List of security proposals has some big omissions

The legislature is studying the agenda of bills sent over by Casa Presidencial. The proposals are heavy with new taxes, but none seems to address the problems most expats consider the most important.

President Laura Chinchilla’s security program is to tax corporations, casinos and games of chance. Many expats have said they would prefer changes in the penal code that mandate a 20-year sentence for armed robbery and a similar sentence for possession of a firearm during a crime.

Ms. Chinchilla’s new taxes would be used to hire more policemen.

There are some other areas that frequently cause major problems for expats here. None is being addressed this legislative season.

One problem is the way individuals involved in court actions are prevented from leaving the country. A judge can issue an order the individual will not find out about until he or she arrives at the airport. A recent case reported by the Spanish-language press was of a man prevented from leaving the country to Panamá based on an ancient filing that was long out of date. The man had no idea the order existed or he would have made an effort to have it voided.

A basic concept of western justice is that the accused must be able to confront the charges placed against him. Frequently those ordered against leaving the country are legitimate, as in child support cases. But sometimes they are part of a scheme by lawyers to put pressure on individuals they are victimizing. In many cases the subject of the order finds out about it only at the airport or land border crossing.

Most travelers make a large investment in air tickets and other expenses relating to an out-of-country trip.

Of course experienced criminals slip out of the country all the time through the nation’s porous borders.

Other expats have trouble with baseless law suits and criminal fillings.

Here as in most countries anyone can file a lawsuit against anyone else, if they can find a lawyer to handle it. But in most countries the lawyer shares responsibility with the client if the case is clearly fake. And usually a judge can throw out a frivolous suit at the early stages.

In Costa Rica individuals can file private criminal cases as well as civil ones. Frequently the private cases are for various allegations of crimes against honor. A.M. Costa Rica and its employees were named in one such case brought by Mark Boswell, his wife and corporation.

Boswell, who has operated under the name of Rex Freeman was operating a foreign exchange company and a real estate firm. His offices in Escazú were raided Oct. 30, 2007. A.M. Costa Rica reported the events Nov. 9 of that year based on interviews with judicial agents in the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

At the time Boswell was living and operating in Panamá, and he appointed an Escazú lawyer here to request unsuccessfully that A.M. Costa Rica editors eliminate the new story about the raid from its Web site. Then the lawyer filed a private defamation criminal action alleging that the raid did not take place and that the newspaper reporters never spoke to judicial agents.

The case dragged on through the courts even though the newspaper’s lawyer quickly presented a copy of an arrest warrant issued for Boswell as well as a copy of an alert warning investors about his company, Trade Exchange S.A., issued by the Superintendencia General de Valores. The newspaper and its lawyer assembled documents supporting every statement in the news story. Eventually the case was dismissed on a technicality before a full trial.

Still, the newspaper faced significant legal costs based on allegations from a man in Panamá sought by investigators here channeled through a local lawyer. Boswell also sued unsuccessfully the editor of The Panamá News for a story on his activities there.

There was at least a factual basis to the Boswell suit. There had been a news story. But in several cases expats have complained that opposing lawyers have filed criminal cases just to delay a civil case. One expat, involved in a squatting case, said that the opposing lawyer accused the expat’s lawyer of forging documents. Typically civil cases are halted when a related criminal case is heard. There appears to be no factual basis to this criminal case, and it is considered just a strategic move.

Another expat complained that lawyers filed fake cases against him simply as a way to extort money. There does not seem to be any penalty for doing so, although reason would suggest prison and loss of a lawyer license as a penalty.

The squatting case points up another deficiency in Costa Rica law, that is the protection of the innocent third party. A person who purchases stolen property unaware of the theft usually gets to keep the merchandise or the property. Naturally many such third-party sales are really contrived to steal the property in the first place. Frequently street people are used as the initial purchaser.

If the concept of the innocent third party allows groups of crooks to steal land with fake documents, the whole concept of squatting is protected by law. After occupying land for a few months, squatters acquire rights and generally receive strong protection in the courts, particularly if the real owner of the land is a foreigner.

None of these security issues appear to be contained in the measures submitted to lawmakers.

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