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These stories were published Monday, Dec. 15, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 247
Jo Stuart
About us
Downtown Jacó
drug arrests
U.S. agents ask about Villalobos
Pacheco to tour
flood zone
Your tax form
may be faulty
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Tourism institute float featured giant animals.
The Jolly Old Elf made it, too.
. . . from Liberia Universal
Traditional Tica represents country
...Banco Interfin float
Weather cooperates
for Festival of Lights

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival de la Luz got a boost from the weather Saturday. A rainy afternoon dried out for a cool and relatively clear evening. The parade route from Parque La Sabana to Plaza de la Democracia was five deep the entire length as Costa Ricans by the thousands turned out. Perhaps as many as 75,000 were there.

The floats bordered on the fantastic, Each of the 11 floats appeared to be newly constructed. The float of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo featured a gigantic leatherback turtle, huge monkeys and a parrot to match. The float carried the alternate address of the institute’s Web site that is directed to local tourists: www.redescubrasupais.com (Rediscover your country).

A float from the Parque de Diversiones filled with harlequins and acrobats won first prize.

Police reported 140 arrests, but most were preventative. Officials said they grabbed any known bad guys early in the evening and submitted them at least to questioning.

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Make sure taxes are reported on the correct form
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the deadline to file your personal and corporate income tax returns in Costa Rica, and has the taxman got a surprise for you.

The Ministerio de Hacienda has come out with a new tax form that is mandatory to use and very hard to find. If you fail to use the newer form, the result will be as if you never filed at all, said a business consultant.

The required form is D-101 Version 2. The new form has a couple of more lines to reflect refinements in the law. There has been little publicity about the new form, except for a notice on the Ministerio de Hacienda Web page.

At least that’s what a business consultant said. A reporter tried without success to find any reference to the tax form on the ministry’s Web site, which finally caused the browser to crash. The Version 2 form is light orange instead of blue.

A.M. Costa Rica montage
This is the hard-to-find form.

Pacheco to tour area
battered by flooding

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco and other top officials will tour the storm-battered Caribbean slope today.

Meanwhile, disaster officials say that those living there and in the northern zone should not relax their guard because the weather forecast is for more rain, perhaps for the entire week.

The storm that started Thursday evicted more than 1,700 persons from their homes. The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias de Costa Rica said about 75 percent had returned to their homes by Sunday afternoon.

That left about 530 persons still in seven shelters in the Limón area: Batán, Carrandi, Matina centro and in the whole canton of Matina.

There was more rain Sunday but not to the degree of the rain that hit the area Thursday, Friday and part of Saturday.  The emergency commission warned that at least two rivers, the Río Chirripó  and the Río Colorado were continuing to rise.

In all, the commission reported 16 drainage systems were damaged by the storm and debris. In addition, at least 11 homes were partly damaged and one major bridge in Sarapiquí was destroyed and another major bridge suffered some damage in Pejibaye. Seven dikes suffered damage.

Pacheco will be visiting a damaged bridge over the Río Reventazón in Siquirres. Then he and his ministers will travel to Bataán and Matina, according to an agenda released by Casa Presidencial.

With him will be Javier Chávez, minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, Ricardo Toledo, minister of the Presidencia, and Luis Diego Morales, president of the emergency commission.

Perhaps 30 communities suffered some form of damage.  and more than five or six lesser bridges were damaged or destroyed.

The storms, caused by a strong cold front over the Atlantic, took the life of a boy in Barra del Colorado, and a man, Carlos Leitón 55, who is missing and believed dead after he fell in the Río Chirripó near Matina. He fell in the river Thursday afternoon while herding cattle.

Vacation classes
in English planned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano plans to offer special English classes during the academic vacation. The classes will run from Jan. 5 to Feb. 5 at all three branches of the center.

The courses are designed to be active and dynamic for youngsters who attend colegio or the Costa Rican high school level.

The three locations are Barrio Dent in eastern San José, Sabana Norte in the west and in Cartago. The center said in an announcement that the Cartago course would be extra intensive and run for five days from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The others centers offer the course three afternoons a week from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Students will have to take a placement test. More information is available at the center: 800-207-7500.

Misuse of machete
costs man 15 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who chopped off the ear and two fingers of a former girlfriend with a machete got 15 years in jail after a trial last week in Liberia.

He was identified by the last names of Ramos Amador. A release from the judicial authorities said that he was found guilty of attempted murder for going after his former girlfriend, identified by the last name of Abellán in Cañas last May 19. She was 22 at the time.

RACSA will update
its Web pages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., known as RACSA, wants to play Santa Claus.

The Internet monopoly said over the weekend that it was updating its Web page and that the page would contain information on how to make Christmas purchases via the Internet.

The company also said that it would include links to companies that offer such services. 

The new Web pages were not up by early this morning, but nothing in the company’s announcement suggested any improvements in services. However, the company did promise that its new Web pages would be easier to navigate.

Isidro Serrano Rodríguez, general manager of the publicly owned firm, said that the new Web pages come after a laborious effort by employees and also an external multidisciplinary team.

Police seek youth
lost in national park

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 17-year-old is missing in the Parque Nacional de Corcovado in southwest Costa Rica.

The youth, Marcos Martínez Herrera, is one of two persons who entered the park Friday but only his companion, Elías Martínez, managed to get out, said the Fuerza Pública. 

Police and other officials searched much of Sunday and said they planned to bring rescue dogs into the operation early today.

It is your number?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekly lottery drawing Sunday night had series 770 with the number 20 as a winner. There should be five such tickets with the lucky number in Costa Rica.  This was the annual Gordo lottery with prizes bigger than normal. The Junta de Protección Social de San José pulled the numbers about 7 p.m. while much of the country waited. There is a list of lesser prizes.

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Treasury agents ask questions about Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Villalobos Brothers creditor in Florida said that two U.S. Treasury Department agents visited him seeking information about the high-interest operation.

The agents almost certainly were from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network that investigates international money laundering, and the creditor said that from the thrust of the agents’ questions he concluded the investigation was about money laundering.

Investigations of the operation run by Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho were expected in the United States, but this is the first evidence of a domestic investigation there. The Villalobos operation used U.S. banks, and many of the 6,600 creditors are U.S. citizens.

The Treasury investigation may be the first being initiated by the U.S. government.

A highly placed criminal investigator for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service said that his division would be looking into the case after it finished with the prosecution of Marc Harris. Harris was the head of a Panamá-based organization that ran a series of tax-avoidance schemes that resulted in his conviction for evading U.S. taxes, money laundering and conspiracy to launder money. That happened Nov. 24.

However, the concern of the Internal Revenue Service would be directed more at U.S. citizens who did not pay taxes on interest from the Villalobos operation.

An investigation in Florida by an assistant U.S. attorney there was done at the request of Costa Rican prosecutors, but it may have generated a domestic investigation, too. Prosecutors there have declined comment and have forwarded their findings to Costa Rica.

The Florida individual said that the Treasury agents told him that he was not the first creditor to whom they had spoken.  The Florida creditor made the visit known in a posting to an Internet list and amplified his comments in e-mails to A.M. Costa Rica. The creditor said he also thought that the Treasury agents might be contacting those persons who sought a tax amnesty from the U.S. federal government.

The Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative offered eligible taxpayers the chance to pay back taxes, interest and certain other penalties without further prosecution. To qualify, taxpayers have to disclose information about those who promoted or solicited their participation in the offshore financial arrangement. Participation in the initiative had a deadline of April 15.

However, the Florida creditor said that agents said the investigation was not directed at him but at the operation run by the Villalobos Brothers.

The investigation by U.S. officials should ease the concerns of U.S. and Canadian citizens here who have expressed frustration and uncertainty about the quality of an investigation being run by Costa Rican prosecutors.

Some creditors have blamed the Costa Rican government for closing down the high-interest operation of the Villalobos. The informal operation paid up to 3 percent a month on deposits of $10,000 or more. The brothers may have had up to $1 billion in creditor money on their books when Luis Enrique Villalobos announced he was closing the doors of his Mall San Pedro office Oct. 14, 2002. At the same time Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house operated principally by Oswaldo Villalobos , closed down, too.

Luis Enrique Villalobos is a fugitive sought to answer allegations in Costa Rica of fraud and money laundering. Oswaldo Villalobos is under house arrest.

Congressional report urges tougher money watch
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. federal agencies should step up efforts to track and shut down the financial activities of terrorist and criminal networks, says a new report by the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.

A General Accounting Office report published Friday found that terrorist organizations such as Hizballah continue to earn and transfer funds in a variety of ways, including through crimes involving precious stones and metals, drugs and counterfeit goods.

The General Accounting Office said that the full extent of terrorists' use of alternative financing mechanisms is unknown, due in part to the lack of data collection and analysis by the federal government.

The report also noted that the U.S. Departments of the Treasury and of Justice have not yet produced a report, required under the United States' 2002 National Money Laundering Strategy, on illegal money transfers via trade in precious stones and commodities.

Outlining the challenges facing law enforcement, the General Accounting Office said that U.S. federal agencies have found it difficult to infiltrate terrorist and criminal networks and that such networks are adept at switching from one method of financing to another.

Terrorists' methods for obtaining funds include selling contraband cigarettes and illicit drugs and misusing donations from charitable organizations. The networks often move funds by concealing their assets through nontransparent mechanisms such as charities, informal banking systems and commodities. To store assets, terrorists may utilize precious stones or other valuables that maintain their value and liquidity, the report says.

The General Accounting Office recommends that the Federal Bureau of Investigation collect and analyze data on terrorists' use of alternative financing mechanisms, and that the secretary of the Treasury and the attorney general produce the planned report on precious stones and commodities. The agency also recommends that the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service establish interim procedures for sharing information on charities with state charity officials.

Peru's Toledo dumps his female prime minister
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — President Alejandro Toledo has asked for the resignation of his entire government, including the popular Prime Minister, Beatriz Merino, who has been the target of anonymous attacks in Peruvian news media.

In a statement issued at the presidential palace, Toledo said Ms. Merino should step down along with her 15-member cabinet. The official announcement says the president took this decision "in light of recent political events," but gives no further explanation. All presidential advisers also are being asked to resign.

President Toledo's statement said a new cabinet will be sworn today.

Prime Minister Merino, who currently is visiting the United States, has been one of the most popular figures in Peru's government, with approval ratings far higher than those for Toledo. However, she has been the target of a series of rumors in recent weeks, accusing her of everything from corruption to lesbianism.

The prime minister has denied the anonymous allegations against her. She says she is a victim of a smear campaign.

Ms. Merino, 54, is a lawyer and economist trained in the United States at Harvard University and in 

Britain at the London School of Economics. She was named prime minister two years ago — the first woman to hold that post in Peru. 

President Toledo's move to reshuffle the government comes as recent polls show his approval ratings have fallen below 20 percent.

New Canadian leader
unveils ethics code

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

OTTAWA, Canada — Canada's new prime minister, Paul Martin, has unveiled a new code of ethics during his first full day in office. Martin told journalists Saturday after meeting with his new cabinet that ministers will now be banned from taking rides on private jets and will be restricted to the types of gifts they can accept. 

He said he is also canceling a controversial grant program that is at the center of a major police investigation into how the government awards contracts.  Martin said his first act when Parliament reconvenes will be to create the post of an independent ethics commissioner to ensure ministers follow the new rules. 

The prime minister was sworn into office Friday, replacing Jean Chretien who served in the post for 10 years. 

Anti-drug police make two big hauls on highways
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police made two big seizures of cocaine on the major highways in the west of the country.

Friday Fuerza Pública officers in the southwest of the country stopped a Mercedes Benz in La Jota near Laurel and said they discovered 50 packages of cocaine in the passenger compartment. Detained was a Costa Rican named Sandoval Cedeño and a Panamanian man named González, police said.

The Policía de Control de Drogas stopped a car at a roadblock in northwest Costa Rica Saturday and said they discovered 67 kilos of cocaine that was on the way to Nicaragua and presumably to the United States.

The driver, identified by the last names of Zaldaña Ventura, is a 32-year-old Salvadorian. The arrest took place just south of Peñas Blancas, the Costa Rican community on the Nicaragua border.

Police said they discovered a hidden compartment in the trunk of the automobile. They suspect the packages contain chlorhydrate of cocaine although chemical tests are pending. Police recently stepped up enforcement in the area near the border.  Some

Photo courtesy Ministerio de Gobernación,
Policía y Seguridad Pública
Police officers who do not want their faces shown stack up the contents of a vehicle stopped near Peñas Blancas.

police officers were suspended, and a crackdown was ordered.

Police arrest Jacó couple as tourists' connection
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police arrested a couple in Jacó Thursday and said they specialized in providing crack and marijuana to young people and foreign tourists.

Arrested were a 38-year-old man with the last names of Vallecillo Téllez and his wife who has the last names of Carmona Alfaro. She is 28.

Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that Jacó was a priority for anti-drug work. The Policía de Control de Drogas is part of his ministry.

Ramos said that police are making great efforts to take drug dealers in the Jacó area out of action and will continue to do so for the rest of this year and next. The police effort is supported by the local political and business communities, said the ministry.

The ministry said that the arrested couple lived in a house in the center of town not far from a well-known ice cream establishment. Officials planned their operation carefully because the pair only operated at night and took cautionary methods to avoid detention, officials said. Officials said they confiscated what they believe to be crack cocaine at the couple’s home.

Jo Stuart
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