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A group of professionals has set up the Investment Recovery Center to protect investors who have funds with Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.
The new entity has about 10 consultants, lawyers and accountants, and a statement from the center said investors must move immediately to establish a claim to the money their have invested with the Costa Rican businessman.
The organization suggests that investors immediately file a demand with the civil court to validate their claim judicially. And investors should file a claim with the Judicial Investigating Organization which is conducting a probe of the Villalobos assets that were frozen by a court July 4, they said.
"Taking these two steps to protect investors interests does not denounce or make judgment of Mr. Villalobos other than to say he is indebted to us, which he has always freely acknowledged," said the group’s statement.
"Although we will vigoriously pursue our claims, we will do so in a manner which promotes resolution, reconciliation and settlement," the group said.
The appearance of the Recovery Center will not be welcomed by some investors. An amalgamation of three investor groups is planning to meet Sunday at 10 a.m.in the Aurola Holiday Inn downtown. A healthy percentage of the groups opposes legal action because they feel that such action will continue to freeze funds that now may be released Nov. 26.
Many feel that Villalobos is being persecuted by the Costa Rican government
that raided his place of business in the San Pedro Mall July 4.
Villalobos blamed the judicial freeze of some 50 of his bank accounts as the reason he could no longer do business, so he closed his office Oct. 14.
Two separate investigations seem to be directed at Villalobos. His brother Oswaldo operated Ofinter S.A. adjacent to the San Pedro offices and at several places around the Central Valley. Canadian officials believe that Ofinter transferred some $380,000 in laundered money for six Canadians who were arrersted there in July.
Investigators have never fully explained why Villalobos was raided in the first place except that Ofinter and his office are adjacent. The feeze on
funds has been extended once, but now investors hope that judicial authorities will exonerate Villalobos and lift the freeze Nov. 16.
However, there is uncertainly about exactly how much of Villalobos’ money remains in the frozen accounts in Costa Rica. Other accounts are frozen in the United States.
Some investors are known to have hired their own lawyers both here and in the United States. Others are afraid to take any action that might be seen as an insult to Villalobos, a man they say is their friend and an upstanding businessman.
Charles Gohmann is executive director of the Investment Recovery Center. He said the center has established an extensive Web page that helps investors understand the complexities of Costa Rican courts. The page also lists the many steps investors must take to have the courts recognize the debt.
Villalobos provided investors with undated personal checks as evidence of the debt instead of more traditional promissory notes. It is this document that must be validated by a judge in a complex legal proceeding. Some of the lawyers in the center have had experience with this, Gohmann noted.
Investors outside Costa Rica must follow another complex procedure simply to designate the center as their representative here.
The center plans to set up a discussion group to supplement the Web page, the announcement said. The group said it plans to file legal claims before the Nov. 26 freeze is lifted because recovery of funds in Costa Rica is a first-come, first-served situation. That action would seem to stop any distribution of funds.
On other fronts, groups in Grecia and San José have formed 6 a.m. prayer groups to seek divine help for the embattled Villalobos, a devote Christian.
In Quepos on the Pacific Coast, owners of the Hard Croc Cafe/Club Crocodile and Chili a Go-Go have proclaimed Friday to be "brotherly love hour and dinner." That’s a play on the informal name for the investment firm, the Brothers. The restaurant owners promise board games, oldies music and a chance for the many investors in that area to talk about the financial crisis. Residents there are urging that the idea be developed in other places, too.
Parents who can’t stand their unruly youngsters frequently opt to make the problem disappear.
These parents at the end of their ropes can send their unruly offspring to behavioral modification centers. The parents even can hire escorts to remove unwilling youngsters from their homes. The youth are snatched away to numerous facilities all over the world where they are to be rehabilitated, and parents are left without headaches.
Costa Rica has several campgrounds where seemingly incorrigible boys and girls, mostly from the United States, are housed. The Academy at Dundee Ranch is one of them.
The ranch is in Cascajal between Orotina and Caldera. Its Web site boasts a beautiful nature preserve where the shipped-in youngsters can learn about bio-diversity.
Joe Atkin, director of the ranch, said the facility has housed around 200 youngsters in the last 14 months. He said most are there because they are rebellious, manipulative or involved in marijuana.
Atkin said that Costa Rica is a great place for the program, because it is affordable, and parents can visit their children while vacationing in the tropics. About 40 percent of the parents come to see the ranch when the kids are placed there, he said.
Parents who don’t want come to Costa Rica can hire escorts to take the troublesome youngster off their hands.
|At least one parent was not pleased
with the rehabilitation compound. One woman came down from the United
States a week ago to remove her two children from the program, according
to Atkin, who said the problem was a domestic one.
He said the woman came down with her boyfriend and bodyguards to insure the children were returned, said Atkin.
Atkin called her "intimidating" gesture unnecessary, because the school releases children to their parents all the time.
He said there is nothing violent about the schools program that would turn parents off. The school’s punishment policy consists of "time out essay discipline" where the students are forced to write.
He said Dundee is not a boot camp. The children primarily attend accredited classes and have portions of their days dedicated to "emotional video time."
The Academy at Dundee Ranch is a member of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools. The Utah-based association is not without past controversies.
The Salt Lake Tribune has reported that a couple of members of the association, schools like Dundee, have taken heat for alleged misconduct.
In one camp. the director was charged with sexually abusing one of the girls in his care. In another school, a woman claimed her sons were abducted against her will.
|Jubilee party raises
$10,000 for charity
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The British Embassy here will donate about $10,000 raised in a charity event to two local organizations. The event was held for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in August.
The embassy said the party, which was held in the garden of the residence of the British ambassador to Costa Rica, drew 1,000 people. The amount raised from the event is thought to be in the region of $10,000, said Georgina Butler, the ambassador.
The money will be donated to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, said
Ms. Butler. The official handing over of the checks is scheduled for next
Thursday at 4 p.m. at the British Embassy in Edificio Colón.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Costa Rican coin and paper money collectors will meet Saturday at 10 a.m. in the vestibule of the Museos del Banco Central under Plaza de la Cultura downtown.
The group is meeting to trade money, bills and coffee vouchers. The last Saturday of the month is the regular meeting time for the collectors.
Admission is free for all, and information is available at 243-4202 and 243-4206.
US pick up Latin
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Border Patrol agents rescued 51undocumented migrants from Latin America who had been locked in a tractor-trailer in Laredo, Texas.
A statement released Wednesday by the Border Patrol said 34 of the migrants were from Mexico, 16 were from El Salvador, and one was from Honduras. No one was injured.
The migrants were rescued Monday. The driver of the trailer, a 39-year-old U.S. citizen, who admitted to being paid $2,000 to drive through a border checkpoint at Laredo, was arrested on federal smuggling charges and is currently in federal custody pending court proceedings.
In interviews with agents, the migrants said they had arranged to be smuggled into the United States and transported to San Antonio, Texas by an unidentified smuggler, whom they agreed to pay up to $1,000 each once they secured employment.
James Ziglar, commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service, which oversees the Border Patrol, called the incident "typical
of the callous disregard smugglers have for their human cargo," adding:
"This had the potential to be a tremendous tragedy. These individuals are
extremely fortunate that Border Patrol agents were able to rescue them
before anyone was injured."
Mountain areas lack vegetation, says report
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report on agricultural intensification in mountain areas says that more than half of Africa's mountain regions have been converted to farming or grazing, as well as a large percentage of the mountain regions in South America.
According to a release Wednesday, the report by the United Nations Environment Program, entitled "Mountain Watch," says that the gradual conversion of the world's mountain regions to crop or grazing land is leading to loss of forests and other land cover, which can accelerate erosion and soil loss as well as have impacts on wildlife and water resources.
Compiled as a contribution to the U.N.-declared International Year of the Mountains, the report is the first map-based assessment of environmental change in mountain areas and the implications for sustainable development.
It will be presented to heads of state and ministers attending the Global Mountain Summit from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic.
Mark Collins, director of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Center, said the report graphically illustrates seven causes of environmental change in mountains: natural hazards, fire, climate change, infrastructure growth, violent human conflict, change in land cover and agricultural intensification.
He said that when maps of ecosystem and indicator species groups were
overlaid with information about the various pressures in mountain regions
"the result was stunning. We could clearly see which areas are suffering
most . . . so for the first time we have a global snapshot of the threats
and vulnerability of different mountain regions."
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Residents living along this country’s southwestern coast are bracing for Hurricane Kenna, a dangerous Category Five storm expected to make landfall Friday.
The Pacific hurricane was upgraded Thursday as its wind speeds grew to 159 mph. A storm this size is considered capable of catastrophic damage.
Hurricane warnings are in effect from Mazatlan southward to the port city of La Fortuna, including Islas Marias. At last report, Kenna was 226 miles southwest of Cabo Corrientes, moving north-northeast at 11 mph.
As the storm bore down on Mexico, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.
International news sources say Mexican troops and civil defense workers have begun alerting coastal communities and preparing for possible evacuations. The storm is expected to miss the southern tip of the country's Baja California Peninsula, where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum is taking place.
Officials say they have made plans for a change of venue if the storm changes course and threatens the peninsula.
Forecasters say rainfall accumulations of nearly 12 inches can be expected near Kenna's path. They also warn that storm surges of up to 10 feet are possible.
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez VindasMaría Rosa Chavez, municipal coordinator, and María Eugenia Chavarria, her assistant, work at the Avenida Principal fountain.
Battle against dengue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The fight against dengue is being carried to some unusual extremes.
Even the public fountain on the Avenida Principal boulevard is getting a treatment with a bleach-type fluid to eliminate any possibility that mosquitoes will be successful in laying their eggs there.,
The is part of the fight taking place all over the country. Meanwhile, the Ministerio de Salud says that some 10,760 cases of the mosquito-born disease have been registered in the country up to Oct. 19.
The big news this year is that about 3,000 of those cases appeared in the Central Valley, an area that usually has few victims.
The main weapon against the disease is to eliminate the breeding spot of the mosquitoes. This work has been given a national priority.
Suspected Al Qaeda
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
NEW YORK CITY — The U.S.-based organization Global Relief Foundation has been added to the United Nations list of organizations and individuals subject to sanctions.
The Security Council Sanctions Committee set up to monitor sanctions against al Qaeda and Taliban operatives placed the organization on its list during its meeting Tuesday.
Based in Bridgeview, Illinois, Global Relief Foundation is also known as Fondation Secours Mondial and has offices in several other countries including France, Belgium, Albania, Pakistan, Turkey, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
The sanctions imposed under resolution 1267 require nations to freeze the group's financial resources and ensure they are not used by the group or passed on to the Taliban or Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization.
The resolution also requires nations to prevent the supply or sale of
weapons to the organization and prevent its members from entering or traveling
through their territories.
|Lawsuits will only
tie up the money
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
To me the lawsuits will only tie up investors money and allow the government to keep the money frozen until all lawsuits are heard, thus tying up the investments for years. I would hope the lawsuits are held until after the Nov. 26th deadline.
The only winners, as usual, will be the attorneys.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
The Villalobos Bros have a long and excellent track record (about 30 years) of living up to their end of the contract and in a timely fashion. Neither of these traits is typical in Costa Rica! They have earned their respect among tough critics from abroad. If the business operators were really as crooked as some think, there would be problems at both ends that would have affected investors long ago.
The same cannot be said for the justice system in Costa Rica . . . In fact a not uncommon comment heard among expatriate conversations was to avoid court cases in Costa Rica like the plague and if necessary opt for "street justice". Whatever that means . . .
Of course, account activity can be monitored without freezing accounts. It is not just overkill, it is flat out wrong. Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?" It reminds me of justice in other Latin countries such as Mexico where a tourist reported finding a deceased person in bushes at the edge of a park, then was immediately arrested and had to prove he did not do it!!!
The victims here are international investors and Villalobos is the channel who is apparently under attack as well.
They will comb through his records to find out how to duplicate his success. But that will fail because the secret ingredient of integrity for 30 years will be missing.
How Villalobos Bros. make their money was reported in various newspapers many years ago. It is not illegal and no one is forced to borrow at high rates to finance household appliances, homes, cars and the like. (An even higher way back when interest rates in the US were at 18%.)
I believe something called "factoring" is also involved. If it were an oligarchy of banks practicing usury, that might be another story (choice). No doubt the various state-run (i.e. incompetent and mismanaged) banks are happy to kill the competition and grab more market share for themselves. Those are the very same banks where many are forced to line up for hours to negotiate simple transactions.
Because this is a high profile international situation due to the thousands of foreign investors involved, the real people on trial here are the bureaucrats, bodega-rats and poli-Ticos. Costa Rica very much wants international trade agreements such as NAFTA — yet here they are robbing international investors yet again. Who wants to do business with crooks? No one in their right mind!! In fact, the best candidates with a good track record internationally in Costa Rica appear to be the Villalobos Bros. Is it Villalobos versus the real villains?
(I almost invested with the Bros., and actually would have earned back the principle had I done so. But I had an intense distrust of legal remedies in Costa Rica should problems have arisen.)
Formerly near Heredia
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I’m an American from Florida. My heart goes out to all the people who have invested money with the Brothers and I hope that some commonsense will prevail and that the freeze on the Villalobos accounts will be lifted shortly so that things can get back to normal.
I would like the leaders of Costa Rica to consider the economic impact the freeze is having on the Costa Rican economy. With many thousands of North Americans having suddenly been cut off, not only from their interest payments, but from their capital, tourism, hotels, shops restaurants, bars, rental payments, the purchase of real-estate, and all other places that rely on not only US dollars, but also European, Canadian and other foreign currency.
The Costa Rican government needs to look at the big picture!!! That in bending to pressure, they are about to totally destroy thousands of jobs and investments in their own economy. All the people who have invested money with the Brothers need to join together along with any patrons that receive business from these investors.
Everyone needs to send a letter to President Abel Pacheco at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Costa Rican Institute of Tourism at: www.tourism-costarica.com.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I completely agree with Mr. J. Duke Moseley. Someone . . . lawyers for Luis . . . representative for Luis . . . tell us what is the best thing to do!!
I support Mr. Villalobos totally. Lawyers, put this accusation in its proper perspective . . . Why can a person's total assets be frozen over a measly $350,000? It is ridiculous.
For me personally, I will calmly wait until this is resolved and hope the Costa Rican government is not able to steal Mr. Villalobos' money . . . they have already stated their plans to rescue the economy with this money!!!
I urge everyone to please stay calm . . . don’t be too hasty in taking action against someone who has helped you so very much over the years. Be patient.
|Reader says we're chicken
Dear A.M Costa Rica:
Where's your coverage on the continuing Brothers situation? Did someone say "boo" and scared you into silence? The Titanic is sinking and you talk about flower shows?
Sandy Joe Molina
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Today, you have an article about a security guard shooting a burglar breaking into a restaurant. He was hired to protect, and the police arrested the guard.
With the number of thieveries and burglaries this country has, the guard should be given a medal. But instead he was arrested for not having the right permits for carrying a gun.
I am more concerned with why the government did not arrest the thief, and forget the permits. In fact, if all homeowners and business owners had guns, permitted or not, the crime rate would go down and the country would stop almost all the stealing that goes on there, unless stealing is an innate characteristic of Ticos, and is "just accepted as a way of life."
To me, Costa Rica is proving itself to be nothing more than just another "Banana Republic." The country is full of antiquated laws and is backward in many respects.
Take the most recent raid on the Villalobos. This man should also be given a medal for what he has done for the country's economy and for the many individuals he has helped.
Instead, the government attempts to close him down. Is anyone so naive as to think that drug money is not laundered through every bank in the country? Why not close down the banks and freeze their money?
This man is a devout Christian and has done nothing wrong. Any charge against Villalobos would be one that the government "trumps up" against him "out of thin air" because of some vendetta that a person in the government, or someone with the government, has against him.
Come on, give me a break, we all know of the corruption in the government. A friend of mine has a son serving prison time in Costa Rica for possession of drugs. Being in prison did not stop him from getting drugs. What hypocrisy!
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I speak on behalf of myself and two Canadian investment companies, of which all declare and pay income tax to the Canadian government from returns paid by an independent group headed by Enrique Villalobos.
It is my opinion that it is not wrong for governments to cooperate in weeding out crime and with 9/11 this has certainly raised the bar. It appears, however, that rather than inform the alleged recipients of the alleged drug money in a cooperative spirit, the Canadian authorities, and, inescapably, the American authorities decided that it could be possibly even more productive for tax, security and many other reasons, that the exchange house would be pre-selected as the group holding the proverbial hot potato! Where else was this money parked along the way?
In one way, this could be considered a manipulated sting while an America entrapment would no doubt become a strong argument.
I think it's important to make the point, that the supposed good guys are sometimes so keen to catch the supposed bad guys that they hurt a lot of innocent people and reputations in the process.
It is not plausible to believe that Costa Rican, American and Canadian intelligence groups would not have been alerted to wrong doing at some point during the last 20-30 years of the brothers activities. Suspicion's based on the high returns alone are idiotic.
Simply go to your local currency exchange house with $25 and change it into another currency and then change it back. Count what is left. If one could earn that fee everyday, all day, paying out 36% annually is not rocket science. Any knowledgeable finance person will tell you the money business can be very good.
In conclusion, it is my sincerest hope that the alleged bad money situation will be specifically dealt with and all the accounts will be unfrozen Nov. 26th. I believe this problem was unique, limited and driven by 9/11.
I believe business will resume healthier than ever, because of the due diligence provided, as a result of this unfortunate investigation, is as good as it gets.
I do not believe the Costa Rican government should be tricked into becoming tax collectors for foreign governments. Perhaps under tax treaty agreements and current Costa Rican tax reform, Costa Rica could benefit from having such a highly respected and successful operation that draws in capital from around the world.
I am more than certain investors are in search of an operation run by people who know what a handshake really means versus what corporate America has recently showed them.
Group meets to pray for Villalobos, investors
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Every morning at 6:00 a.m. a group of us meet and fervently pray that God will grant Enrique Villalobos comfort and wisdom in this crisis. We also pray for the people that find themselves in dire circumstances.
Because our good Lord knows every detail in this situation, we are convinced that He will bring about a speedy solution. We are also convinced that Costa Rica is a good country with good people in positions of authority.
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