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Saturday, August 23 2014 @ 11:21 AM EDT

Demetrio ‘Jimmy’ Papadimitriu Resigned - Links To Juan Hombrón Land Scandal

Politics
Demetrio 'Jimmy' Papadimitriu - Panama's Minister of the Presidency
Demetrio 'Jimmy' Papadimitriu - Panama's Minister of the Presidency
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - The Minister of the Presidency - Demetrio ‘Jimmy’ Papadimitriu - has resigned from the Executive Cabinet Council. For at least the past four years Papadimitriu has been one of President Ricardo Martinelli's closest and most trusted advisers. He was one of a very small select group who constantly had unrestricted access to President Martinelli - Papadimitriu "had Martinelli's ear."

Martinelli entrusted Papadimitriu with vast responsibilities as the Minister of the Presidency, and the press nicknamed him the "Super Minister." One of his primary responsibilities was the implementation of the Metro Bus system and the removal of the old and dangerous "Diablo Rojo" (Red Devil) buses from the streets of Panama.

Papadimitriu's decision to resign came as a complete surprise - literally no one anticipated his departure from Martinelli's Executive Cabinet Council. This morning everyone woke up to the news with surprise, and now the Panamanian press is spending the morning pondering the ramifications of this unanticipated turn of events. (more)

Papadimitriu came into the spotlight as Martinelli's campaign manager during the run-up to the May 2009 general national elections in Panama. Many believed he was the primary architect of the strategy who helped build the message of campaign promises delivered during Martinelli's most important speeches. Papadimitriu's plan resulted in a resounding electoral victory for Martinelli - who achieved 60% of the vote - beating his closest rival by almost 2-1.

However one of Martinelli's primary campaign promises was that his staff would be as free as possible from corruption. During his inauguration speech Martinelli famously told his staff members "Se puede meter la pata, pero no el mano" (You can stick you foot in your mouth, but not your hand in the cookie jar.) And unfortunately for him, Jimmy Papadimitriu became embroiled in the Juan Hombrón land scandal.

It's a relatively convoluted scandal - but in the end it turns out Papadimitriu's parents were behind the purchase of the land. These lands were formerly "Rights of Possession" property. The newly created National Land Authority (ANATI) - in one of the very first official acts of this brand new agency - granted title to 54 hectares of beachfront property in Juan Hombrón.

The person who signed those documents was the former Director of Land Titling Anabelle Villamonte. Prior to working for the government of Panama, Anabelle Villamonte was the personal lawyer for the Papadimitriu family, and she was the one who - while still working in a personal capacity - did the paperwork to segregate the lots and set the whole deal up. Once the ANATI was created Papadimitriu got her appointed to the key post of "Director of Land Titling." And of course, Anabelle Villamonte faithfully did her duty as expected and granted land titles for the 14 parcels of land (which she herself had set up), and the people who were going to benefit greatly from this, to the tune of millions and millions of dollars, was Jimmy Papadimitriu's parents.

All of these details came to the light of day in December 2011. There was an investigation and a trial. Anabelle Villamonte was found innocent of all charges. But, the entire Juan Hombrón land scandal remained sitting in the middle of the room, like a big, fat, stinking pile of crap that no one could figure out how to make disappear.

Yesterday Ricardo Martinelli did something about it. He issued Executive Order Number 425 - which ordered the expropriation of the 54 hectares of land in Juan Hombrón, returning the land to the State of Panama, stripping the 14 owners of any title or claim. And the Executive Order specifically said "there will be no right of indemnification" because of this act. And, Martinelli ordered the Public Registry to inscribe the fourteen parcels of land in question under the name of the Nation. This Executive Order was written and signed yesterday, Thursday, 12 July 2012, and it also was immediately published in the Official Gazette (if you want to read it, you can download the pdf file by clicking this link and then scroll down to page 7.)

Interestingly, a common theme repeats in this Executive Order. Martinelli says; "It is the fundamental duty of the State to guarantee that the people can live in peace, harmony, and social tranquility, as a fundamental basis of democratic coexistence."

Recently Ricardo Martinelli has been pulling back from many different types of conflict in the political arena. A few weeks ago Martinelli tried to appoint three new judges to the Fifth Chamber of the Supreme Court. The political opposition - PRD, Panameñistas, and "civil society" groups - protested strongly. Eventually Martinelli decided to withdraw the nominations, and now the Supreme Court has submitted a proposal to kill the entire Fifth Chamber concept, once and for all. It's dead, and it's not going to come back to life any time soon. It was a bad idea in the first place - and Martinelli's team cited a need for "peace and harmony" when they justified and talked about their pulling back from this plan.

There was also a violent reaction to Martinelli's plan to sell some of the state owned shares in the electrical and telecommunications companies, acquired when the former IHRE and INTEL agencies were privatized back in the late 90's. Once again, Martinelli decided to avoid conflict, gently step back away from their plans, and abandon the idea of selling those shares. This created a $400 million dollar deficit in the 2012 budget (create by the Panameñista and former Minister of Economy and Finance Alberto Vallarino). In talking about their change in plans, the Martinelli team talked about the need for "peace and harmony" and a desire to avoid conflict.

Just this week the newly elected President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez - one of Martinelli's staunchest supporters - decided to abandon another controversial plan. They had intended to reform Panama's Electoral Code in time for the 2014 elections. However they were able to read the writing on the wall and they saw how this would become another point of contention, so Galvez announced that they were returning the proposal to the committee level, and they were not going to go through with their formerly announced plans. At the press conference, Sergio Galvez once again cited a need for "peace and harmony" and a desire to avoid conflict.

And then yesterday Martinelli signed Executive Order 425 - which basically killed the entire Juan Hombrón deal with a fatal shot to the head. There will be political and legal repercussions of course, as a result of this decision. Almost immediately the talking heads hit the television screens, saying that according to the Constitution of Panama there has to be some sort of indemnification if the state expropriates land from a private individual. So in the end I suspect this case will make it to the Supreme Court through one channel or the other. And I also suspect they will decide the case in favor the the way Martinelli wants it, so don't waste your money on lawyers.

It also remains to be seen what will become of the money that changed hands for the purchase of the land. The state first granted Rights of Possession to fourteen "fishermen" who supposedly had lived in the area for many years. Then thanks to the skillful manipulations and intervention of Anabelle Villamonte, the 54 hectares were divided up and those fourteen people were immediately granted title to the land. They quickly turned around and sold it to Jimmy Papadimitriu's parents. In fact it now seems these "fishermen" were probably created out of thin air to be used as patsies in order to pull off this scam. So what about the money Jimmy Papadimitriu's parents paid these "fishermen"? Sorry, we already spent that on beer and ceviche.

And that's probably why Jimmy Papadimitriu resigned.

Ricardo Martinelli is looking down the road towards the most important prize - the 2014 national general elections. Team Martinelli is now focusing all of their efforts and attention on the one single goal of making sure the presidential candidate from the Cambio Democratico political party gets elected in 2014. Of course, we don't yet know who the CD candidate will be, and we won't know until after they hold their internal party primary election.

So all of these "pull back" decisions in the name of peace and harmony have been made in favor of the bigger and more important objective. In short, Jimmy Papadimitriu's over reaching on the Juan Hombrón land scandal made him a political liability. Martinelli had to "kill" the Juan Hombrón land scandal and to take it off of the books, to remove it as a point of contention which could be used by the political opposition going into the next election. So, he had to toss Jimmy Papadimitriu - and potentially the millions of dollars paid by his parents for the land - under the bus.

I see this as Ricardo Martinelli keeping yet another campaign promise. Jimmy Papadimitriu simply got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. And for that, he had to go.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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