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these stories were published Friday, Nov. 15, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 227
Jo Stuart
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‘Don’t leave us
to wither away. . .'

We dedicate our front page today to print this plea from an investor of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho. What the reader says is on a lot of minds.

An open letter to Don Enrique: 

You are being much maligned, and your name is being couched in a way that I find hard to believe. My faith in your integrity and honesty remains a rock. I am viewed as a stupid man, a "gullible gringo." I am unable to withstand any more "evidence."

I don't believe the "money laundering" or any other trumped up charges that are bandied about. Your silence is being used against you. It's said that it's "proof" that your intentions are to steal from your loyal clients. I can't accept any of the allegations. 

What can we do, those of us who have this abiding faith — wait?  Please communicate with us, don't leave us to wither away. I believe you have the means. I have the faith! 

The longer you vacillate, the worse it is for those of us that still maintain your goodwill and name! Act now, please!

Yours respectfully, 
Gerry C Caunter
San Rapheal de Heredia
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Search order sheds more light on investigations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A search order says that there is sufficient suspicion that the Villalobos operation was involved in money laundering that a police raid was justified to figure out exactly what was going on.

This conclusion was based on financial information developed by Costa Rican officials and was not dependent on a request for a raid by Canadian authorities who were investigating drug crimes in that country.

". . .considering especially the data developed by independent investigations done in our country, the existence is clear of suspicious operations. .  ." said the documentation of the search order.

The content of the search order, obtained Thursday by A.M. Costa Rica, makes it clear that Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, his brother Osvaldo and the financial operations in which they were involved had been under investigation for some time here.

The order also revealed the Canadian law enforcement officials had placed a confidential informant close to a man later considered to be the head of a narcotrafficking organization. The informant was not named, but the suspect is Bertrand Henri St. Onge. The suspect died in March, but a number of associates, including his wife, were arrested in Canada at the time of the raid here. St, Onge has a history of marijuana cultivation.

St. Onge owned a condo in Jacó, and that was one of the places raided. Because St. Onge had money invested in the Luis Enrique Villalobos operation, a raid of that office and Ofinter Casa de Cambios adjacent got judicial approval, according to the documentation. Both, since closed, were in the Mall San Pedro.

St. Onge had at one time up to $500,000 invested with Luis Enrique Villalobos in the operation that paid up to 3 percent a month interest, said the order. At the time of the raid, the amount was closer to $380,000, and Canadian officials said that St. Onge was about to withdraw the money so he could buy a marijuana derivative to be shipped into Canada. The search order account contradicts the belief current among some investors of Villalobos that St. Onge’s money simply passed through the money exchange operation as a transfer to Canada.

The order also reports that the confidential informant told Canadian officials that St. Onge, the now dead suspected drug dealer, characterized the operators of the money exchange house as "dirty," and said that they used their money to finance illicit operations. However, the search order does not actually cite any clearly illegal activity by the Villalobos. 

Luis Enrique Villalobos has said he was not involved with the money exchange house because that was owned by his brother, Osvaldo. But the search order lists 29 corporations believed tied to the Villalobos and ordered bank accounts for each frozen.

Held up for special consideration was the Villalobos corporation Servicios de Soporte al Turismo. Information presented by prosecutor Walter Espinoza Espinoza and incorporated into the search order showed a lot of financial activity between Ofinter and Servicios de Sorporte. These are some of the operations officials termed suspicious.

In one instance, Servicios de Soporte deposited 75 consecutively numbered money orders in its Banco de Costa Rica account. The bank asked for an explanation of the origin of the funds, and Osvaldo Villalobos withdrew the deposit "very probably because he was not able to explain the origin of this money," said the order.

In June 1998, 28 consecutively numbered checks, each in the amount of $100,000, were drafted by the LGT Bank in Liechtenstein, 15 in favor of Servicios de Soporte and 13 in favor of Luis Enrique Villalobos, the order said.

More Villalobos letters

In one series of transactions, it appeared that Servicios de Soporte wrote a check for $351,575, and a third party purchased dollars the same day and deposited the same amount in another account, thereby generating a currency exchange loss of more than $9,000.

The order also cited the movement of millions of dollars a month through the accounts and said it was clear the Villalobos were serving as financial intermediaries. Luis Enrique Villalobos characterized himself as an independent businessman, but the list of 29 corporations reveals a sprawling financial network, although most of the companies are little known.

The Investment Recovery Center, a group of lawyers and other professionals set up to help investors, has published some of the search order on its Web site: http://www.irccr.net/updates.php

Petition drive aims
to speed up probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Investment Recovery Center is sponsoring a petition drive to generate more resources for investigators so that the Villalobos case can be concluded quicker.

The organization has posted a form letter on its Web site so that investors and others can send the letter to Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia. He is the man in charge of judicial activity and the budget. The investigation, as is the custom here, is being conducted by judicial investigators.

The letter may be sent by e-mail or by FAX, according to the organization’s Web site.

When investigators raided the office of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho July 4 they took away boxes of documents. Bank accounts were frozen until Nov. 26, the probability exists that the freeze will be extended.

Walter Espinoza Espinoza, the fiscal or prosecutor heading up the case, only had a few assistants, said a spokesman for the center. 

Villalobos wanted
to receive more cash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even when he was in default one month in paying interest to investors, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho wanted to accept more money.

A letter to his investors, characterized as private and distributed Sept. 14, asks his investors to "vote with your pocketbook by giving me more resources to work with."

Exactly one month later, Villalobos closed up his office and adopted a low profile.

"After so many years of serving you, I see many good years ahead,"  he said in the letter, obtained by reporters Thursday.

The two-page letter outlines options his investors have to continue to receive their interest payments. He outlined a complex series of methods, including bank deposits, courier service or Western Union of Moneygram.

None of the methods appears to have been used, because when he closed the office Oct. 14, he owed two months interest to most investors. Of course, he also owed the principal.

What I did on my vacation (from politics)
I have not been sulking in my apartment since the election. I turned off my TV at 8:30 on election night, convinced the Republicans would be the winners. The general consensus seems to be that the Democrats forgot that a platform is not only something you stand on, but also something you stand for.

Actually what I have been doing mainly is hanging out sometimes with friends, mostly with myself, and the ants. I’m not talking about the tiny sugar ants, they are always with me. They appear in droves when I drop a crumb or leave a stain on my counter. They clean up and disappear.

I am talking about the big black ones that appear only at night in my bedroom. I usually carry moths and even spiders out to my balcony  to send them on their way, so I cannot believe the cruelty of which I am capable when it comes to ants. (But heaven forbid that I should end a sentence in a preposition).

With all this talk about war, I have been inspired to come up with a more interesting way to kill these ants that race about erratically and seemingly without purpose. I have turned an old book (a paperback) into a bomb.  I aim and drop it on my target. If I miss, I let him live otherwise he is one more dead ant. I just leave him there because I have discovered that ants come back for their dead and wounded and take them home to their hill or wherever they live. I find this very touching.

My friend Ellen once told me that I was better at hanging out than anyone she knew. Ellen seldom hangs out. We met over twenty years ago when she was teaching Political Science at San Jose State and had just become the new coordinator of the Womens Studies Program. She hired me as her part-time secretary while I was in graduate  school. She is the only person I know who actually handles a piece of paper once and sends it along its way.

One summer we went to Greece together and she got the idea for a Womens Studies Institute, a summer study program.  My contribution to that was to say, "Good idea, Ellen, go for it."

Two summers later The first Institute met on the Island of Mytilini, and I had the pleasure and fun of being a member of her staff. After she left San Jose State, Ellen joined the State Department to become a diplomat in Greece. (Among the tests she had to pass was one where she was given a stack of mail and told to sort and do something with it. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

They couldn’t believe it when she finished in half the expected time.) 

From there she went to the United Nations (can’t remember what she did with them). She left the U.N. to become a Dean at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. Having done that, she and her husband, Jim, moved to Northern California, where Ellen has since written two novels. In between she has somehow managed to be there not only for me when I needed her, but for other friends too.

She was the one who orchestrated my stay in the hospital when I had breast cancer. I remember Ellen’s career because I have visited her in just about every place she has gone.  We have played scrabble on the beaches of Crete, Hawaii, and Costa Rica, aboard airplanes and boats.

When I first visited Costa Rica to see if I wanted to live here, she came with me on one of my trips. It is the only time I have visited both the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts on the same day. We came at Christmas time even though I told her I had read that it was almost impossible to get reservations at the beaches. 

Undaunted, we rented a car and drove to Tamarindo where we managed to find lodgings with some acquaintances of mine. When we arrived on the East Coast we had no reservations and it was the middle of the afternoon.  Using her powers of persuasion, Ellen talked them into putting us up in their conference room. We spent two nights sleeping on cots in front of 100 folding chairs.

The last time Ellen came to Costa Rica was to celebrate our birthdays in January. She was born on my fifteenth birthday, and I consider her the best present I ever got. At the moment, as I study the night habits of the large black ants that are invading  my apartment, Ellen is preparing to go to Indonesia for six months on a Fullbright to teach. I guess her last name isn’t Boneparth for nothing. (as in Napoleon)

More Jo Stuart: Here!

Photos seek heart
of Tico culture

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An exhibition of photographs tries to makes sense of Tico culture.

The Museos del Banco Central will open Friday an exposition titled, "24 fotógrafos proponen: fragmentos de nuestra identidad" (24 present photographs: fragments of our imagination). 

The exhibit seeks to address issues of life here and raises questions about Tico identity.

The show contains documentary photographs, photo montages, digitally manipulated photographs, among others.  The exhibit can be seen during normal museum hours from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The entrance fee on Wednesday is free for foreign residents.

Cricket club nets
for players only

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican Cricket Club has announced that it will have nets in place Saturday at Country Day School, but for their players only.

It is hoped, says Richard Illingworth, association chairman, that in January the Country Day School in Escazú will have authorization to use them.

The nets are a relatively new addition to the club’s equipment. Before, they had to make do with whatever they had available to them, said Lofty Tweedale, a player at the club. Also, added Tweedale, the concept of playing at Country Day School is new, too.

The club is made up of a mixture of the ex-pat community here and Costa Ricans.

Canada joins talks
big trade meeting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pierre Pettigrew, Canadian international trade minister, was to take part in informal talks with trade ministers from 25 countries Thursday and Friday in Sydney, Australia.

The meeting, hosted by Mark Vaile, Australian trade minister, was scheduled to discuss World Trade Organization progress and plans for a Fifth organization conference, due to be held in September in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Pettigrew has revealed two appointments to posts within Canadian export support organizations.

Alan Curleigh has been handed the post of chairman at the Canadian Commercial Corp. Curleigh has a background in international trade, having been associated with Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and the Canadian Exporters Association in the recent past. The commercial corporation is involved in developing contracts between foreign buyers and Canadian exporters.

Pettigrew also re-appointed Rayburn Doucett to the board of directors at Export Development Canada. This corporation, too, is heavily involved in Canadian export. They help to finance exporters’ overseas investments.

These appointments come at a time when Canada and Costa Rica have just initiated a two-way free trade agreement. Their part in developing exports to Costa Rica will be evident as the trade agreement takes effect in the coming weeks and months.

El Salvador to host 
OAS terrorism talks

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, an Organization of American States body, will be holding its Third Regular Meeting in San Salvador, El Salvador, from Jan. 22 to 24. 

El Salvador’s Permanent Mission to the OAS signed the agreement with the organization’s Secretariat Wednesday, with Salvadorian Ambassador Margarita Escobar, stressing that "terrorism is a new threat that seriously affects such values as freedom, democracy, protection of human rights and social development that we in the Americas hold dear." 

Ms. Escobar said her country views the fight against terrorism neither as a unilateral issue nor as one that can be undertaken alone.  To the contrary, she explained, "It is a threat that, as reality bears out, calls for firm cooperation by all OAS member states." 

Renewing El Salvador’s commitment to continue actively supporting a hemispheric security framework that is multidimensional in focus, she said the upcoming meeting would be examining in depth the scope of the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism, adopted in Barbados last June. 

Argentine defaults
on World Bank debt

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina —officials have decided not to pay some $800 million in debt due Thursday to the World Bank, but only the interest on the debt. The decision could put Argentina into a technical default, deepening the country's financial crisis. 

Argentine officials say the country is making the $77 million interest payment as a good faith effort to meet its obligations. The $805 million owed to the World Bank came due Thursday.

Argentina stopped debt payments to private creditors early this year. And until now, it has not defaulted on its $14.5 billion debt to multilateral lending institutions. A default would close off Argentina's last avenues for aid. 

Argentina, which is in the midst of a deep economic recession, has been negotiating for months with the International Monetary Fund to reschedule its debt. However, these talks have not produced an agreement, as the Fund continues to press Argentina to make more structural economic reforms.

Intel continues
to buy back stock

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Intel Corp. is continuing its repurchasing program after the board of directors authorized the company to buy 480 million shares from the public market, according to a press release from the company. 

The technology company began its repurchase program in 1990, and until the third-quarter of 2002 had purchased 1.7 billion shares for $29 billion. Companies usually repurchase shares of its own stock when it believes the stock is worth more than what it trades for.

The company has chip manufacturing facilities here.

The current repurchase is greater in quantity than previous ones. During the third quarter, Intel repurchased approximately 57 million shares at a cost of approximately $1 billion. Intel finished the trading day at $19.21. 
Professional Directory
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North American docs lend a hand on Chira Island
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hundreds of people have recently opened up and said “aaah” on Chira Island, located at the base of the Gulf of Nicoya.

A group of North American doctors along with personnel from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública provided special medical treatment for almost 700 people living there. The medical program began Saturday and concluded there Thursday.

The assembled medical team consisted of 28 professionals specializing in optometry, gynecology, plastic surgery, internal medicine, orthodontia, chiropractic, nutrition and nursing. All the specialists work for a hospital in Missouri and also work as Christian missionaries who provide charitable health care in various countries throughout the world.

Henry Chacón Brenes, a Christian missionary, made the program possible through four months of coordination. Chacón started doing missionary work on the island 17 years ago with the Minstry through other institutions.

The patients were cared for at the medical school located in San Pablo as well as in other local areas such as Bocana, Jícaro and Puerto Palito, where the majority of people on the island live.

All of the patients were treated for parasites, while 460 were treated by a chiropractor. Another 200 patients were treated for eye problems. Close to 70 percent were prescribed glasses.

Orthodontic problems were also resolved by the treatment effort. Throughout the six-day program, the team extracted 70 teeth. Likewise the personnel addressed the problem of dehydration that affected various children who needed supplements.

A large number of other patients were treated for skin disorders. Some of the islanders had tumors, some had gone untreated for many years. These patients underwent minor surgeries to have the tumors extracted.

Also detected were cases of gastrointestinal

A young resident of Chira Island will soon be visited by the Tooth Fairy.

diseases, bronchial asthma, a variety of dental problems and athletes feet.

While the majority of treatments were minor, the staff saw some serious cases. Doctors treated a fisherman who was attacked by a manta ray. The manta ray punctured the man’s left ankle while the man was swimming under his boat in Puerto Palito, a local island community.

Also, two people were treated for severe epileptic attacks, a 4-year-old girl with pneumonia and a 24-year-old man with terminal cancer.

Residents of the island usually have to make the long trip to Puntarenas or San José to receive medical treatment. This program provided the opportunity to have access to multiple specialists.
A doctor and a nurse from Costa Rica were among the 29 missionaries. The brother-and-sister pair are originally from San Francisco de Dos Ríos but have resided in the United States for more than 20 years.

The siblings, Dr. José Alejandro Alvarado and nurse María Cecilia Pobst, were the catalyst for the medical project. Ms. Pobst acquired the cooperation of the Ministry through the Colegio de Médicos.

A spokesman for the medical group expressed interest in returning to Costa Rica in the future to provide similar social work in a community that lacks sufficient health care.

The medical group has made plans to visit other countries.

More Villalobos letters
Reader has received a Villalobos message

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Every day I hear the new stories, most of which are rumors. 

I believe I am one of the few people who received a REAL message from Luis Enrique Villalobos (it was the morning of Wednesday). And believe me, there was no reason at all for him to send a personal word of reassurance just to give me an explanation regarding a recent small check I had given to him. I was relieved to hear from him though!

And I wonder: If he has run away, like some say, then why is he so concerned about me as to give me this helpful message? Would this not be a needless thing to do for someone who is not a V.I.P. in his operation? Or do you just think he was afraid one more person would want to sue him?

All of you out there: Please! I know you feel desperate and fearful, and I can certainly understand that. But starting from today, use common sense — don't run behind these “expert leaders” who would have you believe they can get you your money back! Come on now!

Common sense should tell you that there is only one person out there who can give you the money back, and his name still is Luis Enrique Villalobos!

I should mention that the call I got was very friendly, and that he did not wish to talk about the case! He did tell me that things were going to work out for everyone, and that’s all I can say. 

I would like to make all of you aware again: Villalobos didn't go out of business due to a lack of funds. He closed for this reason: he was forced to.

Did you all forget this? Did he ever miss a payment before this happened to him? Why are people so narrow-minded as to believe that Villalobos would give away 2 months interest, estimated at $10 to $20 million (Interest for July-August) if he is planning to go out of business due to a lack of money? This does not make a lot of sense, don't you agree with me?

I just can't find any common sense in this. Are people just considering that Villalobos is stupid? There remains the question of why did people lend him money in the first place, if you consider him suddenly incompetent. And that is precisely what people are doing when they start to file lawsuits in this. They don't give Enrique any chance to prove himself. Look at what he did for more than 20 years for all of his friends? 

Now these “friends” are running like crazy to the lawyers and prosecutor to file suits against him.

Are these nice friends? What are they gaining anyway?

Consider this scenario: Say he just ran away. Is he not smart enough to hide the money so it would be highly difficult to discover? He has been in finances for as long as we all have known him.

If he is NOT running away (which is what I certainly believe), what do people think that hey can gain from being crazy just now? They will end up in a court battle that will last for years. I know what I am talking about. Then they will end up with nothing, or not much!

How much is $6 million divided into 6,000 people, less lawyer fees? I guess you would have to say it is very little. But I believe we should stay put at least until Nov. 26, and not do anything that can only complicate the case even more than it is already?

God bless you, and my friend Enrique.

No more doom and gloom, says reader

Your article regarding the comments from Mr. Morris, with Kroll Associates, concerning Villalobos is interesting and this firm must appreciate the free advertisement they have received from your newspaper. 

Actually, they could not buy an ad that could be more effective than this article. It creates fear of loss for investors and makes it sound as if their firm has the only solution. I am sure that their services are not free, and some will contact Morris in the hope of getting their money. I do not think this is the right approach. I feel we should wait to hear form Luis Enrique Villalobos. 

The major factor that Morris failed to recognize is that Villalobos is not the typical businessman, nor dictator he mentions in his article. Villalobos did not close his offices because he failed his investors. He closed because the government made it impossible for him to continue his operations. Had the government froze the funds that were in dispute, and not all accounts, I am sure that Villalobos would still be paying interest today and anyone who wanted to withdraw interest, could do so. 

How long could you operate your business, if all your accounts were frozen? Does he still have investors’ principal in tact? Only he knows this, and he has said that he will repay his debt. If the principals are not safe, he cannot repay his debts. So, one must assume that Villalobos will get everyone's money to them when he is able to figure out a way, without the government freezing or confiscating the money. Unless he is a liar, but I do not think he is — as he has proven over the years to be a Christian with high values. 

"Fear articles" only creates anxiety in investors who have little faith in a man who has been faithful for 25 years. While I do appreciate your articles and information, I think it would be helpful to print positive articles to counter the "doom and gloom" ones that appeared Thursday. Thanks again for the information you provide. With kindest regards, I remain. 

Katharine Brown
Costa Rica's image in danger, says reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Can Costa Rica maintain its image of being the "Switzerland of the Americas," or will it sink to the level of indecision, legal quagmire and corruption typical of a banana republic. 

This image is at stake with the unfreezing or not of the accounts of Costa Ricans and foreigners alike who have loaned their legitimate funds to Luis Enrique Villalobos, serving his lenders well for over 20 years.

Consider these points:

Why lose the annual purchasing power of an estimated $1.4 billion? This is the estimated total including the ripple effect of the investors’ annual interest. It is mostly spent in this country, benefiting the Costa Rican economy, creating jobs and producing taxes every time the money is spent and re-spent.

Why kill the goose that lays the golden egg? Pensionados come here for sunshine and peace in the final years of their life. They bring their money and they bring their experiences, skills and international contacts. They create tourism through the visits of their families and friends. They uphold the international image of Costa Rica just by being here. 

For Costa Rica this is a win, win situation. Usually, within 20 years the pensionados pass on and a new lot come with new money and ideas. This is a very rich steady resource, which benefits the whole population, as opposed to coffee, sugar cane and bananas. Why strangle this resource or risk sending it to neighboring countries?

Why damage the international image of the government of Costa Rica by showing the incapability of the judicial system to promptly unfreeze funds belonging to legitimate lenders? Those funds should not have been frozen in the first place. If this matter is not resolved quickly, it could cause irreparable damage to the free trade agreements with North America and Europe.

I cannot believe the rumor going around that the big banks in Costa Rica would not mind if Villalobos would never open his doors again. It does not make sense. With the ripple effect of every new dollar entering the economy being spent and re-spent 7 times, it would mean a total of about $100 million per month of transactions to the banks of Costa Rica. Surely they are interested in maintaining this activity. Perhaps a statement from the banks refuting this rumor would be in order.

Villalobos started his successful small business over 20 years ago. All these years the government knew about it and let it continue. Could his business have "acquired rights" due to the length of time of acceptance by the government? If the Government now has new laws, would it not make sense to help Villalobos to be able to function with the new laws rather than freeze his operation?

Thousands and thousands of lenders were well and honestly served for over 20 years. The interest they earned was spent mostly in Costa Rica. This helped support the growth of small businesses and a middle class that is the envy of the rest of Latin America. It is this broad middle class that gives Costa Rica its democracy and stability. It therefore has to be a political decision to release the frozen funds in order to maintain and expand this middle class that would suffer irreparable damage otherwise. It is known worldwide that it is small business that creates the most new jobs. Why send a message to the world that small business does not have a chance in Costa Rica?

How can the current very good environmental programs become reality without a stable economy? How can the image of Costa Rica as a world leader in environmental protection be realized if investments are uncertain or do not have the protection of a just and prompt legal system? How can the many outreach projects, funded by foreign governments and carried out by ex-pat volunteers continue to function if these same volunteers can no longer afford to live here?

These are but a few of the reasons to speedily free the unjustly frozen funds. The leaders of Costa Rica should urgently consider these facts and act responsibly to prevent further unnecessary damage. Already people are talking about withdrawing their funds from Costa Rica. As Costa Rica is already in a tight financial position, it needs this meltdown of capital like a hole in the head.

Action is needed now to re-establish international confidence, or this beautiful country could become another Argentina. 

Martin Borner

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