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The biggest question is not addressed very often
As a group of Villalobos investors gets ready to meet Sunday, no one seems ready to ask the most important question about the failed investment firm:
Where is the money?
For weeks the Internet has hummed with exchanges primarily from persons who support the fugitive financier, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.
Investors hopes have been buoyed by unsupported claims that the government’s case is falling apart or that the July 4 search of the Villalobos offices were illegal.
Monday one Villalobos supporter, Hank Guichelaar of Longview, Texas, had posted to some Internet discussion lists a request asking that investors who had filed complaints with the judiciary to withdraw them.
He said that the 600 or so persons who had filed claims had been entrapped by the prosecutor. He said that these criminal complaints are just "roadblocks," presumably to the eventual return of Villalobos.
However, the Investment Recovery Center, which is representing a number of these 600 investors, said that none has sought to withdraw their legal claim. The investor claims are in addition to whatever complaints the prosecutors investigating the case bring against Villalobos.
In some cases, the failure of investors to ask questions about where Villalobos might have their money appears to be a personal defense mechanism. Prosecutors suggest that Villalobos was running a slow-motion ponzi scheme in which investors were paid back with their own money at a rate approaching 3 percent a month. They have made allegations of fraud and money laundering.
Many investors insist that these allegations are untrue, that Villalobos has a secret way to generate such returns. They argue that if the investor operation at the San Pedro Mall were a ponzi scheme, it would have fallen of its own weight years ago.
Some investors seem to fear upsetting Villalobos, who is known to have a short fuse for those who question his business methods. They expect him to return and reward those who have been faithful to him. In fact, a recurrent rumor in San José is that Villalobos already had returned and is holed up in some hidden office dispensing cash and checks to those who supported him. The rumor appears to be without foundation, although some investors have gone in search of the secret office
The Investment Recovery Center said that investors have shown a reluctance to hire an international firm that specializes in tracking down hidden funds. The center said that to the knowledge of its officers no individual or business is actively pursuing the estimated $1 billion Villalobos had on his books in trust for his investors. Such searches are expensive.
Some investors hope that additional property found in the name of corporations operated by
|Villalobos will provide more funds
to distribute in the event investors have to divide up what Villalobos
left behind. Some legal experts point out that these funds are not frozen
by prosecutors and investors who wish to attach these properties should
make additional legal filings.
Some $6 to $7 million in cash is frozen, but that sum represents pennies on the dollar for the primarily North American investors. And investors fear that the Costa Rican government will confiscate the cash.
If a large slug of money does not exist somewhere, there is no point in continued interest in Villalobos, an investment leader agreed Wednesday. Yet no one appears particularly anxious to press for this information.
In fact, no organized group of investors has issued a public demand for this type of information, a balance sheet or a profit-and-loss statement showing where and if Villalobos has a substantial amount of the investors’ money. Meanwhile, the Villalobos team of lawyers probably is being paid with investor money.
Such financial information normally would be provided on a quarterly basis by traditional investment operations. Villalobos never has done so.
The speaker for the meeting Sunday is not linked to the investment case. Invited is José Miguel Villalobos, the fired minister of Justicia. Some e-mails have touted him as the man in charge of the prosecutors for the Villalobos investigation.
Actually, when José Villalobos was a minister, he was in charge of prisons. The man in charge of the Villalobos investigation is Carlos Arias, the fiscal general and the supervisor of Walter Espinoza, the fiscal in the case. Villalobos probably was chosen as a speaker because he has been critical in the past of the prison policies of President Abel Pacheco, whom some investors claim has a grudge against the fugitive Villalobos. The meeting is at 2 p.m. in the Aurola Holiday Inn downtown.
Enrique Villalobos vanished Oct. 14 after he closed up his Mall San Pedro office. He has sent several e-mail messages since. Because Enrique demonstrated that he is a flight risk, his brother Oswaldo, was placed in preventative detention where he remains.
Had Enrique not fled, both probably would have been arrested but allowed to stay at liberty under a security bond.
Meanwhile, there is good news for some U.S. investors. Sources within the Costa Rican investigation report that no information or lists of Villalobos investors have been shared with other governments, including that of the United States. That means the U.S. Internal Revenue Service does not know who has been investing their funds offshore with Villalobos unless the tax collectors obtained the information from another source.
U.S. law requires citizens and permanent residents to report and pay taxes on all sources of income, domestic or foreign. A lot of U.S. investors, here and there, did not. Canadians who have residency overseas do not have this problem.
|Strike loses steam
as some stores open
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
CARACAS, Venezuela — After nearly two months, the opposition strike here is showing signs of weakening, but the divide between those who oppose and those who support President Hugo Chavez remains wide.
The large shopping malls remain closed, but many smaller shops are open. Supermarkets still have shortages, but quite a few restaurants and bars are open at night.
Most gasoline stations are closed, and people wait in long lines at the ones that are open, yet, vehicles still circulate on the streets, using fuel brought in by boat from other countries.
The general strike that shutdown almost all commerce since Dec. 2 is starting to come undone. Little by little, merchants are opening their doors, or expanding hours of operation, if they were already open. Owners of shopping centers, theaters and other popular destinations say they expect to open next week.
The Venezuelan Banking Council has decided to reopen banks to the public on Monday. Chavez had brought pressure on the bankers by threatening to withdraw armed forces funds from the banks.
But Nelson Mezerhane, council vice president, says that pressure had nothing to do with the decision to reopen.
He says the pressure felt by the banking sector came from the clients whose deposits the banks hold. For the past two months, the banks have been open only a few hours a day, leading to long lines and severe restrictions on financial transactions.
The strike has cost more than $4 billion, and the economy is expected to show a 25 percent contraction this year as a result. The nation's currency, the bolivar, has lost nearly 30 percent of its value.
Oil production in this, the world's fifth largest producer, fell as low as 200,000 barrels-a-day last month. Last week, the government managed to move production back up to about a million barrels-a-day, but that is still only about a third of what used to be produced.
The weakening of the strike in the banking and commercial sector is seen by Chavez supporters as a victory for their side, but opposition leaders say their struggle is not over. The strike in the oil industry continues, with 35,000 of the nation's 40,000 oil workers remaining at home.
Hundreds of anti-Chavez protesters gather every evening at a plaza in the fashionable Altamira section of the city to listen to anti-Chavez speeches and songs. The divergent elements of the opposition remain united on their principal goal — that of removing Chavez from power.
In a smaller plaza, in a working-class neighborhood a few kilometers away, Chavez supporters hold nightly meetings that draw smaller crowds. Public opinion polls indicate that around 30 percent back Chavez. His mostly poor supporters deride the opposition leaders as "oligarchs" and say that only Chavez cares about the poor.
Powell talks with Canada
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state, has discussed Iraq with William Graham, the Canadian foreign minister, who said he hoped any military action to disarm Saddam Hussein will be within the U.N. framework.
The Canadian government has not said whether it would support a U.S.-led war against Iraq in the absence of a second U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing such action.
In a talk with reporters after meeting Powell, Graham stressed his country's strong preference that military action, if it proves necessary, should come within a coalition "directed by the United Nations."
Graham said that, in taking the issue to the United Nations last September, the Bush administration acknowledged that its long-term security interests are best served by working in coalitions.
He said if one state acts by itself, it incurs the responsibility by itself, and "risks consequences" in a complicated area like the Middle East that could be serious.
"The best way to insure the security of the world and to insure the security of the United States is through the United Nations, because, ultimately, that is the world saying to Saddam Hussein, 'You have failed to act. Here are the consequences, and we are delivering them.' This is not the United States acting unilaterally or arbitrarily. This is a world judgment," he said.
For his part, Powell said, he gave Graham a preview of the presentation he makes to the U.N. Security Council next Wednesday, which U.S. officials say will include new intelligence information, and buttress the administration's case that Iraq has no intention of disarming.
Powell downplayed any notion of a rift with Canada, stressing the country's strong backing for last November's Security Council Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a last chance to cooperate with U.N. inspectors.
"I think Canada is committed to the disarmament of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction," Powell said. "And, we all hope it can be done with the full support of the international community. And we will stay in close touch in the weeks ahead to make sure that we have a complete understanding of each other's views."
Powell said he will make the Feb. 5 United Nations presentation, and then begin consultations with other governments "to see what action the Security Council chooses to take."
His spokesman, Richard Boucher, said it is clear Iraq is not complying with Resolution 1441, and is actively hiding weapons. He said there was no timetable for deciding what to do next, but spoke of a "diplomatic window of a couple of weeks."
Poll: Brazilians approve
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BRASILIA, Brazil — A new poll indicates Brazilians overwhelmingly approve of their new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The survey — released Tuesday — shows that more than 78 percent approve of the former union leader and believe he will successfully lead Latin America's largest country.
Nearly 70 percent of respondents also said they believe the president will keep his campaign promises to create jobs and eliminate hunger.
The leftist president was elected in a landslide victory in October. He took office Jan. 1.
Sect member detained
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BEIJING, China — An American member of the banned Falun Gong sect has been detained here for interfering with television broadcasts. An Australian member of the group will be released Thursday after a weeklong detention.
A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said Thursday that police detained Chuck Lee, an American citizen, on charges of sabotaging television and radio broadcast systems.
The embassy spokeswoman here said police in the southern city of Guangzhou took Lee into custody on Jan. 22 and several days later transferred him to a detention center west of Shanghai.
She said a U.S. consulate official visited Lee on Tuesday, and he appeared healthy.
Falun Gong supporters say Lee is a member of their group, which has been banned here since 1999, labeled an "evil cult." Over the past two years, followers of the group have occasionally taken over state television signals to protest the ban and broadcast their spiritual beliefs.
At a news conference here Thursday, Zhang Qiyue, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Lee is suspected of cutting cable television wires, damaging public facilities, and disrupting the lives of citizens.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The popular E! Entertainment Television program "Wild on E" is currently in production in Costa Rica hot spots. The cable television show, seen around the world, highlights travel destinations and focuses on the beautiful people and tourist draws of the locale.
Wednesday night the E crew filmed a party that went on until 6 a.m. in a local cafe. Thursday night the production team was in El Pueblo capturing more Tico nightlife.
|'Frida' retains the
of 1920s México
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Starting in the Mexico of the 1920s the life and death of Frida Kalho is shown and interpreted with
In a short but intense 180 minutes, the film, now playing here, introduces the world to a Frida strong, smart and beautiful with an imagination to inspire her to draw and to paint in her surrealistic style.
Loved and admired for 25 years by the unfaithful and women-chasing Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), Frida Kalho found the way to live with her pain. She was influenced by the socialist politics aspiration of her lover and sometimes husband, Rivera, the renowned muralist.
She left clear evidence of her emotional experiences which she could not wait to fix with her brush in her paintings, immortalizing forever every step she took by leaving a portait of herself, sometimes in pain, sometimes sad, sometimes with feelings in between.
The historic Frida, who died at 47, battled physical pain all her life. She also was a lover of Leon Trosky, the Russian revolutionary who was exiled to México.
Hayek gives an unforgettable portrait of this strong, complex woman.
-Saray Ramírez Vindas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A Costa Rican-born biologist is in control of the Hope Diamond, among other treasurers, in his new capacity as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.
The Smithsonian announced Wednesday the appointment of Cristián Samper, effective March 31.
Samper, 37, was born in San José, but currently holds dual citizenship from the United States and Colombia. The press release lists the biologists qualifications as ecological work in the Andean cloud forests and work in conservation biology and environmental policy.
Samper has a doctorate in biology from Harvard University.
"We’re very fortunate to have such a gifted scientist, educator and administrator ready to lead the National Museum of Natural History at this critical time," said Lawrence Small, Smithsonian secretary. "Christián Samper brings a global perspective to the key scientific issues of the day and a wide range of experience."
The appointment of a new director comes several weeks after a report of the Smithsonian Science Commission which called for a director of the museum who can raise funds and organize a large institution.
Apart from the gem and mineral hall that houses the Hope Diamond, the museum has a dinosaur hall, live insect zoo, and the largest mounted elephant in the world.
The 45-carat Hope Diamond, once belonged to Louis XIV and vanished from the crown jewels of France when thieves looted them in 1792. The diamond’s history is shady from then until it resurfaced in the possession of Henry Phillip Hope in 1839 in England. The stone was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958 after numerous transfers of ownership.
The natural history museum was opened in 1910 in the National Mall in
Washington D.C. The 500,000 square-foot museum is only one of the Smithsonian
Institution’s national museums. In 2002 more than 6 million people visited
• Martha Alvarado • e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org •383-5594 and 294-2346
Small groups, too!
PARIS, France — A sensational trial now under way here has reopened questions about legalizing euthanasia. At issue is whether a nurse, accused of ending the lives of seven critically ill people, is a serial killer — or, as she says, mercifully answered her patients' requests to die.
More than a week into her trial, Christine Malevre remains a mystery. Did the 33-year-old French nurse kill in cold blood at least half a dozen patients, between 1997 and 1998? Or is Ms. Malevre a brave and compassionate nurse who ended the misery of seriously ill and dying people?
Euthanasia is outlawed in France, and the matter is now in the hands of a court in the suburb of Versailles, which will deliver its judgment today.
What is already clear is that Ms. Malevre's trial has reopened deep divisions here on whether euthanasia should be legalized. Edith Deyris is secretary general of the French Association for the Right to Die in Dignity, which supports legalizing euthanasia.
Mrs. Deyris says the Malevre trial exposes a common practice of clandestine euthanasia. According to her association, roughly 2,000 cases of euthanasia take place each year. But, she argues, the medical community has hushed them up.
Sociologist and pro-euthanasia activist Andre Monjardet also denounces what he calls the hypocrisy of the French medical community.
In a recent interview with Radio France, Monjardet says that euthanasia is regularly, but anonymously, practiced in hospitals. A survey done several years ago also found almost half of medical practitioners under the age of 55 have either performed euthanasia or expect to do so at some point in their career.
Unlike assisted suicide, where patients are given drugs or other means to kill themselves, in euthanasia a person actively helps to end somebody else's life. Both assisted suicide and euthanasia are currently banned here. For example, those accused of practicing euthanasia face up to 30 years in prison.
The Malevre trial is among several recent cases that have rekindled the debate on legalizing euthanasia. Earlier this month, another court handed only a two-year suspended prison sentence to a police officer, accused of killing his wife. Elie Bendayan's wife was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and he said he committed an act of love by shooting her to death.
Two other highly publicized cases occurred last month. The mother of former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a pro-euthanasia activist, committed suicide. Also in December, a 21-year-old man, who was blinded and paralyzed from a car accident, pleaded with President Jacques Chirac to be able to end his life legally.
|A former health minister in the last
socialist government, Bernard Kouchner, who is also a licensed doctor,
previously called for reopening the euthanasia debate. But the current
health minister, Dr. Jean-Francois Mattei, describes euthanasia as a bad
response to questions of suffering, solitude and abandonment.
Jean Langlois, president of the country's National Council of Doctors, says his association is against euthanasia, so long as it remains illegal.
Dr. Langlois says doctors have been trained to treat and cure the sick — not to end their lives. He says doctors have an obligation to ease the suffering and moral anguish of those dying, a treatment known as palliative care. But a big difference exists, he says, between palliative care and euthanasia.
Doctors like Isabelle Triol, who work in palliative care establishments, are generally adamantly against euthanasia.
Dr. Triol works at Maison Jeanne Garnier, a Catholic hospice in Paris. Dr. Triol, who is Protestant, said performing euthanasia amounts to denying life itself. Although a patient may be dying, she argues, he is still experiencing life with all its values. Even experts who support a debate on euthanasia here, like Dr. Kouchner, generally agree there has not been enough emphasis on palliative care.
The euthanasia debate is being played out across Europe. Belgium and the Netherlands have recently legalized euthanasia. Switzerland has legalized assisted suicide, and in Sweden the practice is not punishable.
But Britain, like France, bans both euthanasia and assisted suicide. Last April, a British woman, Diane Pretty, lost a highly publicized case before the European Court of Human Rights in which she had asked for her husband to be allowed to end her life. Mrs. Pretty, who suffered from a degenerative disease, died soon after. But another Briton recently traveled to Switzerland, so he could die by assisted suicide.
A December survey here found 88 percent of people support legalizing euthanasia under certain conditions.
Dr. Langlois also suggests his association would not be against the practice, if it became legal. But Dr. Langlois said doctors should not be forced to perform euthanasia, if they are morally against it.
For her part, Mrs. Deyris, of the Right to Die association, believes support is growing here, and elsewhere in Europe, for legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.
This month, for example, Mrs. Deyris says a Council of Europe commission concluded that euthanasia and assisted suicide questions should come up for new debate among the member states.
She described the decision as a very positive step for right-to-die campaigners.
Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.
Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.
Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.
Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.
|Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes
had about 2,400.
Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants. Associates of both men have been jailed.
A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.
Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.
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