, the Tico contained within the multicolors. There is a heavy representation of Indian faces.

At the very least, the exhibition is a delightful parade of typical Costa Ricans, who, the exhibition shows, are not typical at all.

The museum is located just east of the downtown in the former Bella Vista Fortress. The museum held a free open house Sunday with musical events to celebrate the Día de las Culturas. But admission Tuesday through Sunday for residents, including expats with Costa Rican identity papers, is a mere 200 colons (about 50 cents). 

The museum is a bargain on any day. But the two exhibitions make a visit obligatory, particularly for those who have not seen the new butterfly garden. 

-Jay Brodell

Bush targets illegal travel to Communist Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba via Costa Rica will come under closer scrutiny, according to a general tightening announced by U.S. President George W. Bush Friday.

Bush and a later State Department fact sheet said travel restrictions for U.S. citizens will be enforced to make certain that permitted travel for Americans (like family visits, humanitarian aid and research) is not abused and used as cover for illegal business travel, to skirt restrictions on carrying cash into Cuba, or tourism.

The administration’s position is that violations of travel restrictions serve only to funnel funds to "the dictator and his repressive regime," the fact sheet said of Fidel Castro.

Costa Rica has long been a transit point for Cuba travel by U.S. citizens who come from North America and also for U.S. citizens here who take advantage of the cheap tourism the Communist island has to offer. 

Enforcement agencies will increase inspections of travelers and shipments to and from Cuba and target those who illegally travel to Cuba via third countries or on private vessels, the State Department said.

The announcement by Bush was part of several new initiatives outlined Friday.

Another initiative is an effort to help more Cubans safely reach the United States. To this end, Bush said his administration will better identify refugees, redouble efforts to process Cubans who seek to leave their homeland, and reach out to inform Cubans of safe and legal routes to enter the United States. 

"We will increase the number of new Cuban immigrants we welcome every year," Bush said. "We are free to do so, and we will, for the good of those who seek freedom." 

Bush also announced the establishment of a Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba. This group, he said, will "plan for the happy day when Castro's regime is no more and democracy comes to the island." Secretary of State Colin Powell and Mel Martinez, secretary of Housing and Urban Development will co-chair the commission. 

"The transition to freedom will present many challenges to the Cuban people and to America, and we will be ready," Bush said. 

Bush’s tightening comes at a time when support for ending U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba appears to be growing in the U.S. Congress. A number of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, are calling for abolishing restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. They argue that more contacts between American and Cuban citizens will help spur democratic change in the Communist-ruled island nation.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed legislation aimed at easing the travel restrictions, by denying the Bush administration the funds to enforce them.

The U.S. Senate in the coming weeks is to take up a similar bill, despite the threat of a presidential veto.

Sen. Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, says he is ready to support the measure. "The greatest resource we have for change and for promoting change in other countries is for our people to travel there," he said.

Sen. Max Bacus, a Montana Democrat, agrees. "I support engagement with Cuba, because I think it is the best way to effect democratic change in Cuba," he said. Bacus traveled to Cuba last month.

But opponents of easing the four-decades-old travel embargo say changing U.S. policy now would amount to rewarding Castro's government for the crackdown on the dissidents.

One such opponent is Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who also traveled to Cuba last month. He is especially disturbed about the plight of dissidents, who have endured decades of imprisonment. "Those people are still sitting there for 20, 25 years. It would not be conscionable to support getting rid of the travel ban right now," he said.

Current law does allow some travel to Cuba by Americans, particularly scholars and journalists. The Bush administration says about 200,000 Americans visit Cuba legally each year. 

But tens of thousands of Americans, estimated by some news reports, visit Cuba in violation of the travel ban each year. 



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A.M. Costa Rica is listed as a top Internet site
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s leading Spanish-language newspaper reported Sunday that A.M. Costa Rica is one of the leading Internet sites in the country.

This daily electronic newspaper was in seventh place behind the electronic version of the Spanish-language newspaper itself, nacion.com, and two sites, racsa.co.cr and costarricense.cr  that are sign-in portals for users of e-mail.

However, La Nación made an error. Enrico Cacciatore, operator of costaricasex.com, said that his adult site was left out of the summary reported by the newspaper.

Cacciatore, a Canadian living in Costa Rica, also operates insidecostarica.com, an online newspaper that was started after Luis Enrique Villalobos became a fugitive to provide a positive spin on the collapse of the investment empire.

Insidecostarica.com is associated with Ero-Tica and linked to Latinporn.net, two more adult sites that feature photos. Cacciatore himself has taken many of the photos. He also manages eaen.net, which hosts e-mail accounts for some expats here.

Cacciatore said Sunday that his costaricasex.com site is ranked as the  41,796th most visited Web site in the world. That would put it at fourth position among Costa Rican sites and ahead of all sites except La Nación and the two e-mail portals.

Costaricasex.com styles itself as an "informative adult magazine for men on prostitution, travel, adventure, lust and the single male!"

Alexa.com, the Web ranking service that La Nación reporter Vanessa Bravo used to prepare her Sunday news story supports Cacciatore’s claim to fourth place.

Ms. Bravo, the webmaster for Nacion.com agreed 

Sunday night that Costaricasex.com should be in 
fourth place. "Honestly, I had no idea about the existence of costaricasex.com," she said in an e-mail message. She added that she would edit the La Nación listings to reflect the change.

In the original La Nación list, A.M. Costa Rica is in seventh place with a world ranking of 53,261. It followed the Web pages of Diario Extra (46,245), Banco Nacional (46,385) and Registro Nacional (51,506).  The Banco Nacional Web page is used for electronic banking, and the Registro is where vehicle and property ownerships may be checked.

Further down in the list is Teletica, Channel 7 (64,236) and the Spanish newspaper Al Día (71, 209).

On its Web page, Alexa.com says that the world rankings are a summary of three months of activity, based on usage of millions of computer operators who use the firm’s proprietary toolbars. So the rankings reported are probability statistics projected to the entire Web.

Diario Extra plans
to collect for Internet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Diario Extra, the Spanish-language newspaper, reported over the weekend that it would begin charging for computer uses to gain access to its site starting Oct. 15. The newspaper said on its Web site that the subscription price would be 17.500 colons a year or about $43.  That price is about 60 percent less than the newsprint price, the company said.

The newspaper said that its Internet edition was not self-sustaining and that it would beef up the Web pages with more features once the service was a subscription one.

Bomb squad called to blast big, balky boulder
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police experts have fragmented a boulder estimated at 40 tons that fell and blocked the Pacific railway tracks for 15 days.

Workers for the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles were stumped in their efforts to clear the track. The boulder was some 25 meters in diameter (about 80 feet).

The boulder was part of an avalanche that blocked the tracks. When workers came to clear the debris they found the boulder among the dirt and vegetation.

Because the boulder was so big, railroad workers could not use the normal equipment to clear the line. Eventually they realized they needed help.

The Fuerza Pública sent its bomb squad headed by Capt. Fredy Santamaría. This is the unit that was instrumental in clearing antipersonnel mines from the Costa Rican northern border, relics of the Nicaraguan war in the 1980s.

The explosive experts spent five hours this weekend in drilling a hole big enough to accommodate some 50 kilos of dynamite. They used a rock drill and small quantities of C-4 explosives, according to a report Sunday by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Despite the efforts the railway remained blocked. Right-of-way crews will return today to remove the fragments of the boulder and to repair the track that was destroyed by the landslide and weight of the boulder.

Agents grab a big haul of evidence in Hatillo 3
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said they found a treasure trove of information within an Hatillo 3 home that police raided in an underage prostitution probe Thursday.

In addition, the Judicial Investigating Organization said that neighbors and other witnesses have been interviewed to find out what high officials made use of the service.

Arrested Thursday was a 41-year-old woman, Sinai Monge Muñoz, who is well-known in the community as the operator of a prostitution outcall service.

The Spanish press and other officials are asking why it took officials so long to bring a case against the woman. In March 2001 an Italian television station interviewed her and sent two producers who said they were businessmen to her home.

However, little ever came of the information reported by the Italians. Then-president Miguel Angel Rodriguez discounted the report as old news.

The woman continued to conduct her business in an open manner.

The woman was tried on a similar charge in 1994, but she was acquitted when a three-judge panel concluded there was no evidence that the woman ever accepted money for fixing up men with prostitutes.

Spanish-language reporters said the woman bragged at being untouchable due to the caliber of her clientele.

The Judicial Investigating Organization’s Sección de Delitos Sexuales and the Sección de Delitos Contra la Vida are in charge of the case. They reported finding a book of photographs in the Hatillo 3 house. The book contained 30 photos of women and seven of those were underage, they reported. They also got telephone records, guns and two bulletproof vests.

Neighbors have said that they saw official cars and drivers picking up women at the Hatillo 3 location. No one has suggested that there was contact between the men and women there. Instead, the house is being characterized as a pickup point.

A North American said Sunday that the woman would deliver women on order to points in the Central Valley.

Also arrested Thursday was a 29-year-old man with the surname Potromioro. He was arrested first. Police used two women to set up a trap.

The women presented themselves as persons prepared to work as prostitutes. They met Potromioro in Zapote Thursday, according to police. Once he delivered them to a person who would purchase their services, police moved in.

Hatillo 3 is a suburb south and west of San José center.

Investigators are on a crusade against child prostitution. It is likely that more persons will be arrested.  There were reports of two more arrests over the weekend, but they could not be confirmed.

Four men let go

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have let go four men grabbed  Thursday night in an investigation of a stickup  earlier Thursday at the Mutual La Vivienda in  downtown San José.  Agents said that none of the  employees held at gunpoint and tied up in the  consumer credit agency could identify the men as  their assailants. 

The men were suspected of at least one other  stickup of a small loan company in Moravia Oct. 3.  They were tracked when a witness took down the license plate number of a presumed getaway car Thursday. 

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