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Keith Woolford

Waked Up - Waked Family Corruption and Money Laundering Investigations / Prosecutions; Affects Many Businesses, including SoHo Mall, Felix Maduro Companies, Grupo Editorial El Siglo & La Estrella (GESE), etc.

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Colombian businessman to remain in custody in Miami until money-laundering trial

February 19, 2017 10:33 AM

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article133705059.html

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For the second time since being extradited in January, Colombian-Panamanian businessman Nidal Waked Hatum has failed to persuade a federal judge in Miami to free him on bond so he can be with members of his family while his money laundering case unfolds.

In a ruling last week, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola denied Waked Hatum's request to revoke the previous order by a duty magistrate judge who rejected the defendant's original request for bail.

Scola's decision means that Waked Hatum will have to remain in custody until his trial, which has tentatively been scheduled to begin Oct. 30.

Frank Tamen, the U.S. prosecutor assigned to the case, told the court that the government needs 10 days to present its case against Waked Hatum, while the defendant's lawyer, Norman Moscowitz, said he would need two to three weeks to present his evidence to the jury.

Waked Hatum, 45, has pleaded not guilty to charges of "knowingly and willfully" engaging in financial and monetary transactions designed to conceal drug-trafficking proceeds. The duty magistrate at the time, John O'Sullivan, denied Waked Hatum's bond request.

Born in Colombia, Waked Hatum, lived in Panama where he had businesses and citizenship, as well as having a passport from Spain and residence in Canada. Waked Hatum’s multiple passports and apparent access to money swayed both O'Sullivan and later Scola to deny release on bond.

Tamen, the prosecutor, repeated these reasons in a court document for Scola's consideration at last week's hearing on the second bond request.

“To begin with,” Tamen wrote in his filing, “it should be noted that the defendant is an alien who holds citizenship in three foreign countries and residency in a fourth, but who has no ties to the United States. His wife and children are similarly citizens of foreign countries, and his wife has been denied admission into the United States. Such factors create an obvious incentive to flee.”

Tamen also noted in his filing that federal immigration authorities have issued a “detainer” on Waked Hatum.

“If he were to be released from FDC Miami [the federal detention center downtown] he would immediately be transferred to immigration custody at the Krome Detention Center,” Tamen wrote.

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Who Wants to Buy a Bank in Panama?

In disagreement with the only proposal presented so far, depositors of the intervened Balboa Bank & Trust are preparing their own offer to acquire the bank.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Although last October it was reported that eleven banking groups and two foreigners had expressed their interest in acquiring Balboa Bank & Trust, formerly part of the Waked companies, now it seems that only one group remains interested, whose proposal may not be to the liking of the depositors of Balboa Bank.

Prensa.com reports that "...According to sources linked to the process, the offer (by the depositors) must be accompanied by a business plan that is feasible from a financial and operational point of view, in order to be approved by the Panamanian regulator.  In addition, the plan "... must be robust enough to gain indirect approval from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)."

"... The first purchase offer, led by a bank that operates in the commercial zone, does not include all of the entity's assets. This means that it is insufficient to cover shareholders 'equity and the totality of customers' deposits."

Balboa Bank & Trust was taken over in the middle of last year by the Superintendency of Banks of Panama, after having been included in the US Treasury Department's Clinton List.

 

http://www.centralamericadata.com/en/article/main/Who_Wants_to_Buy_a_Bank_in_Panama

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Soho Mall bought by Mexican interests

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SOHO MALL, on Calle 50, once the thriving flagship  of the Abdul Waked family  business empire until it was hit with allegations of links to money laundering and drug trafficking has been sold.

 The buyers are two Mexican business groups:  Cinépolis, an international theater operator with a presence across Panama and in the mall. The other is a shopping center operator.

The transaction was estimated at $350 million reports La Prensa.

The mall had been in the hands of banking creditors, seeking to recover loans .

 Soho Mall was included in May 2016 on the Clinton list of the  U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control, which identifies companies and individuals allegedly linked to money laundering from drug trafficking.

The US Treasury Department has granted a series of licenses that allowed  certain operations of the complex, but the flow of customers dried up  and many businesses closed in the last year, and visitors to the movie theatre walked through a ghost mall that once flaunted high end retail stores  and  restaurants.

 A tour of the facility showed that there were 25 businesses still open, down from 68 a year ago says La Prensa.

  Business owners are banking on a rebound in business.

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/soho-mall-bought-mexican-interests

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Soho storm reveals resilience

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A new future for problem plagued mall?

Hoyporhoy La Prensa, June 7

ONCE AGAIN, the Panamanian economy demonstrates its resilience and ability to weather storms.

The sale of Soho Mall to Mexican investors confirms the confidence they have in the growth of our country.

This result was the result of a joint effort of banks operating in the local arena and the authorities of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, who launched a race against the clock to face a situation without parallel in Panama, generating options that no other country had previously achieved.

Now a chapter is closed. Its  lessons must be understood and widely studied

A country like ours, whose economy depends largely on services, always receives foreign investment with open arms . It is of great importance to maintain the highest standards of trust in the judicial system, the business sector and citizen security. Panama is on  the path of integrity and transparency. That is the clearest way to protect our economy from local shocks and  international scandals.

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/soho-storm-reveals-resilience

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Waked launches $165 million lawsuit

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\ABDUL WAKED, accused by US Treasury authorities of  heading  a criminal group linked to Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, is launching a court case claiming $165 Million for the loss of the Felix B Maduro retail store chain.

He lost it after his  group of companies were placed on the Clinton list which prohibits US citizens or companies from doing business with those on the list.

In the suit, Waked’s defense requires $ 165 million for damages caused to the businessman by the sale of Felix B. Maduro and other companies in this group.

The Felix B. Maduro group companies were included in the ‘Clinton List’ by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury.

The sale was made through a trust that was created after the state appointed an interministerial commission to oversee the process.

The team of defenders of Waked considers that the Panamanian State is responsible ‘jointly’ for the actions or omissions that generated the results of the sale of the group.

So far, despite formal applications, the National Bank of Panama or any other state institution has not informed Waked of the way the shares of Felix B. Maduro’s companies were sold; The amount or conditions in which the transaction was completed through the trust that is administered by the National Bank of Panama is not known either.

According to the lawyers, there are a number of legal and constitutional violations committed by state officials, and that is what they are trying to demonstrate in the appeal.

The lawyer states in the document presented that in this case, without any legal or civil case in the Panamanian territory against the companies of Waked, the Panamanian State, through the Executive and the National Bank of Panama, who appeared as ‘fiduciary’ , Proceeded with the lack of protection of the right to private property enshrined in the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama.

All this occurred through the pressure and intimidation exercised for the transfer of the assets to third parties, under the pretext of safeguarding labor security, but overlooking legal certainty, the right to private property and lacking the guarantees and rights Fundamentals of entrepreneur Abdul Waked.

The lawsuit establishes that all this happened violating constitutional norms and putting Panamanian law, impositions and the approval of a foreign entity that has no interference in the national territory.

In view of all the facts described, lawyers insist that the State is responsible for the actions or omissions incurred by both the National Bank of Panama and the people who acted in the process of selling Felix B. Maduro and the group companies .

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/waked-launches-165-million-lawsuit

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Panama’s oldest newspaper under threat fires 49

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The remaining staff carry the load and live in hope

THE PUBLISHING group that produces Panama’s oldest newspaper La  Estrella de Panama has been forced to fire  20 percent of its work force.

The president of the Grupo Editorial El Siglo & La Estrella (GESE), Eduardo Quirós, announced, on Tuesday, August 1  the dismissal of  49  staff members, The group has faced a financial crisis since May 2016, when the US Treasury Department included the principal shareholder Abdul Waked on the  ‘Clinton List’. for alleged ties to drug smuggling and money laundering organizations,

American citizens and businesses are prohibited from dealing with any company on the list.

Panama’s Soho Mall and the Felix B Maduro chain of department stores, which were part of the Waked family conglomerate of over 60 businesses were put  into trust and finally sold, and the group’s duty-free operations at Tocumen International Airport were not renewed

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La Estrella began as The Panama Star published by a trio of Americans waiting for a ship to take them to San Francisco during the 1849 Gold Rush.

Recorded history
Since then, in English, then in English and Spanish, and,  at one period with French added,  making it the world’s only tri-lingual newspaper,   and with name changes that include The Star and Herald, whose building still stands in Casco Viejo,  it has recorded all the major events in Panama’s history including the building of the  world;s first transcontinental railway, the French attempt at constructing a  canal, a major earthquake that affected Casco Viejo and Colon, Panama’s independence from Columbia ,  the opening of the canal in 2014, the military dictatorship, the building of The Bridge of the Americas, the student massacre that led  to the Torrijos-Carter  agreement,   the 1989  US invasion,  the transfer of the canal to Panama in 2000 and the expansion of the Canal locks completed last year

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The Panama Star was resuscitated as an  English supplement to La Estrella in  2007, and ran until September 2009. When it closed due to poor advertising support. Its editor, David Young launched Newsroom Panama which now has some 4,000-page visits a day.

The decision of the United States  affects the plurality of information in Panama, warn the guilds that make up the National Council of Journalism

The association has asked the government of Juan Carlos Varela to exhaust the instances to avoid the closure of the two newspapers.

Following the US decision, the group’s income has been affected and additional measures will be taken, Quirós said.

The magazines Mia and Portada have been suspended said Quirós  “Following these measures, we entered a critical stage of operational and financial sustainability of the group,” added Quiros, who thanked advertisers, readers and the general public for the support received during these months.

The National Council of Journalism, in a statement, lamented the difficult situation of GESE and reiterates the request to the Government to exhaust all existing instances to prevent the closure of the two newspapers.

Panama Declaration
Seven ex-presidents trade union leaders, civil groups,  business associations and thousand of citizens have   ‘Declaration for Panama’, a document that questions US interference in the country and warns of the impact on freedom of expression with the possible closure of the newspapers.

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/panamas-oldest-newspaper-threat-fires-49

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Five Panama newspapers risk closure

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Roberto Rock

PANAMA  could be on the edge of losing five of its daily newspapers because of “administrative and judicial cases” involving two publishing groups.

The “potential closure” of the newspapers “would compromise press and freedoms of expression as diversity and plurality of information is  a key condition for democratic health,”  says a statement from the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA ) which recently sent a delegation to Panama.

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Abdul Waked

GESE, owned by Abdul Waked publishes El Siglo and  La Estrella de Panama, the country’s oldest newspaper founded in 1849.

Waked is on the  US Treasury’s “Clinton list” for alleged ties to money laundering and drug trafficking. American citizens and businesses are prohibited from doing business with any company on the list. Waked’s inclusion has led to the sale of two of the family’s major businesses and to its upcoming departure from  Tocumen International Airport’s  duty-free zone.

The newspapers Panamá América, Crítica and Día a Dia.   Are owned by EPASA  which is under criminal investigation in Panama over allegations that the company was acquired with public funds.

Panama’s  Attorney General, Kenia Porcell, informed the IAPA that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether the acquisition of the publisher in 2010, carried out through persons related to former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), diverted funds from the state.

Roberto Rock, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press who led the delegation, said that the “US administrative measures and the judicial measures in Panama involving the two publishing groups makes it difficult for them to publish their journals.”

President  Juan Carlos Varela told the delegation that, in the case of GESE, “his Government has made diplomatic efforts to grant the necessary licenses to the media,” so that “the labor source is not affected”  but  added  that the Panamanian government “can do little about an extraterritorial issue.”

On  EPASA, Varela said that it is the “judges who must assess if corruption was committed and if  money from the public treasury has been used for  the purchase.”

The findings of the IAPA mission will be debated at the organization’s assembly to in Salt Lake City (Utah, USA) at the end of October

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/five-panama-newspapers-risk-closure

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In the interest of freedom of the press, the U.S. needs to free up the GESE publishing group, imo.

This would allow Panamanian prosecutors to go after the other group, EPASA, Martinelli's mouthpiece, which was apparently purchased with laundered money obtained by theft from the state through over-billing by TCT.

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Staff payment guaranteed if Panama media group closes

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SEPARATION payments of the 250 employees of Grupo Editorial El Siglo and La Estrella (GESE)  will be guaranteed if they close.

The statement  came  from Minister of Labor and Social Development (Mitradel) Luis Ernesto Carles  on Friday, October 6

“The most important thing is to be able to guarantee his work benefits,” Carles said, long after President Juan Carlos Varela promised to preserve GESE’s jobs says a La Estrella report.

The head of the Mitradel said that there is a lot of expectation that the license to the editorial group will be extended. He added that “it is an administrative decision of the US whether or not it extends.” The US Treasury placed the media group on the US “Clinton list” after alleging its owner was head of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization.

John Feeley the US ambassador to Panama said: “The dice are rolled and it only depends on the captain of the ship,”  It is a shame that the captain of the ship, [owner Abdul Waked] rather than be pragmatic, does not give way.” Reports La Estrella.

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/staff-payment-guaranteed-panama-media-group-closes

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Nidal Waked pleads guilty to “laundering”

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PANAMA businessman Nidal Waked Hatum, a prominent player in the Waked family conglomerate, on the Clinton list as a drug smuggling and money laundering organization, has pleaded guilty to money laundering  and dodged a prosecution call for a 50-year sentence.

Waked was  arrested in May 2016 in Bogota (Colombia) and extradited last January to Miami.

The agreement was initialed on  Thursday, October 19, by Waked, his lawyers and Miami prosecutors Frank H. Tamen and Walter Norkin.

The document was presented to Federal Court Judge Robert Scola of the Southern District of Florida, at a hearing held in the early afternoon of Thursday Oct. 19.

The ruling has not yet been determined by Judge Scola, although the agreement states that the accused acknowledges that the judge can impose a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, followed by a supervised period of probation of up to five years.

“In addition to a period of imprisonment and supervised release, the court may impose a fine of up to $ 250,000 or double the amount of criminally derived property involved in the transaction, “said the document.

Waked also agrees to deliver and identify any goods  a product of the wrongful act, inside and.

outside the United States and agree to waive his right to appeal the judgment determined by the judge.

The facts acknowledged by Waked would have occurred between the years 2000 and 2009, and include transactions between banks in Miami and Panama.

In the indictment submitted to the Court on March 24, 2015, prosecutors requested 50 years in prison for Waked: 20 for two counts of conspiracy to launder money and 30 for a charge of bank fraud. The “indictment” was sealed until May 5, 2016.

That day, Waked was detained at El Dorado airport in Bogota, Colombia, in an operation by the US  Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

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Abdul Waked

On the same day, the US Treasury Department includedWaked, his brothers, his uncle Abdul Waked and his companies on the Clinton List of activities linked to money laundering and drug trafficking.

Nidal Waked was detained at La Picota prison until  January when he was extradited to Miami. On January 25, he pleaded not guilty at a hearing before Judge Scola.

In Panama the Waked empire has crumbled with the forced sale of Soho Mall, the Felix B Maduro department stores. And the closure of airport duty-free operations. The future of the Waked -owned newspapers. La Estrella and El Siglo, is under a cloud as they remain on the Clinton List, which prohibits American citizens and corporations from dealing with them.

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/nidal-waked-pleads-guilty-laundering

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"bank fraud" is a pretty general term. It will be interesting to learn the details of the crime that allowed a foreign country to bring down a business empire which included a respected media group.

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Financial Restrictions on GESE Editorial Group Lifted

Following the transfer by Abdul Waked of Gese's majority shareholding to Fundación Publicando Historia, the Editorial Group's access restrictions to the United States financial system have been lifted.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

From a statement by the US ambassador in Panama:

I and my Embassy colleagues in Panama congratulate all parties involved in the successful effort to reestablish unfettered access to markets and the financial system of the United States on behalf of the newspapers of the La Estrella de Panama and El Siglo Editorial Group (GESE).

This is a momentous achievement that reinforces the critical importance of the freedom of the press and the plurality of media outlets in a democratic society such as Panama’s.

We applaud Eduardo Quirós, President of GESE, for his unrelenting and valiant leadership in securing a viable path forward for these venerable newspapers.  As well, we salute the employees of GESE for their perseverance in upholding their journalistic commitment to Panama during trying times.

Finally, we commend and express our support for the members of the Fundación Publicando Historia, who interceded to preserve Panama’s national heritage and protect its open and democratic future. As a result of the irrevocable transfer of 51 percent of the shares of Abdul Wakedfrom Grupo Cedro Panama, S.A., and Warner Lake Corp. on October 18, 2017, the Fundacion is now the controlling beneficiary and owner of GESE newspapers.  The newspapers are no longer blocked under the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)’s 50 Percent Rule. All prior prohibitions on dealings by U.S. citizens and businesses with these newspapers no longer apply.

Effective immediately, the U.S. Embassy intends to renew its subscriptions to GESE newspapers.

I have no doubt that I and my American colleagues will read critical comments in future editions of GESE publications regarding U.S. policy related to Panama and more broadly.  That is both healthy and to be expected.  Panamanians deserve nothing less than a well-informed dialogue of issues and ideas.  As Thomas Jefferson, the first U.S. Secretary of State and the Third President of my country once famously said:

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Congratulations again to the workers and journalists of GESE, the Fundacion Publicando Historia, and all Panamanians who will benefit from their journalistic mission to inform.

The 50 Percent Rule states that entities owned 50 percent or more by a blocked person are also considered blocked regardless of whether said entities appear on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List).  Neither of the newspapers La Estrella or El Siglo appeared on the SDN List; however, both were blocked due to the fact that they were 50 percent or more owned by a person on the SDN List.

https://www.centralamericadata.com/en/article/main/Block_Lifted_on_GESE_Editorial_Group

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Money launderer gets Colon praise and 27 months

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Nidal Waked, praised for charity work
Post Views: 215
After pleading guilty to conspiracy to launder  drug money in Florida and Panama, a Panamanian businessman for whom prosecutors had originally asked for a 50-year sentence, got  27 months and  three years supervised release

The sentence on Nidal Waked.47 was announced on Monday, Dec. 18 December in a hearing before Judge Robert Scola, of the Court of the Southern District of Florida, is less even than that previously requested by his defense.

The judge acknowledged the time that Waked was imprisoned in, Bogotá, where he was arrested on May 4, 2016, by agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Scola called a hearing on March 8 to review the assets and money, proceeds of crime, which Waked must return to the US government.

On October 19, Waked pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder  money between 2000 and  2009, the  product of drug trafficking Originally, the prosecution requested up to 50 years in prison -20 for laundering money and 30 for bank fraud-, so the agreement agreed already represents a “significant benefit” for the accused said the judge.

In his confession, Waked acknowledged that the judge could impose a sentence of up to 10 years But in a brief that his lawyers sent to the Court on December 14, the

defense appealed to the suffering that the process has caused to Waked and his family, from his

detention in Colombia, on May 4, 2016, by agents of the DEA. Also that he is an immigrant who has made great contributions to the province of Colon, where an avenue even bears his name- and they sent photographs of his wife and children, including with deputy Yanibel Ábrego, current president of the National Assembly. His wife and three children – all minors – also wrote notes to the judge. Representatives of foundations and churches followed suit

The prosecution replied that the situation of Waked and his family is similar to that of countless detainees, “and is the direct result of his decision to participate in criminal activities criminals for a prolonged period of time. ”

The prosecution also noted that the social work developed by Waked in Colón should not be valued by the judge. “Given its extraordinary wealth [the family was a distributor for Centro and

South America and the Caribbean brands such as Maytag, Black & Decker and Samsung], there are no signs that his charitable contributions were so great as to represent a sacrifice on his part,” said the prosecutors  in a brief presented on December 15, reports La Prensa

They agreed to recognize the time Waked remained in Bogota’s Pillory prison -from May 2016 to January 2017- before being extradited to Miami, but did not consider that the supposed “bad” conditions of the  prison should be a factor in

Decreasing the sentence. They also recalled that almost half of the time he stayed in La Picota, was thanks to the appeal filed in Colombian courts, to prevent his delivery to the United States.

To strengthen its request, the defense – which alleged that his client has lost up to 70 pounds and in Colombia he shared a cell with a man convicted of raping 60 women- quoted as an example that the judge William Hoeveler subtracted 20 years to the sentence of the ex-General Manuel Antonio Noriega, for having remained nine years in solitary confinement.

 

http://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama/money-launderer-gets-colon-praise-27-months

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