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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 232          E-mail us    
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An effort to avoid fake deeds
Registro to tighten property transfer rules
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Registro Nacional is taking steps to make it harder to fake deeds to steal real estate.

The registry in Curridabat is where all the nation's property records are kept. Costa Rica depends on private notaries, who are lawyers, to protect the property transfer process. However, several recent cases show that the system is vulnerable to crooked notaries.

Patrica Vega Herrera, minister of Justicia y Gracia, outlined the safeguards Tuesday when she met with reporters at the regular Tuesday presidential news conference. The registry already had announced the essence of the changes:

• A record of fingerprints of notaries is being gathered, and documents presented for registering will bear the fingerprint of the notary who prepared the paperwork.

• If possible, owners of property will be notified via e-mail when some papers are presented that involves their land.

• Digital signatures, newly authorized by legislation, will be used to verify documents that come in via the Internet.

Earlier Dagoberto Sibaja, director general of the registry had responded in the wake of 13 arrests on allegations of property fraud made by the Judicial Investigating Organization Oct. 26. Five of those arrested were lawyers. And this case is only one of several being investigated and in the courts. He said 30 notarios  or notaries had been the subject of complaints filed with the Ministerio Publico, the public prosecutor, during 2003.

Minister Vega said Tuesday that 161 notaries had been the subject of complaints this year alone.

Reducing property fraud has been a continued campaign of A.M. Costa Rica, mainly because so many expats are vulnerable. Sibaja noted in a statement published on the registry's Web site that properties that do not have owners are the main targets for property fraud. He could have easily said properties whose owners leave the country for long periods are targets because most expats who have been victims were not living on the tract.

The situation develops because Costa Rican law accepts the written word of notaries. These legal experts give la fé publica to the documents they sign, swearing that the information contained therein is accurate to the best of their knowledge. The Registro Nacional accepts this "public faith" as truth without external validation.

So a notary can lie and swear that a property holder signed away his ownership rights to a third party. Then the third party can legally transfer the property to an innocent fourth party. Costa Rican judicial precedence is unclear on what the courts will do then. Sometimes judges award the property to the innocent fourth party, and the former owner is left empty handed.

Minister Vega said that registry workers will

 
 
be making more comparisons against the existing records when they accept documents. Registry workers have the power to freeze the transfer if they have doubts.

This could avoid a lot of legal headaches for a property fraud victim.  Minister Vega said that if a property owner gets an unexpected e-mail from the registry, the individual can contact the agency seeking an investigation. At that point the property transfer will be suspended, she said.

The fingerprint project and the digital signatures still are being developed. But Minister Vega said that workers now check via computer the name and status of each notary whose name appears on a document presented for registration. The system is online with the Dirección Nacional de Notariado, which is part of the judiciary.

A main part of Minister Vega's message was that "property fraud is not the product of a failure of the information system of the Registro Nacional." And after the 13 arrests Sibaja was quick to point out that no employee of the Registro Nacional had been detained.

However, inside jobs are not uncommon at the registry where more than 100 employees were let go several years ago due to corruption allegations.

The new controls established at the registry are designed to clearly identify the notaries who prepare property sales documents. However, in the past the identity of a notary seldom was a problem. The problems were that the notaries prepared false papers and lied and that the special notary court was not aggressive in controlling fraud. Most notaries involved in wholesale property fraud were not punished very much, if at all.

In one case, a notary developed a taste for illegal drugs and basically sold his notary authority by validating many false deeds. Courts are still trying to unravel that mess.

In a high-profile case, Alex Solís, then contralor general de la República, was fired last Dec. 13 from his budget watchdog position by the Asamblea Legislativa because he forged signatures to documents and then notarized the paperwork. He said he only did so for close family members. He is the brother of Ottón Solís, who is the candidate for president for the Partido Acción Ciudadana.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 232


Costa Rica Expertise
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A.M. Cotsa Rica/Jesse Froehling  
Jorge Rojas and part of drug haul

Cross-country drug trip
halted by agents here

By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization arrested four persons and seized 500 kilos of cocaine in the Provincia de Limón, they said.  The agents think that the stash was headed for the United States, they said.

According to Jorge Rojas, director of the investigating organization or OIJ, the cocaine had originated in Colombia.  Smugglers had taken it by boat to Panamá then crossed into Costa Rica through dense jungle that makes part of the border between the two countries.  The stash was then loaded onto a boat and taken to a remote part of the Limón coast where workers in pangas, or small fishing boats, brought the haul to shore.  There, the drugs were loaded into a truck made to look like a seafood salesman's truck, Rojas said. 

Agents stopped the truck along the Braulio Carrillo highway near the Sarapiquí crossing. Rojas said that the haul was headed across the country towards Puerto Soley in Guanacaste where the stash would then be offloaded into another boat before making its way by sea to the United States. 

Rojas said that the OIJ has known about the pending shipment for the past two months from information from another seizure. 

Francisco Ruíz, a spokesman with the OIJ, said that the U. S. Coast Guard presence in the Caribbean is very strong.  He suspects that is the reason that the smugglers tried to cross Costa Rica with the stash rather than going straight through the Gulf of Mexico to the United States.  He also cited Costa Rica's uninhabited coast in parts of the Provincia de Limón and Guanacaste and Costa Rica's lack of resources as the reason the smugglers probably chose to cross this country and not another in Central America. 

Information from this seizure allowed agents to raid two houses in Alajuela, one in Desamparados and one in Limón.  Agents seized a lancha, the Nissan the stash was in, two guns and four cars.  They also arrested three men and a woman all of which were Costa Ricans. 

Rojas said that the arrests by no means encompass the entire suspected organization.  He knows for sure that the agents missed arresting at least one foreigner involved in the organization.  The lancha driver also got away. 

Heredia English teacher
held as child sex fugitive


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen spent more than eight years here, probably in Heredia supporting himself as an English teacher, while he was wanted to stand trial in a sex abuse case in Alabama.

The man, Walter Edward Myer, finally fell into police

Walter E. Myer
hands when a San José bank became suspicious of the residency papers he carried. Agents said the documents were false, but they did not name the bank whose employee had called them.

The 66-year-old man was using the last name of Morris, agents said. He went by the nickname Ed in the North American community.  He worked as an English teacher at a private
university in Heredia, they said.
 
He was detained by the Policía de Migración Monday morning. His identity was verified with fingerprints and information from the U.S. FBI, via the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) here, they said.

Myer has been sought to stand trial on allegations of sexual abuse, sodomy and production of pornographic material with minors in the City of Camp Hill, Alabama, agents said. In 1994 and 1995 he worked as a school recreation director and formed friendships with minors and invited them to spend weekends and holidays at his home, agents said. It was there, an indictment alleges, sexual encounters happened. On Jan. 14, 1997 Myer failed to appear at a court hearing, and an arrest order was issued.

Immigration officials said he was in and out of this country 19 times from 1995 to 1998.

Myer is being investigated by the immigration police with the possibility of a quick deportation to the United States.

In other immigration action, two Czech citizens were deported back to their homeland Tuesday morning.

They are David Kohout, 35, and Jan Hanzlik, 30, who were convicted of holding up two armored cars in 1987 and making off with more than $8 million each time. They were arrested here in August.

Agents said the pair had entered the country in 2002 and changed their address frequently to avoid detection. They carried a number of false documents, agents said.


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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 232







The opinions of our readers
Self-proclaimed sex tourist defends prostitution here
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I travel to Costa Rica and consider myself a "Sex Tourist."

I love the ecotourism, beaches, parks, casinos, bars, and I especially love the Costa Rican people.

Prostitution is a Latin tradition, as in most foreign countries, dating back 100s of years.

I know most Americans think prostitution is evil and dirty, but 29 woman have died this year because of domestic violence in Costa Rica and thousands in the U.S.A., but no prostitutes have died from violence that I know of in Costa Rica.

I'm aware there is AIDS in Costa Rica, but the statistics are below the norm. Safe sex is recommended.

In Costa Rica there are massage parlors, bordellos, bars and casinos. I found them to be clean, well managed, with no fear for my safety and, most importantly, the girl's safety.

The working women are happy as most Costa Rican people are.  They have broad smiles and fun loving. As for the experience, it was not just about sex, it was the enjoyment of being with a young woman (over 18) for an hour and having that human touch.

The girls make good money, and earn $10-$100 an hour and more. The average secretary in Costa Rica makes $1.50 US$ an hour.

Many women are single mothers that support their mothers, fathers, and other family members. Sex tourism brings in 20-30 percent of American hard dollars, and Costa Rica needs all the dollars it can get to support its people.

Moralists will tell you how repugnant prostitution is, but prostitutes in Costa Rica go to bed at night with food in their stomachs, bills paid, a feeling of security, and their children have shoes on there feet.

Sex is an important of part of our mental health as we all need physical contact with other people.

If you are a male, please understand that you are dealing with human souls. Don't be loud, violent, or
mean spirited. The working girls are goddesses from heaven.

How many times have you passed a women or man on the street and wondered what it would be like to be with that person. Well, in Costa Rica you can experience that for a small price.

Do not solicit prostitutes off the street for your own security and because of the new solicitation laws.

I wish the Costa Rican government would show the working girls a little more kindness and respect. The government seems to be ashamed of the fact that Costa Rica has prostitutes. Costa Rica is such a utopia in so many ways.

If you have sex with minors, anyone under the age of 18, and if you get arrested, you may spend the remainder of your life in a rat-infested prison.

I wish the U.S.A. and the world would understand if you have a horny male population you are asking for trouble and its part of the reason 9 out of 10 sexual crimes are committed by men in the world. Hopefully, Costa Rica will always keep this fine old Latin tradition and refine it towards wholesomeness and safety for both working girls and customers.

I look forward to my next trip to Costa Rica for the people, beaches, parks, casinos, and that human touch that we can't have in the good old U.S.A. All we can do here is read our Bibles and prepare for the next war.

In conclusion, please keep an open mind and understand that there is a different culture in Costa Rica.  It's important to understand that it's all about financial security in Costa Rica, and that is why age doesn't matter.

Most guidebooks say that San José is a place to avoid, but I found it lots of fun with all the casinos, shopping, museums, sports, culture, and a whole bunch of fun loving girls.

John Nutter
Portland, Maine

EDITOR'S NOTE; Mr. Nutter is entitled to his opinion, but there is prostitution in the United States although such activity is illegal everywhere except in one Nevada county.


Reader says prosecution of pimps is not logical if prostitution is legal
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
  
In the Nov. 22, 2005, A.M. Costa Rica story titled, "Sex unit chief seeks to confiscate bordellos" it states, "Prostitution is not prosecuted in Costa Rica but pimping is a crime. A number of hotels, bars, pensions, massage parlors and strip clubs are poorly disguised bordellos, and it is these properties and their owners Chavez hopes to target with stronger legislation."

Why isn’t prostitution prosecuted? Is it not because prostitution is legal in Costa Rica? Smoking Cuban cigars is not prosecuted either, but should it be? The A.M. Costa Rica story portrays the possibility that prostitution could be prosecuted, but is not. Yet, prostitution is legal as described in the Nov. 18, 2002, A.M Costa Rica story titled "Legal prostitution seen as child abuse factor."

And indeed the allowance in Costa Rica of legal prostitution, but prosecution of anyone aiding in the activity is ludicrous. As the A.M. Costa Rica staff acknowledged in an editorial titled "Gringo factor in sex abuse avoids reality" the problems associated with prostitution, which is primarily considered the exploitation of children is not an external problem generated by foreigners interested in illicit sex. The problem starts in the Tico home and culture where children are exploited and conditioned to engage in prostitution and become susceptible to drug addiction.      
This moral ill is not unique to Costa Rica as the oldest profession is found throughout the world and possibly more so in countries such as the United States where even those who preach against the activity at Sunday services are caught engaging in what that claim should not be condoned.
  
For Chávez to attempt to further target the activities of those who facilitate prostitution, brings to mind whether parents of prostitutes and the prostitutes themselves should not also be prosecuted? Plus, an extreme interpretation of pimping as defined as aiding in the legal activities of a prostitute could include renting an apartment, selling a vehicle, serving them food in a restaurant, etc.

And obviously engaging in sex with a prostitute should warrant arrest under strict interpretation of pimping as these individuals are the greatest supporters of the industry.

How many members of the legislature and police force utilize these services? Chávez may need to go much further with his proposed legislation in order to truly effect change, which ultimately won’t occur unless prostitution itself is made illegal. Then again, maybe Chávez should run for office as such efforts will obviously yield him extensive face time for his crusade.

John Hawley
Quepos





 
A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

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Are you still spending 70 percent 
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You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 232


Pro-treaty organizers prepare to gather Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Supporters of the free trade treaty with the United States are preparing for their demonstration, which will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Plaza de la Democracia just west of the Museo Nacional between Avenida Central and Avenida 2.

Unlike treaty opponents, there will be no march and organizers expect that the rally will only last two and a half hours.

A number of the participants are being bused to the plaza by their employers, and this has drawn criticism from anti-treaty forces. For example, Albino Vargas Barrantes, general secretary of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, sent out an e-mail that said anti-treaty forces demonstrated last Thursday in liberty.
He said that the pro-treaty demonstrators were being taken to the plaza and given lists of talking points to use in replying to the news media.

For its part, Pro Costa Rica, a pro-treaty group, said in an e-mail that the country is at a crossroads where it can either follow the path to development or continue being poor.

The pro-treaty rally is being conducted under security much tighter than the anti-treaty march a week ago.

Both the march and the rally are designed to impress the 58 legislators who will end up voting on the free trade treaty with the United States and other Central American countries. The Asamblea Legislative is just a few feet from the plaza.

A vote is not likely until next year.


Costa Rica among nations honored for pact that helps protect dolphin
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An international dolphin conservation program of which Costa Rica is a part, was recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization Saturday. 

The Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program was awarded the biennial Margarita Lizárraga Medal at the 33rd session of the organization's conference in Rome. 

The organization chose the program because: “The AIDCP is an international agreement with the objective of progressively reducing dolphin mortality in the tuna purse-seine fishery in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and to ensure the sustainability of tuna stocks and associated species in the ocean's pelagic ecosystem,” it said.

The organization also noted that there has been an
 enormous reduction in the dolphin mortality rate directly attributable to the program but hasn't affected the sustainability of the fisheries in the ocean.

Robin Allen, the program's secretariat and executive director of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, accepted the award on behalf of the parties.  The countries involved in the agreement are Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, the European Union, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the United States, Vanuatu and Venezuela. 

The organization instituted the Margarita Lizárraga Medal in 1997 to be awarded biennially to a person or organization that serves with distinction in the application of the code of conduct for responsible fisheries, a  non-binding set of guidelines for global fisheries conservation and management.


Desamparados plans Christmas fair starting Dec. 10 in its Parque Central
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Desamparados is trying to get its residents into the Christmas spirit.  The municipality has planned a Christmas artisan fair for Dec. 10 through Dec. 18.

The fair, “Feria Navideña de Artesanías,” will take place in the Parque Central in the city of Desamparados.  In addition several special events are planned. 
Some of them are: a collection for toys for children who otherwise wouldn't have anything under the Christmas tree.  This takes place Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m.  The next day at 11 a.m. there will be clowns to paint faces and the dance group, Baile Kamú will perform. 

The following Saturday, a Christmas choir will perform at 5:30 p.m. and a serenade is planned for later that evening.  In addition, there will be food vendors and cultural activities, the municipality said. 






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