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editor of A.M. Costa Rica
Investors left high and dry when Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho closed his loan business Oct. 14 are starting to grasp at straws.
Contributors to a discussion list Thursday even urged someone to firebomb The Tico Times because they were upset with news coverage. For both The Tico Times and A.M. Costa Rica, the e-mails urged a boycott and picket of advertisers.
The Internet discussion lists were blazing Thursday because La Nación, the Spanish-language newspaper published an interview Wednesday with the head of the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras. E-mail messages reported incorrectly that the agency had exonerated Villalobos, and the frenzy grew.
Then, Jeannette Arias, the fiscal in charge of the Oficina de Antención a la Victima reported at 7:50 a.m. that her office already had been deluged by callers wanting their investment money back. The callers had misread a sentence in an A.M. Costa Rica report.
The sentence said: "Every one of the persons who has contacted her office seems to have obtained the money they invested in a legal way, said Mrs. Arias." Callers interpreted this to mean that other people had gotten back the money they gave to Villalobos. What she meant was that investors generated the money they gave Villalobos through legal means rather than by criminal activity. A.M. Costa Rica deleted the line by 8:15 a.m.
Other investors said they are considering legal action against the superintendencia because it failed to step in an shut down the Villalobos operation for many years. They were reminded by a reporter that had the government agency stepped in earlier, investors probably would have rioted.
Other investors are promoting a story of a dark conspiracy, led by President Abel Pacheco, who is said to have moved against Villalobos because the businessman did not support the president in the most recent election.
The recent developments that border on the irrational are a sign of the heavy stress facing investors, many of whom who gave their life savings to Villalobos for the promise of 3 percent interest per month. Villalobos still is a fugitive. Missing investments may be as high as $1 billion.
Investors seem to be ignoring unfavorable news but grasping at reports of good news, even if they are not correct.
Another piece of bad news surfaced Thursday when the Investment Recovery Center posted on its discussion list a deposition made by Villalobos before a judge in the Keith Nash case. Nash, 90, is a Canadian investor owed some $1.5 million by Villalobos.
When Nash became sick in 1999 and his son came from Canada and sought to obtain the money, Villalobos filed a court action claiming that Nash was not of sound mind.
The deposition shows a person being less than candid even while testifying under oath, according to the translation of the court session.
For example, he denied he had an investment office on the second floor of Mall San Pedro. When asked if he has commercial activities related to financial consulting and as a financial and exchange broker, he said:
"It is true that I have a business office, but as a real estate agent and other activities like the purchase of invoices to be collected later, and we give advice to investors and we investigate possible businesses on which we obtain a commission."
Villalobos also denied that he sometimes sent flyers to investors in which he related the state of their accounts, the interest rate and the company’s general policies.
Nash gave Villalobos $189,000 in 1996. With
interest, the money had grown to about $1.5 million by the time of the deposition. Yet, when asked if he owed Nash money, Villalobos said that because he paid some of Nash’s medical bills, the Canadian investor might owe him money instead.
Some of the legal professionals associated with the Nash case are involved with the Investment Recovery Center.
The letter from an e-mail writer named John came from a destiny-worldwide.net account, a firm that offers offshore bank accounts. The writer said he wanted the English-language newspapers to suffer financially: "Let's see how they like being treated the way we have been." He identified himself only as "John" and declined to give his full name in a later e-mail exchange. To A.M. Costa Rica, the writer said:
"Well, you have now shown your true colors. Yesterday, there was
an important article in La Nacian, and in case you haven't heard, the
Another writer, named Jerry, urged the firebombing.
The article in La Nación was an interview with Bernardo Alfaro, the head of the agency. The subject was a private report that the agency had prepared on Villalobos last July.
Alfaro said the agency, after a seven-month investigation, could not find enough evidence against Villalobos and Ofinter S.A. To go further would have required a judge’s order. Investigators contacted investors of Villalobos, but all refused to give details because they all said they had confidence in Villalobos.
Later Wednesday, Alfaro released a statement in which he said, in part, ". . . after studying the activities of Luis Villalobos sufficient evidence was not obtained to demonstrate activities of ‘intermediación financiera.’" So his agency passed the case to the Superintendencia General de Valores, which then passed the case to the Ministerio Público where it remains today.
Curiously, it might have been the report from Alfaro’s agency that spurred Fiscal Water Espinoza Espinoza to join in a raid on the Villalobos properties July 4. That raid, done in connection with a request from Canadian police who were working on a drug and money laundering case, resulted in the seizure of many boxes of documents. These documents were unavailable to Alfaro’s agency.
Later Oswaldo Villalobos underwent arrest on the illegal intermediación financiera charge as well as a fraud count. Illegal intermediación is accepting and lending money without having official approval. Alfaro’s team had trouble showing intermediation because they could not find out what Villalobos did with the money he got from investors.
The anonymous letter writer’s message generated a spate of hate mail to A.M. Costa Rica. Discussion lists members apparently accepted the writer’s message at face value. Many live in North America and were not able to read the La Nación account for themselves. Several urged A.M. Costa Rica to steal the article and translate it for publication in English.
Villalobos had about 6,300 investors when he closed up shop Oct. 14. He claimed that he could not continue to pay interest because investigators had frozen a number of local bank accounts. however, these accounts only had about $7 million. Villalobos has never explained why he never paid his investors from foreign accounts.
Subsequent investigation revealed that far from being an independent businessman, Villalobos was related to dozens of corporations but his name never appeared on any.
His brother Oswaldo underwent arrest last week, and a judge issued an arrest order for Enrique Villalobos a week ago.
and Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Two suspects held in connection to the murder of the slain University of Kansas student Shannon Martin, have been set free in Golfito.
Ms. Martin, 23, was brutally stabbed to death in the southeastern port town May 13, 2000, while conducting six days of research for her senior year thesis. She was set to graduate a few days after her death.
Two male suspects, Luis Alberto Castro and Rafael Zumbado, were taken into preventative custody this July 21 at the request of the prosecutor. The men have not been charged but are still under investigation.
The third suspect, Katia Cruz Murillo, who was detained Nov. 21, 2001, remains in custody. She was 27 when detained. Cruz has also never been charged of any crime.
Judge Milena Acosta granted an appeal by the two male suspects’ lawyer to have them released last week, according to Fiscalia de Golfito officials.
|Under the duo’s conditional liberty,
they are not allowed to leave the country and are required to check in
with investigators every 15 days. They are also prohibited from visiting
Ms. Cruz in jail.
The Tribunal in San José has ordered that Ms. Cruz’s detainment be extended for four more months while investigations continue. Ms. Cruz’s lawyer has never appealed her detainment.
The most recent development has Golfito residents wondering if the case will be resolved. Marlene Cieri, a Chamber of Eco-Tourism staff member, says the case is still a dark cloud hanging over the southern Pacific port town. Some say that the people who hold the answers about Ms. Martin’s murder aren’t talking.
Jeanette Stauffer, the victim’s mother, has been actively involved in the investigation of her daughter’s murder and visits the town regularly.
She established the "Shannon Martin English and Technology Center," an education center that will provide members of the community with free English lessons. The center will be located in Golfito’s Costa Rican Coast Guard Academy and is scheduled to open in February.
|U.S. focusing on
relations in Americas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Successfully refocusing assistance to Colombia, working on a productive relationship with Brazil's president-elect, and advancing the hemisphere’s trade agenda are among the achievements of U.S. foreign policy toward South America in 2002, according to Michael Zarin of the State Department's policy planning staff.
Among the stated advances are successes in U.S. policy toward Colombia. Zarin said that the United States "has moved well beyond the artificial distinction between counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism" in shaping a policy that will assist the Colombian government to combat narco-terrorist groups and re-assert the control over its national territory necessary for democracy and development.
Zarin said the United States has made a concerted effort to "get off on the right foot" with the incoming administration in Brazil. He cited President George W. Bush's invitation to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazilian president-elect, to visit the White House before da Silva takes office as evidence of this effort.
The advancement of a previously stalled hemispheric trade agenda is another area where the state official said the Bush Administration achieved success in 2002.
On the Organization of American States Zarin said, "We really have worked
hard to make this a functional, meaningful organization.” He confirmed
that the Bush Administration will continue to push the organization to
do more, particularly in promoting democracy and combating corruption and
terrorism in the hemisphere.
Chavez orders military
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
CARACAS, Venezuela — Populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has ordered the military to protect the country's state-owned oil company as a four-day opposition-led strike begins to affect Venezuela's petroleum industry.
Chavez says he also has given orders to board, if necessary, a tanker that has joined the strike and refused to deliver its supplies abroad.
Addressing the nation, Chavez denounced the opposition-led strike that began Monday, calling it both a failure and an attempt at insurrection.
Chavez said his government will not tolerate actions aimed at destabilizing the country's vital petroleum industry, or its exports to its customers abroad including the United States.
He went on to say he has given orders to the armed forces to protect the oil installations of the giant state-owned oil company, known by its Spanish acronym, PDVSA.
"There is no strike in PDVSA," he said. "It has not called a strike, and for this reason, to keep it operating and secure, we have issued orders to the national guard and the army to protect the country's oil installations."
The Venezuelan leader also said he has ordered the seizure of a PDVSA oil tanker that joined the strike Wednesday, and is now in Lake Maracaibo in western Venezuela, refusing to sail and deliver its oil supplies. Chavez accused the captain of piracy, and warned he will be arrested.
Two other tankers, which are not carrying petroleum also have stopped in the lake, and are refusing to continue sailing in sympathy with the strike. Anti-Chavez executives at PDVSA also have joined the walkout.
The opposition — made up of business, labor, and political parties — called the general strike Monday to pressure Chavez to agree to an early vote on his rule. The strike has been extended day by day, as Chavez refuses to bow to their demands.
Strike organizers accuse the populist leader of driving the oil-rich
nation to ruin because of what they say are his leftist economic and social
policies. They have called for Venezuelans to stage protest actions to
show their discontent with the Chavez government.
Haiti president defiant
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
LES CAYES, Haiti — Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has rejected calls from the opposition to step down.
Speaking before supporters in this southern coastal city late Wednesday, President Aristide vowed he would not give up one day of his term that ends February 2006.
Wednesday, many private businesses were shuttered in a one-day work stoppage that followed clashes between government supporters and the opposition. Mobs of Aristide supporters and security forces clashed with anti-government demonstrators on Tuesday to prevent them from rallying in the capital and several other cities. More than 10 people were injured in the clashes.
Fernando Viera de Mello, U.N. human rights chief, has called the violence against anti-government demonstrators in Petit Goave and Port-au-Prince "unacceptable." In statements issued Wednesday, he warned Haitian officials that those responsible for attacks on protesters would be held accountable, if not by Haiti's judiciary, then by an international tribunal.
The opposition accuses the government of cracking down violently on any form of dissent. It also accuses the government of fraud in legislative elections in 2000. New parliamentary elections are planned for next year.
|Worker busts gas line
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A backhoe operator hits a high-pressure gasoline line Thursday morning, and thousands of gallons of gasoline poured into trenches and ditches. The fluid quickly ignited.
The pipe goes to a refinery of Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo. Firemen put down foam to cover the escaping gasoline. The emergency lasted much of the morning, and by 10:30 muffled explosions sounded. There were no reports of injury.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A man who liked to sleep in the Cementerio Viejo became a murder victim either late Wednesday or early Thursday in Quepos. Someone found the man who had the last name of Ramírez dead there.
Investigations said it appeared someone smashed him in the head with a rock. He was 34 and known in the town as a homeless individual.
U.S. judge rules on
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MIAMI, Fla. — A Florida judge has ruled that a Cuban plane used in a recent defection can be sold to help pay off a $27 million settlement awarded to the ex-wife of a Cuban spy.
The Russian-made Antonov-2 plane has been sitting at a Florida airport since it was flown there Nov. 11, carrying eight Cuban defectors.
Lawyers for Ana Margarita Martinez had laid claim to the plane as partial payment of the court settlement awarded to her for unknowingly marrying a Cuban intelligence agent, Juan Pablo Roque. After he fled to Cuba in February 1996, Ms. Martinez learned her husband's mission had been to infiltrate Miami's Cuban exile community.
A Florida circuit court judge ruled Wednesday that local authorities can seize the plane, worth some $40,000 and auction it off on Jan. 8. Ms. Martinez will receive the proceeds as partial payment of her settlement.
The Cuban government had demanded return of the plane and the eight
Cubans who took it to Florida.
A judge handed out hefty prison sentences Thursday to the five Costa Rican men arrested for sex crimes committed against minors.
The suspects were nabbed after a seven-month investigation conducted by Casa Alianza, in conjunction with the public prosecutor against sexual crimes and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.
The investigation was the first of its kind in Latin America, according to Casa Alianza.
Using an undercover agent, investigators infiltrated a child pornography network on the Internet known as “Asociación de Pedofiles Anónima de Costa Rica.”
The five men were detained when investigators raided a party organized by the group. Four male minors were present. The men offered the children drugs and money in exchange for performing sexual acts, according to Casa Alianza.
The men are Crisitan Araya Monge, 32, Gillio Marín Rojas, 42, Marco Antonio Vargas Carrillo, 26, Jorge Salas Bermudez, 26, and Cristian
|Morales Espinoza, 21. Araya Monge
worked for the audio/visual department in the state-run University of Costa
Rica. He is alleged to have brought children to the facility to violate
them and produce pornographic material using the school’s equipment.
Monge received the longest sentence of 58 years in jail, 30 years were for sexual crimes against minors.
Marín was a lawyer who had presented a university thesis on the
vulnerability of laws concerning child pornography on the Internet.
Salas, a computer technician and creator of an Internet page dedicated to “lovers of boys,” received a 26-year sentence. The other two suspects, Morales and Vargas, each got 16 years in prison.
The court also issued decisions regarding the civil actions filed against the men. They were ordered to pay 5 million colones (some $13,000) in damages to one of the child victims and 3 million ($8,000) for the others for the moral pain they endured.
of A.M. Costa Rica
This is an open letter to A.M. Costa Rica for today's affront. I urge any members of the group who want to organize a boycott of this rag and the Tico Times to contact me via private email. We can get at these guys and shut them down by shutting off THEIR funding. Let's see how they like being treated the way we have been. We need people to start faxing and calling ALL of the advertisers about our boycott.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica,
Well, you have now shown your true colors. Yesterday, there was an important article in La Nacian, and in case you haven't heard, the government is losing their case. The SUGEF has said emphatically that the Brother's operation was completely legal. The case instigated by Espinoza is collapsing.
The only problem that now remains is the complaints filed by the idiots who filed denuncias. So what do you do? Rather than give people the GOOD NEWS about how the government’s case is falling apart, you cynically try to keep this crisis going by running a story from a clueless bimbo in the prosecutor's office who is still trying to encourage this garbage.
I told you once before that your so-called "paper" is nothing more than a despicable yellow journalistic rag. And you have proven me right again. I will be supporting other efforts to put both you and that affront to humanity The Tico Times out of business.
In fact, if this B.S. keeps up I will sit down and call all of your advertisers and tell them that I will have their place of businesses picketed if they continue to advertise with you. They will also be informed that a boycott of their business will be organized. If you think I am joking, just try me.
Your type of slanted "journalism" is a disgrace and your "paper" is despicable.
(refused to give full name)
You can fool some people some of the time
Dear A.M. Costa Rica,
I have read with interest your editorial of Dec. 2 titled “Villalobos background was a lure to U.S. patriots.”
Might I say that a very famous American once said, “You can fool some people some of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” It’s my guess that if you were able to fool all of the people for over 20 years you have got to be one of the greatest schemers of all-time or you have to be dead-on-the-level.
I’m not saying the Costa Rican government did not have a right to investigate the Villalobos brothers, but as your article pointed out, four years is a long time to conduct an investigation. Also, the U.S. government makes many tax audits on tax payers. I have never heard of the U.S. government closing down any business and freezing its account without first proving (that’s first proving) fraud.
You mentioned terrorism is only terrorism when the other guy is doing it. There are certain fundamental facts that cannot be ignored regardless of which side is doing it. The fact is that neither side can justify killing thousands of people, innocent people, without being branded a terrorist.
You asked why it was the Canadian government that launched an investigation instead of the United States. It is my personal opinion, and that of many other informed people, that this investigation was started as a result of the Keith Nash incident. This is where Mr. Nash’s son tried unsuccessfully to get his father’s money while his father was still living. When all else failed an accusation was made to the Canadian government that something was amiss and needed to be investigated. It is also my understanding (correct me if I am wrong,) that the Canadian government has now discontinued its investigation and the U.S. government was never involved.
In regard to Enrique Villalobos’ connection with Oliver North during the Nicaraguan civil war, Mr. Villalobos and Mr. North were doing what they truly believed was the best thing that could be done for the protection of thousands of innocent people. Enrique should be considered a hero for risking his life and fortune for these people.
As for people not paying their income tax to the U.S. government, what about the $72,000 foreign income tax exemption everyone is entitled to?
Another important issue I can’t understand is why the Costa Rican government continues to shoot itself in the foot. Here are over 6,000 investors who will be writing home telling their friends and family that the Costa Rican government has frozen their funds, and they won’t be home for Christmas. They won’t be sending Christmas presents. They can’t pay their utility bills or rent, and are being forced in some cases to sell their furniture, cars or other assets just to get enough money to buy groceries. What does the government think that will do to the tourist trade or people coming to Costa Rica to retire or even the immediate result of many millions of dollars disappearing from the spending public? What happens to household help, restaurants, taxis and a host of other related items?
If the government has charges let them be prompt in making them and quick to resolve them, if they don’t, in the long run, their own people will have to pay the bill.
|Ms. Arias is wrong,
Dear A.M. Costa Rica,
I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that SUGEF determined that what Villalobos did does not constitute illegal banking (intermediación financiera ilegal).
You can read this is yesterday’s edition of La Nación. For several reasons his actions cannot be penalized in regards to this charge. So Jeannette Arias made an incorrect statement in regards to this.
Jeannette is wrong about the undated check. It is a legal document chargeable upon presentation. She is also wrong about stating that investors did not receive checks but rather photocopies. The truth is that they will not turn over the originals for many reasons. Again, there is either an error in what was communicated or Jeanette is informing incorrectly. She says all of this constitutes fraud. I differ in opinion.
An undated check is a way to avoid the expiration of this document. Costa Rican commercial codes state that checks expire four years from the date on the check itself. Let us not assume that this omission is fraud. The prosecutors should be familiar with this detail.
To date there is no proof of money laundering. The fact that some dealers deposited with Villalobos does not constitute proof nor does any of the evidence revealed to date. Poor Walter Espinoza — he is closer and closer to losing all pretexts for an accusation. Even his reasons for a search warrant were very shaky.
Fraud is out as Villalobos met his obligations until the government made this entirely impossible. Espinoza questions why the bulk of the money is hidden. If it were visible it would be frozen and definitely not available for the duration of the trial — if it comes to trial (2-3 years for a ruling and no guarantees).
Why does Don Enrique not surface? The question itself is ridiculous. Look at where cooperation landed his brother. I read that Oswaldo helped the prosecutor’s office with the codes to encrypted computers and we know he did not go into hiding, but rather presented himself freely to the authorities when notified to do so.
The two reasons given to imprison Oswaldo were flight risk and fear that he would interfere with investigations. I refute both.
Each investor that takes their case to the prosecutor’s office is helping
build a case against a man that has not been proven guilty of any charge
so far. Just a thought — this strategy will draw out the suffering and
make it even more impossible to recuperate investments.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica,
As an investor with Villalobos I needed to have access to all the information available. Today’s input from you and the way you reported what could have been good news you decided to twist or spin into something else. This might cost you some readers.
All the facts needed to be disclosed and you being aware of the spanic interpitation of La-Nacion could have been a lift to all of those like me. You chose to hide or not disclose all the facts but only what would grab the attention of readers you want to ascribe to.
Not me anymore. It’s simple — I don't need to click on your page anymore.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica,
Last night on Channel 7 news (Teletica) I was in shock to see Security Minister Rogelio Ramos down play the REPORT issued by SUGEF.
SUGEF belongs to the GOVERNMENT . . . And the Fiscalia de Narcoticos was waiting for the SUGEF report. Now that the report was not in the favor of the government’s position, that Enrique Villalobos was operating an illegal financial intermediation company, the Security Minister has the gall to "dismiss" the SUGEF as immaterial?
Then WHY did the SUGEF waste 7 months and GOD knows how much money to issue a report that was never going to be taken seriously in the FIRST PLACE?
Does the Costa Rican budget allow such luxuries? Isn’t there something else the SUGEF could be doing with its budget than rendering an official opinion that, is DISCARDED cause it does not play into the CIRCUS mounted by COSTA RICAN JUDICIAL AUTHORITIES?
This is another CLEAR case of government bias! They might as well say the Villalobos are guilty and forget a trial.
J. Duke Moseley
San Jose, Costa Rica
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