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Someone with an interest in the Villalobos investment operation is threatening to blacken the name of Costa Rica internationally unless the freeze on the company funds is lifted.
Merchants of businesses at least in downtown San José got a copy of the letter over the last few days.
The letter threatens that the sender would place ads in international travel publications, including newspapers, telling people not to visit Costa Rica.
The letter, distributed mainly to people who run tourist-related businesses, tells them of the plan and seeks their influence in encouraging Costa Rican officials to shorten the investigation of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, the Ofinter money exchange house and some 30 or so corporations operated by the Villalobos.
The letter was in strongly idiomatic English and probably was not anything that the Villalobos brothers or their agents would send. Likely senders are some North Americans who lost control of their money when Villalobos closed up his business Oct. 14.
The letter clearly is an effort to force Costa Rican officials to terminate the investigation of the
|Villalobos operation in order not
to lose tourism money. A draft of the letter is believed to have circulated
in some Internet discussion lists.
The letter seems to go several steps beyond what other investors have been saying. The letter does not address the question of whether Villalobos has violated any laws. It simply wants the investigation terminated and money made available for investors.
Costa Rican officials have frozen at least $6 million in about 50 bank accounts used by the investment firm. The bulk of the money is not believed to be inside Costa Rica, if it exists. Investors may have as much as $1 billion in exposure due to personal loans they made to Enrique Villalobos.
The letter said that the sender would make North Americans and others involved with international tourism aware of street crimes and other incidents that have taken place here that might cause tourists to go elsewhere.
A reporter obtained a look Friday at a copy in the hands of an employee at a large hotel downtown.
Villalobos is under investigation because officials think that some of his financial activities are suspicious. A freeze on the bank accounts is due to expire Nov. 26 but likely will be extended.
Since July 5, A.M. Costa Rica published 47 articles about Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, his investment buisness and related issues.
Some of the related stories were about international efforts to make money transfers more transparent to regulators. In one case, an Illinois political fixer was an investor with the Villalobos operation. Another article was about the financial troubles of a money exchange house in Excazú.
This newspaper published a number of letters defending, vilifying and otherwise commenting on Villalobos.
So we here list the stories that have been done so far for the benefit of new and long-time readers.
10. New rules make banks check up on new clients
12. Long-time investor analyzes returns and other letters
22. Villalobos issues statement to his creditors
23. Investors downtown show range of emotions
Letter: Villalobos victim of political agendas, says reader
33. The worst may be yet to come, investors told
35. Editorial: Time for us to pull together
38. Villalobos money exchange business reopens under new ownership
45. Search order sheds more light on investigations
shut down in Alajuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Officials closed down a vehicle inspection station Friday because they believe evidence exists that corruption was rampant there.
The station was the one operated by Riteve S y C at El Coyol in Alajuela.
Individuals at the inspection station were selling certificates that said a vehicle has passed the inspection process when it did not. The action was taken by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte which has authority over the private inspection company.
The inspection set up has been controversial because Riteve has a government-enforced monopoly on inspection. The monopoly was designed, in part, to prevent corruption and to insure even-handed inspection of vehicles. There was no word when the station would open again.
Officials said they believed that the tainted inspection certificates
could be had for 45,000 colons, about $120.
Woman dies in Pavas;
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A 31-year-old woman died Friday night in a shooting in Pavas in front of the María Rayna church. Police arrested an ex-boyfriend.
A second man who was not identified suffered a bullet wound to the hand, said police.
Police identified the woman by the last name of Bermúdez. She
suffered a wound to the head. A man with the last name of Baltodano Suares
was held to face investigation.
Early morning shakes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Two earthquakes rattled central Costa Rica in the early morning hours of Sunday.
The first, about 2:15 a.m. was a short, sharp shock believed located
near San Isidro de Heredia. The magnitude was about 3.5, said Costa Rican
officials. The second, about two hours later, was stronger,. about 4.4,
but the location was along the south Pacific coast. Both were too small
to make international listings.
The rains are back
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Only the central Pacific will be spared heavy rains today, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.
The weather experts said that a cold front has moved south and is bringing rains and strong winds from the Caribbean coast to Guanacaste. These are the same strong winds that usher in the dry season here, but they are having the opposite effect now due to collisions with moist tropical air.
The rainy condition is expected to last for several days.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Germán Alfaro Rojas, a member of the Fuerza Pública on patrol south of Limón, suffered a knife wound in the early minutes of Saturday and died later at a hospital.
The wound severed an artery, said police. the man was patrolling on
a motorcycle on the main coastal highway near La Bomba.
Of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The cannibal, Hannibal, returns in “Red Dragon” the third film based on Thomas Harris’ novels about serial killers.
The movie opens with the arrest of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) that was never before seen. Will Graham (Edward Norton), the agent, who uses Dr. Lecter’s psychological advice to track a looming serial killer, discover that the killer is Hannibal?
There was no problem with Hopkins playing a Hannibal Lecter almost 20 years younger than the Lecter of the last movie, “Hannibal.” The makeup was convincing enough to make an even older Hopkins appear to be a younger Lecter.
Baby-faced Edward Norton does not seem like the best choice to play rival to Hopkins’ Lecter, but he plays the part with surprising authority.
Graham needs Hannibal’s help later in the movie to trace another serial killer who is murdering entire families. This is where the movie has a plot line similar to the first, “Silence of the Lambs.”
Hannibal plays most of his part as a consultant in a jail cell, but without much use of the once creepy facemask he wears to protect people from his bite. Of course, that trick has gotten a little old and does not inspire as much fear as it did in the first movie.
The relationship between Lecter and Graham is much different than the sexually tense relationship between him and Clarice Starling, the agent in the other two stories played by Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore
Hannibal is vengeful toward his captor Graham, and they are very much like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. They have similar minds as the movie constantly stresses. Graham’s demon is that he has the ability to think like the Lecters of the world, which means he may even have the mind of a serial killer.
But far scarier than Graham’s demons and Hannibal’s eating habits is the serial killer they seek. Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) may perpetrate the most horrific crimes ever in the movies. The crimes are too eerie and uncomfortable to describe.
Brett Ratner, the director, may have felt the same way considering these crimes were never actually shown except in rapid flashbacks and crime scene photos. Let it be said that even these flashes of the crimes were enough to unsettle one’s mind and disturb a night’s rest.
Dolarhyde is inspired to kill by the William Blake painting titled “The Great Red Dragon and The Woman Clothed in Sun.” The killer has a terrifying body-sized tattoo of the Blake image on his back.
As far as serial killer movies go, this is one of the best. Even the cliché moments like the killer keeping a newspaper-clipping scrapbook and the story line about his life in his abusive grandmother’s house, reminiscent of “Psycho,” did not make the movie unoriginal.
“Red Dragon” completes the Hannibal Lecter trilogy perfectly, and it is a great compliment to the other two films.
Also it reaches far more disturbing depths than certainly the last picture “Hannibal” — even if that one featured a man feasting on his own brains.
CARACAS, Venezuela — The struggle between the government of Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, and the opposition mayor of Caracas over control of the capital's police force intensified when National Guard troops used tear gas to prevent the mayor from visiting a police barracks.
The clash took place Sunday as protesters, banging pots and pans, gathered outside the Mariperez police precinct, yelling 'get out' to army occupiers. Demonstrations were also held at other police stations around the city guarded by hundreds of National Guard troops backed by armored personnel vehicles.
Alfredo Pena, Caracas mayor and fierce Chavez opponent, and other local officials led the protest. Pena charged the president with violating the country's constitution and called the police takeover an "internal coup."
Chavez claimed Saturday's takeover was necessary to prevent anarchy in the wake of a strike by some police officers. He also said that it was temporary, but gave no timetable for ending it.
Chavez has been trying to gain control of the metropolitan police force ever since Pena, ironically a former political ally, became the first-ever elected mayor of the capital more than two years ago. The Supreme Court ruled then that the right to appoint the police director belonged to Pena, not Chavez.
|For the past year, however, Venezuela
has been embroiled in a serious political crisis. And control of the 9,000-strong
metropolitan police has become ever more important, both to the government
and the opposition.
In April, when a frustrated coup briefly ousted the president, there were accusations that the police deliberately opened fire on government supporters, leading to a firefight in which 19 people died.
The opposition, however, says it was Chavez's followers who started the gun battle.
Pro-Chavez demonstrators, along with members of congress from Chavez's party, backed a strike by a minority of police personnel that began in October. For Pena and the rest of the opposition, the strike was an excuse to take over the police force. And when it led to violence, and more deaths on the street last week, the intervention was not long in coming.
The mayor says he refuses to recognize the government-appointed police chief. So, apparently, do many police men and women. The army and the National Guard have been sent in to try to persuade them to switch allegiances.
The police crisis will be a major issue in negotiations between the government and the opposition over the future of the controversial Chavez government, chaired by the secretary-general of the Organization of American States.
|One guy is leery of
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
In my opinion, nobody who pays the Investment Recovery Center Costa Rica (IRCCR) for help in recovering his Villalobos investment has both oars in the water. IRCCR is offering its help for $1,250 in legal and notary’s fees, $100 in filing fees, and 5% of any recovery. But the Victims Assistance center, an adjunct of the Prosecutor's Office, offers free assistance and no filing fees.
So the up-front charges of IRCCR go mainly into lawyers' pockets for no necessary service. Still, there are some who (because they are not comfortable dealing with a strange bureaucracy or to whom the offices are not within easy reach), wishing to follow the program suggested by IRCCR and the Victims Assistance office, might think hiring IRCCR is the way to go.
For them, it may be, IF the program is a good idea in the first place. It isn't. Either there is around a billion dollars out there, or there is not. If it is out there, then either Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho (LEVC) intends to meet his obligations, or he does not.
The only Villalobos money known to be in Costa Rica amounts to $6 or $7 million in frozen accounts. If there's a billion dollars out there, the amount in Costa Rica is only six or seven tenths of one percent of the potential recovery. Take for example an investment of $200,000. You get $1,200 or $1,400 (less 5%) for your $1,350 up front outlay.
Of course, to the extent that there are creditors who don't present claims in court (through IRCCR or otherwise), some might argue that the whole $6 to 7 mil should be divvied up amongst the filing claimants — if there is to be a court-administered divvy-up, which it is not certain there will be; but even then one might expect publication of some official notice to give all investors the opportunity to come forward. Still, if everyone hired IRCCR, 5% of $6 or $7 million is $300,000 or$350,000 — not a bad nest egg for your average Tico lawyer. That's the way class actions usually work — a pittance to the injured parties, the lion's share to the lawyers.
But if there's a billion dollars out there, and LEVC intends to pay, then you don't need IRCCR's assistance, and if you hire them they're going to get 5% off the top of what LEVC eventually pays you: Very big bucks for — what? Nothing.
On the other hand, if LEVC has the money and doesn't intend to pay, IRCCR won't be of any use beyond the pitiful court-administered divvy (if it comes to pass) for which their services aren't needed. Fear and greed: Two very powerful motivators. One or the other (or both) is what drives all scams. If LEVC's business was a scam, it was greed that drove investors into it. The IRCCR deal is no scam, but it is driven by fear. Fear of loss, fear of being left out if you don't file court papers, fear of the USIRS.
If I were LEVC, and honest, I would say this to my investors: "Yes, I have your money safely conserved, and as soon as the government gets out of my way I will start paying off. But for those who have sued me, there will be complications and delays because legal actions will need to be dropped and the funds will have to be channeled through the lawyers and the courts. Meantime, I will be paying first those who have trusted me, not because I like them better, but because they are the only ones I can safely pay without the law's delays.
"If a court-administered divvy of $6 to 7 million is to be conducted without formal notice to all creditors, it will be like a pari-mutuel betting system: The more bets placed on the court, the less favorable the odds for the winners. This is where fear can grab you: If you don't act now, someone else will get your share of that $6 to 7 million payoff. But betting on the courts is betting against LEVC and could cost you dearly in delays in getting your real money back.
Given the $6 to 7 million and $1 billion figures, I make the break-even odds at about 1 in 17 for a $200,000 investor. That is, if there's a 5.28% or better chance that LEVC is honest, your better bet is on him. Because of the front-end load on the IRCCR option, the odds are a little less favorable for larger investments, a little better for smaller ones. You need to be pretty darn sure he's crooked before you bet against LEVC.
Playa Palo Seco de Parrita
|Two things don't jibe
for a reader
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I watched my friends collect the high return of interest for years. It seemed too good to be true and I never took the plunge. When I was in business it was necessary to borrow money from a bank for years. At last I was able to get enough capital together to stop borrowing and work with my own money.
Two things have always been in my mind.
1. Why did the Brothers keep paying such high interest when a CD in a USA bank is only paying about 4% per year? I believe they could have gotten plenty of clients at 2% per month or less.
2. After so many years what is the need of borrowed funds?
Marcos SuggsA Villalobos blessing
A long time ago I put my trust in the Lord, and He has never disappointed me. My trust is still in the Lord and I know He will do the right thing for you and your friends. These are times of trial and tribulation, but your many friends are not like Job's comforters. We support you with our daily prayers. I know you (and we) will come out of this victoriously. God is faithful.
Leny DolstraWhere are the associations?
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Eight years ago, we opened Posada Mimosa, our bed and breakfast in Rincon de Salas near Grecia. We invested our hard-earned money developing our property into an extraordinarily beautiful place. Over the years, we have had thousands of guests who, without exception, leave happy and come back for return visits.
We believe we are the true ambassadors of tourism in this country. We are in the forefront and the first contact for tourists visiting Costa Rica for the first time. They gain their impressions of this country through us not the government tourism bureaucrats.
Tourists support local restaurants, taxis, gift shops, grocery stores etc. We small businesses receive zero support from the government who prefer to put their dollars into mega-hotels on the beaches who pay little back into the economy.
We pay municipal taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, water taxes, pay hefty social insurance and health care taxes for our employees, have employed most of this village in building our property (with our own capital). The incredible obstacles we had to face to reach our ends would have put off many an investor. If, because of the Villalobos fiasco, many small businesses have to close their doors, what would be the repercussions? What about their employees? Who is going to pay their health care, aguinaldos etc. if they cannot find jobs?
And finally why has there been no outcry from the many associations, clubs and business organizations e.g. chambers of commerce, Newcomers Club, Women's Club, Rotary Club, Lions Club, Canadian Association, Democrats Abroad, Republicans Abroad etc. etc. The silence is deafening.
After all, they will be affected as much as anybody else. Nobody will escape unscathed if the Villalobos situation is not resolved immediately. Most importantly, Mr. Villalobos himself or his spokesperson must come forward and let us know what is going on otherwise his strong support will start to erode.
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