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These stories were published Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 230
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This vision of a tropical mansion is part of the complex where the Asemblea Nacional meets in San José. This shot was taken from the Museo Nacional across the street. 
 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Individuals and majors banks were victims
U.S. cracks down on foreign exchange frauds
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire sevices

U.S. prosecutors have filed fraud charges against dozens of foreign currency traders accused of cheating investors out of millions of dollars. The currency traders were arrested in overnight raids in six different states.

The arrests follow an 18-month investigation, as part of a crackdown on the largely unregulated inter-bank foreign exchange market.

Forty-seven traders at more than a dozen firms are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and securities fraud. 

United States Attorney James Comey said at a New York news conference that the probe, dubbed "Operation Wooden Nickel," revealed both individual investors and major banks were victims of the far-reaching scams. 

"The lesson of this case in exposure of these schemes is this, there may be legitimate commerce but there are a lot of sharks in that water. If you're going to go swimming, we in law enforcement suggest a period of careful reflection from the beach before you jump in," he said.

Comey says small investors were told their money would be carefully invested in low-risk 

currency trades by brokerage firms that did notreally exist. Instead, traders pocketed the money. Traders are also being accused of defrauding large banks by taking payoffs for losses set up by corrupt brokers. Swiss Giant UBS and JP Morgan Chase were among those affected by the scams by some of their own employees.

This latest scandal comes as no surprise to Howard Wachtel, an economist and author of a new book on the dangers of a self-regulating Wall Street.

"It's a question of when the shoe was going to fall," he explained. "Whenever you have these long, euphoric extended bubbles, there's always a retreat historically from the regulatory process. People forget what they're supposed to do both in the regulatory community and the internal ethical compass gets obliterated and in that process, when the bubble bursts is when you begin to see the outcomes. And this is an historical occurrence about every 25 years starting with the beginning of Wall Street in 1790."

As much as $1 trillion in foreign currency is traded daily, with banks handling most of the trades. The currency exchange market has no central office and operates 24 hours a day through a network of traders connected by computer and telephone. 

 
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U.S. cites progress
against worldwide
money laundering

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and other countries have made progress toward protecting the international financial system from abuse by terrorists, the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Treasury said in an annual report to Congress.

The 95-page "2003 National Money Laundering Strategy" report released Tuesday said that since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States and other countries have frozen more than $136 million in assets belonging to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. The international community has also identified more than 300 individuals and groups suspected of belonging to or lending financial support to terrorist networks, the report said.

The Treasury and Justice Departments were mandated by a 1998 law to issue the money laundering report every year through 2003.

"While we made important strides over the past five years to concentrate our attention on the abuse of the financial system by criminals, the techniques criminals and terrorists use to exploit the financial system continue to evolve," Treasury Secretary John Snow and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a foreword to the report.

They vowed that the administration would meet ongoing threats to national security "with concerted resolve, foresight and vigilance."

According to the report, the Bush administration's strategy for denying terrorist and other criminal organizations use of the international financial system focuses on six objectives pursued domestically and within multilateral organizations:

-- Block and seize terrorist assets and identify and designate terrorist organizations. To date, over 315 terrorist-related entities have been designated and over $136 million in assets frozen.

-- Target countries and institutions that facilitate money laundering and terrorist financing, including using the full range of measures provided by Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

-- Take law enforcement action against high-value money laundering targets, including those with ties to major narcotics trafficking operations.

-- Improve the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement efforts to continue to strengthen and refine the anti-money laundering regulatory regime for all financial institutions by identifying new and emerging threats that can be addressed through regulation, improving the effectiveness of anti-money laundering controls through greater communication, guidance, and information-sharing with the private sector, and enhancing regulatory compliance and enforcement efforts.

-- Encourage foreign countries throughout the world to adopt and adhere to international standards to inhibit the flow of illicit funds, both through the formal and informal financial sectors, and to assist in developing and enhancing anti-money laundering regimes in targeted countries to enable them to thwart terrorist financing.

-- Improve the federal government's partnership with the private financial sector to increase information sharing and close the gaps in the financial system that allow abuse by money launderers and terrorist financiers.

Many children fail
to be registered 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A study conducted by the Inter-American Children’s Institute has concluded that every year, more than 200,000 children go unregistered in Central America, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Panamá. 

"And this points to a very serious problem in terms of the reality of children, from a rights standpoint," the Institute’s director general, Alejandro Bonasso, told the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council Wednesday  The revelation came as Bonasso delivered the annual report of the Uruguay-based OAS specialized agency. 

 Other highlights of the report include an enhanced involvement by the Institute in the inter-American system; an active participation in subregional, regional and international fora; and an online database that includes comparative child-related legislation in member countries, as well as work on such pressing issues as child labor, sexual exploitation of children, drug abuse, disability and the street children phenomenon.

Bonasso also pledged to continue efforts to boost the institute’s operations in the English-speaking Caribbean countries, and reiterated the Institute’s commitment to remaining active on the front line of issues pertaining to children. 

Scotland celebrates
national day Nov. 30

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday, Nov. 30, is St. Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland.

In anticipation of the day, which is celebrated in many countries, Jack McConnell, the first minister of the Scottish Executive, told his nation’s expats that Scotland is growing in confidence and pride.

"There has never been a better time," he said.  "Scotland offers the excitement of our great cities; the inspiration of our people; the grandeur of our scenery. It is a place that welcomes those who come to visit, which nurtures and repays the ambition of those who come to study, work and live. It is a place we are proud to call home."

Tattoos or piercing
would be regulated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least one deputy in the Asamblea Nacional wants to regulate tattoo parlors and piercing salons. That is the gist of a proposed law presented to the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales by María Lourdes Ocampo.

The proposal would set up a licensing system through the Ministerio de Salud. Health officials there would require certain sanitary standards to protect customers and workers.

No one could work at a tattoo parlor or piercing salon unless they were licensed. The only exception would be those ethnic groups, such as some Indian cultures, where the tattoo or piercing is a custom.

There was no indication if the law would apply to parents. Many parents pierce the earlobes of their female infants when they are but a few days old.

To seek a license a person would have to show basic knowledge of good practices, according to the proposal.

The law would prohibit tattooing or piercing persons who are mentally handicapped or under 18 years. However, those older than 15 could still be tattooed if accompanied to the location by parents.

The only penalty in the law seems to be in revoking the license to practice.


Two wanted persons
taken into custody

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men considered to be among the top 10 wanted persons in Costa Rica have been arrested, thanks to publicity by the daily newspaper Diario Extra.

Responding to a citizen tip, Fuerza Pública officers in Santa Elena de Monteverde found Kéilor Molina Rojas, 21, drinking at a bar Monday night. He is a fugitive from the La Reforma prison.

Jorge Antonio García Castro, a man who had been a fugitive for 10 years, ended up in police hands at San Antonio de León Cortés where he has a finca or ranch. He was turned in by a neighbor.
 
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Trade negotiators agree on an optional plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Trade negotiators have approved a draft agreement for final negotiations aimed at creating a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas by the end of next year. The draft agreement is being criticized for not going far enough to allow free trade to flourish. 

After three days of tense and secretive talks, deputy trade ministers from 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere unveiled a draft agreement to be presented to trade ministers as the basis for negotiating the much anticipated Free Trade Area of the Americas. 

Trade ministers from every country in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba will debate the agreement today and Friday, and they are expected to issue a final declaration on the creation of the so-called FTAA, by the time the Miami meeting ends late Friday. 

The draft agreement puts forth a minimal set of rights and obligations for each country to follow. It will allow countries to sign or not sign different parts of the agreement, in areas ranging from agriculture, investment protection and intellectual property rights. 

The draft agreement presented on Wednesday is the result of compromise between the United States and Brazil who have serious trade differences. Brazilian officials have objected to price supports for U-S agricultural crops such as citrus and sugar, and the U.S. position that agricultural trade issues be mediated by the World Trade Organization. U.S. officials want to see Brazil reform its intellectual property laws and other areas related to investor protection. 

Speaking at a meeting of hemispheric business leaders following the release of the draft 

agreement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick defended the compromise from criticism that it is "free trade lite." 

"We are trying to make it happen," he said. "And to make it happen in trade you have to have a win-win formula for all parties. What I think many of us have tried to focus on is, I think, a comprehensive agreement. So, I do know how people describe that as "lite", if you are trying to cover a broad range of categories. Frankly a number of issues that we are trying to address here would be in much deeper integration than you would achieve in say the global negotiations." 

When the Free Trade Area of the Americas was first proposed at the Summit of the Americas in 1994, it was designed as a means to integrate the hemisphere along the lines of the European Union. Eliminating tariffs and trade restrictions and streamlining trade law on a hemispheric-wide basis. Now, trade negotiators in Miami say the draft agreement presented on Wednesday is probably the furthest free trade will go in the Western Hemisphere at least for the time being. 

Business leaders at the meeting like Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers say they would like to see more. "We definitely do want an FTAA "lite" and we do not see that has to be the outcome from what we see the ministers are talking about. We still want a very ambitious and comprehensive outcome and we still think that is possible," he said. 

Meanwhile thousands of protesters, including labor union members, environmentalists and anti-globalization activists say they will march on downtown Miami today to voice their opposition to any Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Police have sealed off much of the city and brought in hundreds of reinforcements to deal with any possible violence that may take place. 

Discussions are begun with the Dominican Republic 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States has held its first free trade negotiating session with the Dominican Republic

U.S. Trade Representative  Robert Zoellick met Tuesday with Sonia Guzman, secretary of Industry and Commerce of the Dominican Republic, to pursue negotiations to integrate the Dominican Republic into the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, according to Zoellick’s office.

U.S. and Dominican officials are planning to hold the first formal negotiating round in the Dominican Republic in January, Zoellick’s office added.

The Dominican Republic has long supported the 

hemispheric economic integration envisioned by the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The country occupies the eastern part of the island of Hispanola.

The Dominican Republic is the largest economy in the Caribbean Basin region. A free-trade pact will expand U.S. access to the Dominican Republic's market, which already receives $4.3 billion in U.S. exports annually and approximately $1.4 billion in U.S. investment. 

The Dominican Republic also enjoys strong trade and business ties with Puerto Rico. The markets of the Dominican Republic and Central America combined would create the second-largest U.S. trading partner in Latin America.

Japanese scientists discover new species of whales
By the National Geographic News Service

The number of rorqual whale species swimming in the world's oceans has jumped to eight from six, according to new research by a team of Japanese scientists published in the current issue of the science journal Nature. The research shows that rorquals, commonly referred to as Bryde's whales, actually represent three distinct species. 

Japanese researchers have determined that eight whales that were killed and collected by scientists in ocean waters around Indonesia and the Solomon Islands during the 1970s belong to a distinct species of baleen whale. Scientists previously believed the specimens were Bryde's whales.

Rorqual whales (Balaenoptera) do not have teeth. Instead they have baleen, a horny substance found in rows of plates along their upper jaws, and they are thus classified as baleen whales. They range from about 26 to 92 feet (8 to 28 meters) in length and weigh up to  220,000 pounds (100,000 kilos). 

Rorquals are found throughout the world's oceans and are distinguished by their long bodies and pleated throats. Their most familiar species are the common minke whale (B. acutorostrata) and the blue whale (B. musculus). 

The Japanese scientists identified a new species of rorqual, Balaenoptera omurai, and resolved a 

long-standing debate by showing that other whales previously referred to as Bryde's whale are indeed distinct species: (B. brydei) and (B. edeni). 

"It was not a big surprise to me that we encountered the species we described," said Tadasu Yamada, a biologist at the National Science Museum in Tokyo and co-author of the research describing the species. 

Scott Baker, an associate professor of population genetics and evolution at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said limited access to the specimens of B. edeni and to other specimens of the rarer B. omurai had previously prevented the scientific community from closely studying the various Balaenoptera species. 

Yamada and colleagues Shiro Wada of the National Research Institute of Fisheries Science in Yokohama and Masayuki Oishi of the Iwate Prefectural Museum in Morioka, gained access to the specimens and based their conclusions on a comparison of the species' morphology (body form), bone structure, and DNA. 

"Scientists, noted Yamada, rely on access to museum specimens — many of them more than 100 years old — to do their work. By applying improved techniques to these specimens, the researchers can mine new knowledge — in this case an improved understanding of taxonomy. 


 
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