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End of a political honeymoon

Posted on June 27, 2016 in Panama

The Opinion of La Prensa's Vic
Post Views: 220

POLITICAL  HONEYMOONS   tend to be short lived once elections are over and promises have to be replaced by performance.

The “Panama Spring” following the election of Juan Carlos Varela was a time of hope that the threads of corruption that carried through successive administrations were about to be snapped.

As one after another of the high rollers in the Martinelli administration were brought under the spotlights and their blatant theft from the public coffers exposed, there was hope  that change had really arrived.

But now,  the rose colored spectacles of Panama voters are misting over as they view the tortoise like deliberations of the administration, and its turning of a deaf ear to calls from the civil groups that helped bring it to power.

The justice system is still widely believed to be riddled with corruption starting with the Supreme Court (CSJ), and trickling down to the lower echelons. The belief that the leading players in the years of infamy from 2009 to 2014, including the Great White Shark will ever pay the price for their sins is disappearing faster than a coima in the hand of a traffic cop.

The cozy relationship between the CSJ and the National Assembly continues with the seemingly implicit agreement that if you don’t bother us, we won’t bother you, and “impunity” is writ large on the blindfold of the Goddess of Justice”

Lower down the scale a credit union employee who let $5,000 stick to his fingers was sent to the La Joya hell hole for six years. The 99 (and counting) thieves would have to outlive Methuselah to serve time, matched to their rapacity.

Meanwhile the fog   of overseas corruption hangs over the administration and the assembly who, like illicit lovers, close the blinds and bolt the door when an investigator approaches

Now Varela, is being severely challenged by Panamanians following a  Dichter & Neira survey commissioned by TVN Noticias.

In May 2015  Varela, who took office in July 2014,  had a 66% approval rating  By April this year it was 46%.

He’s not been alone in receiving significant declines in performance assessments.

Some 50% of participants considered the government’s record “bad” and 46% gave it a pass..

Maybe the Canal expansion extravaganza with its self-praising speeches will restore some of the shine but spending the $4 million plus   price tag on fulfilling promises on health care and education might have done more

The honeymoon’s over and the separation is only two years away.


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Prosecutor seeks answers on $20 million tourism ad deal

Posted on June 27, 2016 in Panama, Panama

Gustavo Him
Post Views: 168

PANAMA ADMINISTRATION Prosecutor Rigoberto González has asked for explanations from Tourism Authority Manager Gustavo Him about the $20 million hiring of an advertising company to promote the country abroad.

In a note sent June 10, the prosecutor asked Him, among other things, to explain whether a competitive bid was carried out and what criteria were used.

In April, the National Tourism Council announced that it had authorized Him to initiate the process of selecting the advertising agency that would be responsible for the international campaign.

In his response, Him said the authority “has not begun any procurement procedure,” and that it will not start until the council provides additional instructions.

He said the contract will be awarded to a foreign firm, as the goal is attracting visitors from other countries.


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13 arrests in “tainted” prison system

Posted on August 11, 2016 in Panama

Milton Henriquez and Kenia Porcell
Post Views: 132

THE  THIRD major corruption network within  a year in  Panama’s justice and custom’s systems has been disrupted .

The latest was   in the prison system which Interior Minister Milton Henriquez, described as “tainted and corrupt,”

He was speaking on Wednesday, August 10   after announcing the dismantling of a network in the country’s prisons, used to alter the  court judgments of falsifying release tickets and manipulate the transfer of prisoners.

Henriquez, along with Attorney General, Kenia Porcell; and the assistant AG , Marcelino Aguilar; detailed searches and operations that led to the arrest of 13 people allegedly linked to the network: four civilians, four staff, three former officials of the Ministry of Government and two prisoners.

Porcell said the band was engaged in collecting money for illegal acts and to swindle the families of prisoners.

Aguilar  said there will y be more arrests, as the  techniques granting conditional freedoms to detainees are investigated.

“Operation Confinement”  was executed by the Public Ministry, the Directorate of Judicial Investigation (DIJ) and the Directorate General of the Prison System of the Ministry of Government (MINGOB).

The network entered the database of the Directorate General of Prisons to alter and reduce   sentences of prisoners.

Arrests were made in s La Joya, and La Joyita prisons, the Women’s Rehabilitation Center Orillac Cecilia Chiari, Nueva Esperanza prison in Colon and in some homes and offices of people allegedly linked to the network.

Porcell said the gang could have been operating  for several years.

The main motive was to collect money for falsifying probations and the transfer of detainees to other prisons.

They charged money to reduce penalties for inmates by penetrating the prison database..

Porcell said there were reports of relatives who were scammed by paying up to $70,000 for the parole of an inmate.

“This is an organized network that trafficked in human rights ” said Porcell.

Aguilar said that the  detainees are 10 women and 3 men. Those arrested included a bank employee  whose personal account contained  $ 80,000. Among former arrested were some who had resigned and others were dismissed from the penitentiary system.


According to the prosecutor, investigations are now in a second phase and more arrests will be made in the coming hours, depending on the interrogations of  those already detained.

Aguilar added that an audit of authorized  probations will  be done because they believe that the network has operated for many years.

The investigation  began in December 2015 following a complaint to the Director General of the Prison System, of irregularities that occurred between October and November 2015.

Minister Henriquez added that a comprehensive assessment of all procedures and protocols is underway to identify and correct any weaknesses of the processes that could compromise the management of the prison system.

Porcell recalled that this is the third operation in which officials of the Public Ministry dismantled corruption networks  in the public sector involved. those discovered in the judiciary and the National Customs Authority.

In November  2015, the Deputy Attorney General arrested 16 people, including officials of the judiciary and individuals allegedly linked to a network that earned money in exchange for granting freedoms to people with processes in the Second Superior Criminal  Court Criminal and criminal courts circuit.

In  April an organization operating in the National Customs Authority  was dismantled and, according to the investigation, it was dedicated to bringing  goods into the country through  Tocumen airport without due registration in exchange for sums of money.

At least 23 officials of the institution, seven individuals and one former official were arrested.


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Canal director faces bribery reports

Posted on August 15, 2016 in Panama

Lourdes Castillo
Post Views: 222

THE PUBLIC Ministry  has opened an investigation of a member of the board directors of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), and a Panama businessmen,  for alleged bribery.

Under the legal  spotlight are Lourdes Castillo appointed to the ACP board by ex-president Ricardo Mrtinelli, and Samuel Israel. They have admitted to being the signatory of companies that are being investigated by the Ministry but have denied categorically that payments made to the companies in which they appear as signatories were a product of bribes.


One of the alleged “bribe” checks

The bribes were allegedly paid through the company Pele System Inc. in exchange for a contract from the Panama Maritime Authority under the previous government to provide inspection services for vessels according to a La Prensa investigation,

“They have found no evidence that this was a bribe,” said Castillo, who  and threatened to sue La Prensa. She was appointed to the ACO Board in 2013

Meanwhile, Israel said that Pele System made the payments in exchange for professional services of his company for software installation.

The third anti-corruption prosecutor has said they are the beneficiaries of three societies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands that received payments.

Castillo appeared as a signatory of Cliverstone Advisory Ltd, a company that received $2.5 million

Israel appeared as a signatory of the societies Liberty Release Co., which received $259,000 in payments, and First Administration Ltd., which allegedly received $333,000.

The name of a prominent Panamenista deputy, has also surfaced during the investigation. He is  accused by Castillo of threatening to denounce her


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Erring deputies dodging justice

Posted on August 16, 2016 in Panama

Carlos Afu
Post Views: 64

THE SUPREME COURT’S  shelving of a case against a CD Deputy  for election irregularities has sectors of civil society have expressing  fears that pending criminal cases against deputies for the use of state funds for political purposes in the 2014 elections will go unpunished.

The Supreme Court arcgived  a case against CD Deputy Carlos Afu without considering the fact that the Tribunal Electoral(TE)  had completed an administrative process in the matter.

Asked about the decision of the court, TE Magistrate Eduardo Valdés Escoffery said that a full review of the case will be made.

Former TE Magistrate Guillermo Marquez said “it is obvious that the court is refusing responsibility for investigations.”

Annette Planells, of the Independent Movement (Movin), said that “surely these cases will remain unpunished.”

In some of the cases, election results that were thrown out by the TE due to the use of state resources by candidates did not result in any criminal investigations against the candidates.

In addition to Afu, other deputies similarly charged are Mariela Vega, Hector Aparicio, Miguel Fanovich, Noriel Salerno and Manuel Cohen.


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Ex-security minister and redirected millions

Posted on August 31, 2016 in Panama

Jose-Raul-Mulino under the spotlight
Post Views: 135

THE FORMER combative Minister of Public Security José Raúl Mulino,  is already under investigation for his role in the Finmeccanica helicopter deal which allegedly involved a $25 million dollar bribe.

While he was in preventive detention, his CD supporters  demonstrated on the streets chanting “political persecution”  the mantra,  for any former administration official facing corruption charges.

Now Mulino is back under the microscope.

In May 2013, the security Ministry, under his management prepared four direct purchase orders for $856,000 each in favor of True Marketing, S.A. for the purchase of devices that allowed the police to verify information about citizens during traffic stops.

They were widely known as Pele police, and were in the end declared illegal by the courts.

The breakup of the contract, which totaled $3.4 million, into four parts meant that it did not have to be approved by the Cabinet Council.

True Marketing worked with the company Pele System, Inc. for the supply of the devices. Eventually, Pele would only receive one of the $856,000 payments, while the other three would go to True Marketing.

Asked about the deal, Mulino said that he does not remembered anything about it.

True Marketing is one of the firms being investigated as part of the probe into alleged bribes paid by the German company SAP in exchange for a contract from Social Security in 2010.

Now the company is also being investigated in the alleged irregularities in the security contract.

The president of True Marketing is Heraclio Carmelo Bustamante.

He could not be reached for comment reports La Prensa.

The company was founded in 2004, and the other co-founder is listed in public records as Carlos Bissot.

The company offers technology services.

Bissot and Bustamante have both been linked to the corruption investigation into the SAP contract.


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Corruption raids net 6 cops, narco boss

Posted on September 5, 2016 in Panama

Cops move in on Vista Hermosa
Post Views: 202

THE CRACKDOWN  on corruption in Panama’s security organizations and among politicians continued over the weekend, netting senior cops and a top drug trafficker.

At least five police officers and a leader of a major drug trafficking network were captured in operations carried out  by the newly created anti-corruption agency GIA and the Public Ministry.

Those arrested included a deputy commissioner, a second lieutenant and a captain.

They come on top of action on Friday against Commissioner Gregorio Alvarado for alleged links to gang members.

He has been detained and removed from his post..

Wednesday, in Colón, police arrested Francisco Salaza, a lieutenant in the aeronaval service Senan. Also arrested was PRD politician Jaramillo Hidalgo.

Over the weekend police also arrested Héctor Moisés Murillo a Panamanian who has been identified as the leader of a major drug smuggling ring.

President Juan Carlos Varela said he created the GIA to specifically address the problem of corruption within politics and security agencies linked  to assisting criminal activity, specifically drug trafficking.


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Criminal Complaint filed against Judge

A criminal complaint has been filed against Judge María de Lourdes Estrada de Villar, who was one of the judges who supported the decision to dismiss money laundering charges against 14 associates of former President Ricardo Martinelli.

The complaint was filed Sunday at the Public Prosecutor's Office by the law firm Vega & Alvarez, who asked for an investigation into Estrada for the corruption and offenses against public administration.

The firm also plans to file a complaint against the other judge that signed the decision, *Luis Mario Carrasco, but must do so before the National Assembly since he is an alternate to Supreme Court Justice Harry Díaz.


* Pretty sure the last sentence is incorrect. They should be going after Wilfredo Sáenz, Carrasco was the dissenting magistrate.

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Twitter threat to corruption investigator

Posted on December 6, 2016 in Panama

Tania Sterling
Post Views: 68

AN ANTI-CORRUPTION prosecutor and her family Monday have been threatened on social media.

The threat to First Anti­Corruption Prosecutor Tania Sterling, came via a Twitter message to her brother television communicator and actor Roland Sterling.

Sterling said the message ­ which was later erased ­ stated: “Someday your family will cry for the wickedness your sister sows in using prosecution for revenge.”

The author of the tweet is a user who identifies himself as raulmallorca00.

Rolando Sterling responded to the user and copied the message to the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office.

The prosecutor is investigating a number of cases related to the former administration and to ex-president Ricardo Martinelli and members of his inner circle including irregularities in the National Assistance Program (PAN) and, more recently,irregularities in a loan granted by Caja de Ahorros to the consortium constructing the unfinished Amador Convention Center


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Judge arrested in corruption probe

Posted on December 8, 2016 in Panama

Ayu Prado initiated complaint
Post Views: 267

AN UNNAMED Panama judge  has been arrested following a covert operation directed by Anti-Corruption Prosecutor  Zuleika Moore.

A corruption complaint  was presented  to Supreme Court President Jose Ayu Prado on Wednesday. December 8.

The complaint was based on a covert operation directed by Moore.

After the judge was arrested, prosecutors conducted a search of the judge’s office. The judge has not been named.

The investigation was initiated by Ayu Prado in August when he discussed publicly corruption in the judiciary. He said that the investigation was focused on the fact that the judge was demanding bribes to carry out his functions.


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16 for trial in bank loan scandal

Posted on December 8, 2016 in Panama

he building where the controversial loan was approved.
Post Views: 197

A REQUEST  FOR 16 people to go to trial over  a controversial loan granted by the State owned Caja de Ahorros has been made by  First Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Tania Sterling.

The  loan was to the contractor in charge of the Amador Convention Center project.

In the request to a  judge  Sterling has charged Riccardo Francolini Arosemena, Ricardo Arango Pezet, Ricardo Chanis Correa, Anastacio Ruiz De Leon and Fernando Correa Jolly, former bank board members, with offenses against public administration.

Also charged are former bank officials Jayson Pastor and Rodrigo Arosemena Pino.

Francolini and Pastor are preventively detained at the headquarters of the national police in Ancón.

The Prosecutor also seeks corruption charges against Felipe Virzi, Jairzon Lemer Hurtado, Manuel Antonio Morales Diez, Tobías Gustavo Garrido Nicolu, Ricardo “Ricki” Calvo Latorraca, Claudio Poma Murialdo and Mauricio Ortiz Quesada, all linked to the consortium HPC-Contratos-P & V, which received the loan.

Sterling also seeks to prosecute West Valdés and Ivan Clare, former directors of the Financial Pacific (FP) brokerage,

Meanwhile, the prosecutor has  issued a provisional stay of proceedings in favor of Elyonor Samudio Avila, Voldy Wedemeyer Ortega, Eric Quintero Ysern, Luis Jafet Díaz, Luisa Sánchez de De la Hoy and Rolando López, all former bank officials.

In the request, the prosecutor said that Francolini acted as “judge and jury” in the management of the loan, and failed to defend the interests of the bank.

Martinelli links
A request for a variation of Francolini’s detenrion order has been rejected by a judge.

Ex-president Ricardo Martinelli’s name has surfaced at several stages of the investigation, and a number of the key accused were member of his innercircle. They and others have fled the country and face Interpol red alerts.


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Businessman linked to ex-Minister in laundering probe

Posted on December 20, 2016 in Panama

Post Views: 162

FOTIS LYMBEROPULOSIS,  the latest businessman insider  to face interrogation linked to corruption  during the Ricardo Martinelli regime, appeared  before  the Seventh Anti-Corruption Prosecutor  on Tuesday Dec. 20 for  alleged  money laundering.

The inquiry comes after the investigation by the Public Ministry of  former Minister of Social Development (Mides), Guillermo Ferrufino, for alleged  unjustified enrichment.

An audit carried out on  March 12,  2015 by The Comptroller General  revealed  that Ferrufino accumulated resources that totaled $ 1.1 million, while recording expenses of $ 3.4 million.

That is, his expenses exceeded his income by almost $2.3 million.

Ferrufino directed the Mides between 2009 and 2014, during the administration of Ricardo Martinelli.

Lymberopulosis, was  also closely linked to  Gabriel Btesh, a member of the Martinelli inner circle.

Btesh has reportedly  fled the country.


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Central America and the Perception of Corruption

The public sector felt to be the most corrupt is still Nicaragua (transparency level 26 on a scale from 0 to 100), followed by Guatemala (28), Honduras (30), El Salvador (36), Panama (38) and Costa Rica (58).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

In 2016 the perception of corruption in public institutions increased in all Central American countries except Guatemala, where it remained as in 2015 and in Costa Rica, where it fell.

In its annual report, "Perception of Corruption Index 2016" Transparency International highlights the case known as "the Panama Papers" and the revelation of the corruption network operating in the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. According to the organization, these cases turned out to be "bad news that became good news" because they highlighted improved communication skills and coordination among government organizations in the region in their fight against corruption.

The report indicates that in 2015, Guatemala's position (28) in the global index, which ranges from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (very low levels of perceived corruption), remained unchanged.

Costa Rica improved from 55 to 58, according to the index, while Panama deteriorated from 39 in 2015 to 38 in 2016.  Honduras also worsened, dropping from 31 to 30, along with Nicaragua, which fell from 27 to 26. El Salvador was at 36, below position 39 where it stood in 2015.


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Ex-Panama soccer czar  denied  bail

Ariel Alvarado

 A REQUEST for bail for Ariel Alvarado,  the former president of the Panamanian Soccer  Federation (Fepafut)  has been rejected by The Deputy Special Judge of the Seventeenth Criminal Circuit.

Alvarado is in detention while under investigation for money laundering and the alleged receipt  of bribes  related to (FIFA)the  International Football Association.

The decision of the court, by Baloisa Marquínez, is dated May 30.

Alvarado has been detained since April 21.

His wife Rocío de Los Ángeles de Alvarado and lawyers Luis Carlos Vidal and Susana Vidal Zachrisson, also inamed in the file, have a precautionary measure preventing their departure from the country combined with regular reporting to the prosecution.



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Mexican ex-governor arrested at Tocumen


WHILE INTERPOL seems to be wearing blinkers when it comes to looking for Panamanians on its red alert list in the USA,  the body is keeping its eyes open in Panama.

The latest to be caught in  its net  is The former governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Roberto Borge.

He was captured in Panama during a skip and a hop visit en route  to Paris, said the Attorney General’s Office on Monday  July 5.

Borge, governor of Quintana Roo between 2011 and 2016 as a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was arrested with support from Panama police.

Interpol in Panama reported that the ex-governor was in a hotel in the capital and that he planned to take  a flight bound for Paris.

In response, “an operation was implemented and the arrest was made at Tocumen International Airport,”  said a spokesman

Borge is one of many Mexican ex-governors involved in problems with justice



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Former SPI chief and gun importer jailed in weapons case

by Eric Jackson


Martinelli’s SPI: practicing marksmanship and racism with Israeli advisers. But was the SPI also selling guns on the side? Photo by the Presidencia.

Jaime Trujillo, whose path to command the Institutional Protection Service (SPI, by its Spanish initials) went through heading the security guards for Ricardo Martinelli’s Super 99 grocery store chain, is behind bars. On June 28 he and arms importer Ricaurte “Pochi” Grajales were ordered held in preventive detention and at last report were being held at the DIJ lockup in Ancon.

It’s part of a long-running investigation that had both of them brought in for questioning several times earlier, along with several dozen current or former law enforcment personnel. It has been reported in La Estrella that an undisclosed number of other people have been charged. The gist of at least part of the case is an allegation that notwithstanding a ban since 2010 on the importation of weapons for anyone but police agencies, Grajales, the owner of Armas y Municiones Nacional (Armunal), the exclusive importer of Glock pistols, had been privately selling weapons to individual law enforcement officers.

From the time that Juan Carlos Varela assumed the presidency in mid-2014 it has been noticed that many arms imported for the SPI were not in that agency’s possession. Earlier this year it was reported in Ricardo Martinelli’s media that 23 Glock pistols that were supposedly imported for the SPI had been confiscated from criminal gangs. The insinuation, not outright alleged, was that those weapons went missing on Varela’s watch. But now it seems that arms privately sold to law enforcement officers were resold to gangsters.

The SPI includes the Presidential Guards but also includes an espionage outfit. Under the Martinelli administration it was trained by veterans of Israel’s Shin Bet. One of Martinelli’s national security directors, Gustavo Pérez, is serving a six-year term for possession of a machine gun and several other illegal or unregistered weapons.

While the arrests have been the occasion for complaints by a few gun enthusiasts, Panama has nothing comparable to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, nor does it have political organizations like the National Rifle Association that are largely financed by gun manufacturers and sellers. We do get some of the North American gun culture through movies and television shows and there are Panamanians who believe that a firearm in the household makes its members safer. By and large, however, Panamanian law and popular culture favor fewer rather than more weapons in circulation.



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Facing corruption probe off to study human rights


A FORMER  Martinelli government official charged with allegedly using public funds to run a call center promoting the CD Party during the 2014 election, has been granted permission  to leave the country to  participate in a Human Rights course.

The Thirteenth Criminal Court  has granted an authorization to Luis Eduardo Camacho González, former  Vice-Minister of  Commerce who is accused of crime against the public administration, to the detriment of the Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Industry and the National Assembly.

Camacho González, son of Ricardo Martinelli spokesman Luis Eduardo Camacho,  is prohibited from leaving Panama while under investigation.

The ex-official will go to San José, Costa Rica, to participate in an international certification course in strategic human rights litigation.

In a  July 3 ruling, Judge Alina Hubiedo admitted hi departure from the country from August 21 to 25

2017, which was extended until the 26th of that month. Because of airline  seat availability

The Second Anti-Corruption Prosecutor has requested an appeal.



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Lottery boss summoned to National Assembly

Efraín Medina,

THE DIRECTOR of Panama’s National Charity Lottery has been summoned to appear before  the National Assembly to answer questions about how the money is raised and distributed.

Lawmakers want  Efraín Medina, to appear in  person  to answer a questionnaire they have signed.

They want him to make known the budget and how the body distributes funds for social work and what are the processes that people must follow to get help.

Finally, they want to know about audits that have been and details of the income and expenses of the institution.



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