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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 240                        Email us
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The new fire trucks, mostly pumpers, made up an unusual and dramatic display Sunday.
$5.3 million in fire trucks are result of new power tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The lineup of fire trucks on Avenida Segunda Sunday was a $5.3 million display, officials said.

The 22 new fire trucks are the result of a new 1.75 percent tax on electric bills. That gave the fire fighters enough leverage in their new budget to make the purchases. Officials were quick to point out that this is the first time in history so many vehicles were purchased at once.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos, both paid fire fighters and volunteers, turned out in force to show off the new machines.

The fire-fighting agency was facing uncertainty with
 the opening of the insurance market. In the past, the fire agency was part of and received its money from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. Although there still is a close relationship with the national insurance company, the new tax gives the Bomberos independence.

The trucks are only one aspect of the electrical tax at work. The fire agency has been opening new stations in areas of the country that have been unsafe distances from where the fire trucks were kept in the past. In all, the Cuerpo de Bomberos will open more than 30 new stations with money that the tax generates.

And those new stations will need even more fire trucks.


Firms more confident than last year, survey shows
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A survey of business operators does not show a lot of change from the middle of the year, but confidence for the final three months of 2012 is more optimistic than it was a year ago.

The Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado does the survey four times a year and asked about the previous three month and confidence for the current three months.

Clearly, the 505 business operators surveyed think they are doing much better than the grim days of the  first three months of 2009 when the average of responses was 3.7 on a 10-point scale with 10 being the best. The average for July, August and  September this year was 5.3, said the chamber.
 That perception of the economic climate is not much different than the 5.2 of the previous three months but down from the 6.1 measured for the last three months of 2011.

The average has been as high as 7.2. That was the average at the end of 2007.

The confidence for the final three months scored an average of 6.3. The chamber was quick to note that this is 15 percent higher than the responses to the same question a year ago. However, confidence was down from the 6.9 the responses to the survey averaged when business people predicted the state of the business in the first half of 2012. They did that in the last survey of 2011.

Still, that number is a big jump from the 3.5 that the survey obtained for the second half of 2009.

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A.M. Costa Rica's  Second news page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 240
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Clinica

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Professional Directory
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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Our readers' opinion
Corruption is the engine
keeping drug war going


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Jo Stuart says, “I was surprised at the result of the survey of 1,200 people showing that 81 percent of them think crime will increase if drugs are decriminalized.”

Ms. Stuart is surprised. I am appalled. Appalled to learn such a large percentage of (one would hope), reasonably intelligent people think decriminalizing drugs would have that effect. One needs only look at history for parallels.

When, in the United States, Prohibitionists attempted to sober up the citizenry, they failed in that aim but succeeded in creating an entirely new class of criminals — including the modern American Mafia — because they had created an entirely new set of crimes: The wholesale manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages. Breaking those laws grew rampant and generated  greater corruption than had already existed among politicians and members of police forces who stood to gain by flouting the laws and allowing others to do so — for a fee.

There are corrupt politicians and “dirty” cops in most nations, but in Latin American countries I suspect, but of course cannot prove, this to be an accepted way of life. Given this suspicion, I’m now led to wonder if perhaps the 1,200 people polled to get the response she reports were from those two institutions because who stands to make the most money if drug trade stays in the hands of the criminal element? Why, criminals, of course — along with some politicians and some law enforcement officials who all too eagerly take their cut of the profits and don’t want their cow to die while it still gives milk.
Judy Griffith Gill
Puerto Viejo-Cahuita

Crossbow is a good option
in place of a firearm

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have a house on the beach near the hospital in Puntarenas. The area is relatively safe in the daytime, but at night it becomes dangerous. The worst time is between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. This seems to be because when the idiot crackheads have spent their money and need more for their next hit, they'll do anything to get a couple of dollars.

I spoke to a lawyer years ago about self-protection. He told me in very specific terms that if I shot someone, make sure that he dies on my property. If he does not, regardless of blood trails and other evidence, I was going to jail for a long time. He also explained the relation of unregistered firearms and jail time. I have no desire to have a firearm in my residence. I rely on a machete, and plan on obtaining a crossbow, with an Infrared sight. A crossbow is probably a nastier weapon than is a firearm, at least until you get up to a 50 caliber automatic machinegun. It also requires no licensing procedures.

Self-protection when outside your property is quite another matter. This sort of thing then depends on the attitude of the investigating organization, OIJ, and how they feel that particular day. I once talked with someone who had spent 12 years in preventive detention for defending himself and his wife when out in public. As has been published here in A.M. Costa Rica, there is a man, an expatriate and business owner in La Fortuna, who went to jail, was let out and now has to report to the Fiscalia (prosecutor) every week until his case is resolved. And this apparently happened while a known thief and drug addict was trying to steal his car.

Napoleonic-based law systems assume guilt rather than innocence. I have found it better to not give thieves an opportunity to steal and so I live behind bars and have hardened my property and house against intrusion.
Joe Sullivan
Puntarenas

 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
 HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

















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Lizze
Lost or stolen near Parque Morazan, on Monday, Nov. 26, around 9 a.m.  Lizze, Australian cattle dog, 22 Kilos, black with brown and white markings.  The red vest in the photo is because she is a service dog in the States. She does not wear it here.  Reward. muycapaz@gmail.com
Del Rey accommodations

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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 240
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Groups of ex-Villalobos creditors reported ready to sue family
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Several groups of former Villalobos high-interest lenders are considering lawsuits against the entire Villalobos extended family in an effort to get back some of the money they lost in the collapse of the estimated $2 billion business more than 10 years ago.

That was disclosed Friday in an email from yet another group that has tried to sue the government for its role in bringing down the Villalobos operation. The group that sent the email is the United Concerned Citizens & Residents. This is the organization that still supports Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, who is a fugitive. It is the same group whose members were shocked when a panel of judges sent Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho to prison on an allegation of aggravated fraud.

The email did not say who was involved in the groups that are seeking to sue the Villalobos family, but it did say that "from the beginning we have refused to be enlisted in such schemes as we believe that LEV would want to return whatever funds are available on his own, without being forced to do so." The acronym for Luis Enrique Villalobos is in common use among expats.

This is the same group that conducted an extensive campaign seeking Villalobos creditors to drop criminal charges. Those who did failed to share in the cash awards the court ordered in the Oswaldo Villalobos sentence.

The United Concerned Citizens & Residents email denigrated the lawsuits against the family, saying that the lawyers involved would get 10 to 30 percent commissions.

It was well known at the time of his conviction that Oswaldo Villalobos owned real estate that the courts did not include in the criminal action.
United Concerned Citizens & Residents did express concern that it had not received any communications from Luis Enrique Villalobos. "We have not heard from LEV for a very long time, and do not know if anyone has, including the family that has likewise been uncommunicative," said the email.

But they said they had hopes that there might be some developments when the statute of limitations goes into effect this month. They estimated that the statute of limitation would be 10 years.

"We are disappointed by the lack of communications but we must assume that there are serious reasons that prevent any contact, and can only hope and pray for his safety and well being," the email said.

Luis Enrique and Oswaldo ran the high-interest borrowing operation, known as The Brothers, for years, and a high percentage of the creditors were U.S. citizens. Those who participated got up to 3 percent a month on their cash investments each month. Many rolled over their interest, but others withdrew the money that was delivered in cash in bulky envelopes at the Mall San Pedro offices that Luis Enrique shared with his brother's money exchange operation.

The court that convicted Oswaldo said the men were running a ponzi scheme, and declined to convict Oswaldo of money laundering. 

However, prosecutors were unable to say exactly what the operation did. The Villalobos operation was one of a number  of similar high-interest businesses in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Many of the other operators actually invested with the Villalobos and paid a slightly lesser amount of interest to their clients. An extensive list of A.M. Costa Rica articles on this topic can be found HERE!


Multiple raids target prostitution, sex slavery and criminality
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers raided a Pacific coast night club Thursday and detained a woman on suspicion of operating a sex slavery ring.

The next night more than 100 officers of several agencies descended on four bars, two in Nicoya, one in Santa Cruz and a fourth in Playas de Coco. They uncovered a lot of information that they said would be subjected to further analysis.

Then late Saturday and early Sunday some law officer infiltrated the crowd at El Pueblo in north San José and laid the groundwork for a raid at 3 a.m. that resulted in the questioning of 1,123 persons during a session that lasted until 7 a.m.

The Thursday raid in Santa Rosa de Tamarindo resulted in the release of six illegal immigrant women who said they were being held against their will. The women had been smuggled into the area from Nicaragua and forced to work as prostitutes at the night club while under guard, they told  officers of the Policía Profesional de Migración.

The woman who was detained was identified by the last names of González Espinoza. Agents said that she retained the passports of the women and also arranged the business deals for them.

The six women are in the custody of the Oficina de Atención y Protección a la Victima, immigration officials said. They also noted that a new and tougher immigration law has been approved but not yet published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The Friday night raids on the four Pacific coast bars involved the Fuerza Pública, agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization, agents of the local International Police Agency, and immigration officers. Also there, said judicial agents, were members of a foundation involved in the rescue of victims of sexual exploitation. This is believed to be the Fundación Rahab that participates in such sweeps in San José.

The purpose of the sweeps was to interview the women there to see if they have been victims of sexual exploitation, said judicial agents.

Agents said 96 women between 18 and 30 were found at the four locations. They included Costa Ricans, Nicaraguans, Dominicans and some from Panamá, Argentina, Honduras and Colombia, agents said.

Curiously, agents said that most of the foreign women had attained residency by marriage to Costa Rican men, but
El Pueblo
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Police and judicial agents on duty outside el Pueblo.

nearly all had divorced after a short time. This is one of the aspects that will be studied, agents said. Arranging fake marriages is now a crime.

The investigators said that the bars have licenses as either a hotel or pensión. Consequently they have rooms on the premises that are used for the purposes of prostitution, and these quarters were unhealthy, they said.

Agents also located one underage person drinking at one establishment and a bar in Playas del Coco that allowed barely legal women to enter without showing identifications, they said.

The effort at El Pueblo was more one of crime suppression.  The Judicial Investigating Organization said that many crimes happen outside El Pueblo in the early morning. The commercial center is the location of a number of popular dance clubs.

The agency said that 40 agents were involved in the sweep and that there were 15 members of the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional, the security ministry's tactical squad.

There have been reports of rapes, threats with firearms and knives, people shooting into the air, the consumption of drugs and the presence of stolen vehicles, agents said.

Agents said they found two motorcycles with altered serial numbers and 10 vehicles with the license plates obscured. An accident nearby resulted in the arrest of a motorist for drunk driving, and a motorcycle operator also had an accident and was injured when he saw law officers and tried to leave abruptly, agents said.


Well, they said it was supposed to be cheapest day of the year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some Walmart shoppers thought that Christmas had arrived three weeks early. They spotted a super deal on a flat screen television during the retailer's cheapest day of the year promotion early Saturday.

Cheap it was. The price tag said that the 180,000-colon electronic product could be had for a tenth of the price. The
demand from customers became so intense and unruly that the Fuerza Pública had to be called in. The store had started its promotion at midnight, and by 3 a.m. customers at the San Sebastián location were trying to get the flat screens.

Security guards were overwhelmed.

The retailer made no statements about the confusion on its Web site, but it did include links to various media stories. 

Del Rey nightlife

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 240
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Bus passenger accused of transporting thousands of fireworks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Nicaraguan woman has been detained as a suspect of smuggling 7,200 individual fireworks into Costa Rica. The woman simply stowed the explosives as baggage on a public bus. Fuerza Pública officers are on the lookout for such materials, which are illegal in Costa Rica.

The arrest took place Friday in Santa Cecilia de Miramar, which is in Upala. The bus was one in regular service between the border crossing of Peñas Blanca and San José.

Even possession of fireworks for sale is a crime under the law of firearms and explosives. The penalty could be from three to six years. The penalty is higher if minors are involved in some way, said the Fuerza Pública.

Police agencies are involved with medical officials in an effort to reduce the number of children who are burned or otherwise injured by fireworks during the holiday season. Despite the effort all types of explosive fireworks are available under the table at various Central Valley outlets.
fireworks
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Segruidad Pública photo
 Police officer catalogs the various types of fireworks that
 were confiscated from a woman on a bus.



Transportation Security Agency won't attend hearing in House
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Transportation Security Agency, created in 2001 following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was intended to be a lean security agency with the flexibility to quickly respond and adapt to potential threats of terrorism.

Instead TSA has mushroomed into a massive, inflexible, backward-looking bureaucracy of more than 65,000, according to Thomas E. Petri, a congressman whose subcommittee is studying the agency. Over its first 10 years of existence, the agency and its numerous failures have cost taxpayers $57 billion, his subcommittee has calculated.

The Aviation Subcommittee conducted a hearing Thursday to examine the impact that Transportation Security Administration regulations and policies have on the aviation passenger experience and the free flow of aviation commerce. The subcommittee is within the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

While government, industry, labor and consumer advocacy witnesses provided testimony on how improvements to Transportation Security Administration procedures and programs could benefit users of the aviation system, the agency itself declined to participate, the subcommittee reported.

John L. Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the house committee, Petri, a Wisconsin Republican, questioned the security agency’s unwillingness to cooperate with their congressional panels.

“Sadly the TSA administrator is stonewalling this committee and refuses to work with us, and that’s part of the problem with this agency,” Mica said. “He and other agency officials are protecting one of the biggest government bureaucracies, which has grown now to more than 66,000 employees.”

“Unfortunately, as this mushrooming agency has spun out of control, passengers have not been well served," Mica said.  
"We’ve had numerous security meltdowns, including in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Newark, Fort Myers, Charlotte and elsewhere. When I helped establish this agency, Congress intended it to operate a risk-based system, but the TSA is best known for shaking down little old ladies and others who pose no security risk.

“Now that airports can opt out of the all-federal screening system with more certainty and have private screeners operating under federal supervision and oversight, we have a mechanism in place that can allow TSA to become the leaner, risk-based, effective agency it was intended to be,” Mica said.

“If we want more government stove piping, the TSA’s attitude and actions regarding this hearing achieve that end," Petri said. "But if we want better government and more coordination between government activities, Congress must be able to fulfill its oversight responsibilities. In the case of this subcommittee, the TSA’s operations and policies clearly impact civil aviation, including commerce, safety, airport operations, airlines, and passengers.

“Unfortunately, if they continue down this path of non-transparency and arrogance, the TSA will end up eliminating the very thing it is supposed to be protecting,” Petri added. “Their absence today demonstrates why the public is so frustrated with the TSA. These officials are public servants, and their attitude should reflect this fact.”

“The TSA and its 45,000 screeners are responsible for a complex and difficult job. The TSA would be well served in pursuing better partnerships with aviation stakeholders, and should also seek more input from a variety of groups on how the security process can be improved,” Petri concluded.

Witnesses at the hearing included Charles K. Edwards, Department of Homeland Security acting inspector general,  and representatives of the International Air Transport Association, the Association of Flight Attendants and the Consumer Travel Alliance

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
Cat trees
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 240
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High
                  season

Medical
                vacations in Costa Rica

Defense Department reported
moving deeply into spying

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A leading U.S. newspaper says the Defense Department has an ambitious plan to assemble an espionage network, rivaling the Central Intelligence Agency in size.

The Washington Post reported late Saturday the project is aimed at transforming the Defense Intelligence Agency into a spy service focused on emerging threats and more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units.

The newspaper said the DIA is expected to expand to as many as 1,600 intelligence collectors around the world.  The report said that number represents an unprecedented total for an agency whose presence abroad has numbered in the triple digits in recent years. The total will include military attaches and others who will do undercover work.

According to the newspaper report, U.S. officials say the deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives will happen over a five-year period.   The account says the intelligence agents will be trained by the CIA, but will receive their spying assignments from the Department of Defense.

The Washington Post says the Pentagon's top intelligence priorities are Islamist militant groups in Africa, weapons transfers by North Korea and Iran, and military modernization under way in China.


No deal in sight to avoid
draconian U.S. budget cuts


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A stand-off persists between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans on a deficit reduction plan to replace massive automatic tax hikes and federal spending cuts that will go into effect Jan. 1. No one is guaranteeing a deal will be struck before the end-of-year deadline.

​​With four weeks to go before a draconian austerity regime hits a fragile U.S. economy, the top Republican in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, conceded the United States may, in fact, step off the so-called “fiscal cliff”.

“There is clearly a chance. I am determined to solve our debt problem,” he said.

​Boehner spoke on Fox News Sunday.  On the same program, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was asked if he could guarantee a deal will be struck before Jan. 1.

“No, I cannot promise that," Geithner said. "That is a decision that lies in the hands of Republicans.”

Last week, Geithner met with congressional leaders to present the Obama administration’s plan to avert the fiscal cliff. The proposal calls for raising taxes on the wealthy, boosting infrastructure spending, extending federal jobless benefits, trimming costs from a government health-care program for retirees, and locking in projected savings from ending the war in Afghanistan.

“It was not a serious offer,” said Boehner. He added that the administration’s plan amounts to massive tax hikes with no real spending cuts.

“The president is asking for $1.6 trillion worth of new revenue over 10 years.  He has stimulus spending that exceeded the amount of new cuts he is willing to consider," he said.  "If we gave the president $1.6 trillion of new money, what do you think he would do with it?  He is going to spend it.  It is what Washington does.”

Secretary Geithner’s response?  If Republicans want a different deal, they should make a counter-offer with the deeper spending cuts they would like to see.

America’s annual federal deficit exceeds $1 trillion, and the national debts stands at more than $16 trillion.

Peña Nieto takes command
of divided, uncertain México


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto has taken over as the nation's new president, bringing the old ruling party back to power for the first time in 12 years.

The new face of the Partido Revolucionario Institutional was sworn in Saturday after winning July's presidential election.  But the swearing-in ceremony was marred by protests both inside and outside the congressional chamber where Peña Nieto took the oath of office.

Leftist lawmakers inside the chamber displayed banners against Peña Nieto, including one declaring Mexico in mourning.  Outside, thousands of protesters gathered around the metal barricades surrounding the congress building.  Clashes erupted as some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and police fired tear gas to disperse them.  At least 20 people were reported injured, including police.

The party known as PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, when it was voted out and replaced by the conservative Partido Acción Nacional.

Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, formally transferred power to him in a brief symbolic ceremony shortly after midnight in Mexico's historic Palacio Nacional.

Calderón is perhaps best known for launching Mexico's U.S.-backed military crackdown on drug gangs in 2006.  More than 60,000 people have been killed since the crackdown began.

Peña Nieto said he is committed to continuing the fight against drugs, but he is calling for a new strategy focused on reducing drug violence.  He also has pledged to boost Mexico's economic growth. Last year, the Mexican economy grew faster than Brazil's.

In a move considered a consensus builder, Peña Nieto has chosen some members of Calderon's administration for his cabinet.  The cabinet was introduced to the media Friday in Mexico City.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 240
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Migrants more vulnerable
to AIDS, global agency says


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Organization for Migration is calling on governments to provide migrants with preventive care and treatment for HIV/AIDS.  To mark this year's World AIDS Day, the agency is focusing on the plight of migrants who, it says, are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS in high-income countries.

This year's UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic finds a sharp decline in HIV infections in low- and middle-income countries.  For the first time in the history of AIDS, the report indicates that an end to the epidemic may be in sight. 

But while the number of HIV infections is going down in the traditionally poor, less developed countries, it is rising in many of the more affluent nations.  Data shows the total number of people living with HIV has increased in the last 10 years in high-income countries in North America and Europe.

The International Organization for Migration says migrants are particularly badly affected by AIDS in high-income countries.  Spokesman Chris Lom says this is widely overlooked.

"Migrants and mobile populations, as you know, are at particularly high risk all over the world primarily because they face marginalization, exclusion and various barriers to accessing health promotion and health care, which indigenous people do not experience," said Lom. 

UNAIDS reports 45 countries, territories and areas impose some form of restriction on the entry of people living with HIV.  It says these discriminatory policies are not effective and do not protect public health.

The immigration agency says there is a lack of awareness of migrants' vulnerability to HIV in high-income countries and this is reflected in the statistics.  In Canada, for example, it says the estimated infection rate of migrants from HIV-endemic countries is 8.5 times higher than among other Canadians. 

And a study in the United States between 2007 and 2010 shows the foreign-born population represents 13 percent of the total population, but more than 16 percent of new infections. 

The International Organization for Migration says in the European Union, over one-third of all HIV infections acquired through heterosexual transmission are among people who migrated to the region from a country with a generalized HIV epidemic.

Lom said the highest incidence of HIV in the U.S., Canada and Europe is among people who come from Africa and the Caribbean, which are described as HIV-endemic countries.

"The background to this is partly because of irregular migration," Lom added.  "But, it is primarily because of lack of information.   People not knowing their HIV status.  In addition, there are aspects, which include people tending to be diagnosed with the disease far later than people in high-income countries." 

Contrary to popular belief, the International Organization for Migration says migrants often get infected after their arrival in countries of destination.  The agency urges nations to reach out to migrants to ensure they receive access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.













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Accountant in Minor Vargas fraud case
given 54 months in federal prison


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A certified public accountant and purported outside auditor for Provident Capital Indemnity Ltd. was sentenced Friday in Richmond, Va., to 54 months in prison for his role in an approximately half-billion-dollar fraud scheme that affected more than 3,500 victims throughout the United States and abroad, said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

This is the Minor Vargas Calvo case.

U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney sentenced the accountant, Jorge Luis Castillo, 57, a resident of New Jersey. In addition to his prison term, Castillo was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $43,582,699 in forfeiture.

Castillo pleaded guilty Nov. 21, 2011, to one count of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud.  Castillo was a Provident Capital employee prior to becoming the firm's outside auditor, the Justice Department said.

“As a licensed accountant, Mr. Castillo used his expertise to create fraudulent financial statements out of whole cloth,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “Many elderly investors relied on Mr. Castillo’s credibility as an outside auditor before entrusting their life savings in this fraud scheme.  Accountants and auditors are the gatekeepers of our financial system and are entrusted with the critical role of protecting the public from fraud.  Today’s sentence will hopefully send a strong message to those in the accounting profession that they will be held responsible when they break that trust by facilitating or participating in fraud.”

According to court records, Provident Capital was an insurance and reinsurance company registered in the Commonwealth of Dominica and doing business in Costa Rica.  Provident Capital sold financial guarantee bonds to companies selling life settlements, or securities backed by life settlements, to investors. Provident Capital marketed these bonds to its clients as a way to alleviate the risk of insured beneficiaries living beyond their life expectancy.  Provident Capital’s clients, in turn, typically explained to their investors that the financial guarantee bonds ensured that the investors would receive their expected return on investment irrespective of whether the insured on the underlying life settlement lived beyond his or her life expectancy.

Castillo admitted that he conspired with Vargas, 61, the president and majority owner of Provident Capital, to prepare audited financial statements that falsely claimed that the firm had entered into reinsurance contracts with major reinsurance companies.  These claims, which were supported by a letter from Castillo stating that he conducted an audit of Provident Capital’s financial records, were used to assure Provident Capital’s clients that the reinsurance companies were backstopping the majority of the risk that Provident Capital had insured through its financial guarantee bonds.

Castillo further admitted that he never performed an audit of Provident Capital’s financial statements and that, in fact, he personally created the statements he claimed to be independently auditing. He also admitted that he and others at Provident Capital knew that the company never actually entered into reinsurance contracts with any major companies.  Castillo also admitted that he and other conspirators provided the false financial statements and fraudulent independent auditors’ report to Dunn & Bradstreet, which the rating firm relied on in compiling its commercial reports on Provident Capital and issuing its 5A rating of the firm’s financial strength.

From 2004 through 2010, Provident Capital sold at least $485 million of bonds to life settlement investment companies located in various countries, including the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and elsewhere.  Provident Capital’s clients, in turn, sold investment offerings backed by Provident Capital’s bonds to thousands of investors around the world.  Purchasers of Provident Capital’s bonds were allegedly required to make up-front payments of six to 11 percent of the underlying settlement as premium payments to Provident Capital before the company would issue the bonds.  Court records state that Castillo received approximately $84,000 from his work as the purported outside auditor of PCI from 2004 through 2010.

Vargas, a citizen and resident of Costa Rica, was convicted on April 30 of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering.  On Oct. 23 he was sentenced to 60 years in prison.  Provident Capital pleaded guilty on April 18 to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, and was sentenced on Sept. 6 to one year of probation.






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