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Monday, September 23 2019 @ 03:26 am EDT

Corruption Case Against the PECC Shut Down

Corruption Just when it was starting to look like Panama was actually taking a turn for the better with regards to corruption, an important case involving power-players in the Panama's ruling PRD political party, the party of current president Martin Torrijos and ex-President Ernesto Balladares, was recently shut down. The Second Superior Court closed the case against regarding the PECC (Ports Engineering and Consultans Corp.) scandal, a case which involved directly Hugo Torrijos, Ernesto Balladares (indirectly) and a cast of others, charged with doing more than $15 million dollars in "damages against the state." The case was basically tossed out. To make a long story as short as possible, this case goes back to the Balladares administration when everything in the country was being privatized. At the time, there was a big push to take as much as possible out of the hands of the government and transfer those functions into the hands of private businesses and corporations.

There was an organization (now defunct) called the National Port Authority (APN). Their primary job was to be responsible for all ship navigation support in Panama's national waters. These are the guys who place and maintain channel markers, bouys, light houses, radio navigation equipment, etc.

In 1997 the APN gave an "administrative concession" to the Ports Engineering and Consultans Corp. (PECC), a move which basically privatized about 90% of the APN's responsibilities. They took over the APN's offices and office equipment, markers, bouys, lighthouses, as well as all ground and water transportation (cars and boats). What's more, the company was authorized to keep 90% of all income generated for the service of assistance to navigation, funds which had gone to the APN prior to this deal.

There are a lot of "eyebrow raising" details in this case, mostly related to allegations of payoffs and kickbacks to the Balledares administration, offshore bank accounts, and the activities of people closely associated with Ernesto Balladares. This case was opened in 2003 under the administration of Mireya Moscoso. The decision by the Second Superior Court basically closed the case.

Oh, and the guy who was the director of the APN in 1997 when this deal went down? Hugo Torrijos...

But, the case has been closed, and the only hope is that the Anti-Corruption DA plans to put a request before the supreme court to keep the case alive.

If Panama is EVER going to get rid of it's reputation as a corruption riddeled backwater, then they simply can not be happy with just busting mid-level immigraion officials, low level judges, and administrative people. How can Panama's judicial system have any integrity at all if cases involving powerful politicians are simply tossed out?

How can this administration effectively go after Mireya Moscoso and all of the corruption that administration was responsible for without taking an honest look at this case?

Apparently, the "hand on the helm" is happy with just trying to stop corruption within his own administration, and will leave past presidents alone. Maybe someone will do the same thing for him someday.

Two words; Zak Hernandez. About that case, then-President Ernesto Perez Balladares responded that Washington should mind its own business. "Very frankly," he says, "I didn't like the result of the O.J. Simpson trial either." I bet he's happier with this decision.

For details on the Zak Hernandez trial, see:

This PECC case is relatively small chips compared to the amounts of money that are going to be required to expand the Panama Canal. One of the main points of advice routinely given to Panama from the IMF, World Bank, the US State Department, and just about everywhere else is to clean up corruption and to increase transparency.

So, if Panama is willing to sell out justice for a few million dollars, imagine what a few billion will get you.

This story, as it stands right now, is really, really bad news for Panama. Maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Court (which is still controlled by Judges appointed by Mireya Moscoso) and the anti-corrpution prosecutor's office will be able to keep this case alive and kicking.
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