Contributed by: Don Winner
Executive Summary: A company was created. They supposedly obtained Rights of Possession (ROP) over a parcel of land between the existing titled lot owned by the American landowner and the ocean. They supposedly obtained these Rights of Possession from people who had supposedly been living on them for five years. They registered these documents in the office of the local "Corregiduria" (Justice of the Peace) in Chame. The company then applied to the National Land Authority (ANATI) for title over these lands, based on the ROP documents. They drew up a plan for the plot of land in June 2011. The National Director of Land Titles at the time, Anabelle Villamonte Murgas - the same person who signed off on all of the documents in the Juan Hombrón scandal - granted title to these lands, for free, on 7 October 2011. At the time ANATI granted title, they listed the tax value of the land as $56,288.88 in the documents. The company now has these lands listed for sale on several Internet websites. They are trying to sell the land for $1.5 million dollars. So in effect, they "inserted" these titled plots in between the titled land which has been held by land owners for decades - and the ocean. No one had realized this had been done, and literally they are just waking up to the reality of the situation.
My Investigation Is Just Getting Started: So far the land owners on Punta Chame have not had time to file any kind of a criminal complaint or action - because they just found out about this yesterday. They met with lawyers today and are devising their plan on how to proceed. I am also starting my own investigation and will be reporting on this situation as it develops. It's also important to say that I know what I know right now, and of course there are still many holes to be filled in, and details to be developed. I suspect this will be another relatively large scandal in the Panamanian media once the details are known, mostly because it's another beachfront land scandal that seems to be very similar to the Juan Hombrón scandal, with many of the exactly same players. And the documents were apparently executed at about the same time as the documents in the Juan Hombrón scandal. So, there's a lot of overlap. No matter what, I couldn't just ignore it... (more)
Political Neutrality Statement: I want to make it perfectly clear that as a member of the English speaking community of expatriates who live in the Republic of Panama, I really could not care less who is running the country. I know there were political aspirations and motivations behind much of the investigation into the Juan Hombrón scandal - which I do not share. My concerns arise from a desire to protect the rights of foreign property owners. I was contacted by an American citizen who owns land in Punta Chame, and he's trying to sell it. He discovered yesterday someone has literally "created" a new lot of land in between HIS oceanfront property, and the ocean. The government of Panama (ANATI) has already granted a title on that land, and the owners have it listed for sale. This is the definition of a legal nightmare for any property owner in the Republic of Panama. And of course the facts of the way this was done will probably create some serious risks for anyone who might buy the newly created lots of land. So, my motivations are driven towards protecting the property owners (who were already there with titled land) and any potential buyers who might be economically injured or harmed in some way if they purchase these newly created lands. So, I'm simply going to start reporting on this, based on the facts of what I know so far, and let the chips fall where they may.
My High Ranking Government Contacts Said... When I found out about this yesterday afternoon I immediately contacted my high ranking government contacts. I gave them a quick outline of what was going on, and asked for a meeting. I wanted to make sure they understood what was happening, and to make damn sure they knew my motivations for reporting on these issues are not politically motivated in any way. Their response was immediate, precise, and succinct. They said I should advise the victim to file a criminal complaint before the competent judicial authorities, in this case the Public Ministry. They said it's a matter for the prosecutors to investigate and the judges to hear, and they would not get involved in any way. Obviously the administration of Ricardo Martinelli has gotten smacked around pretty hard thanks to the Juan Hombrón scandal. I personally believe the former Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu resigned because of the Juan Hombrón scandal. And as you'll see, this situation in Punta Chame was all put together in almost exactly the same way - and at about the same time - as the Juan Hombrón situation. But anyway, their bottom line was crystal clear - "we don't want anything do to with it." OK, gotcha. At least I gave them a heads-up, for what it's worth.
American Land Owner: The person who owns the land in Punta Chame, who is trying to sell his land, has owned this titled property for many years. Both he and his real estate agents have been out there many times. The last time they went to the land, there was no fence - or any other indication that something was going on between the land and the ocean. And of course, there as no fence. So when the potential buyer started asking questions about a fence they immediately went out there to take a look. Sure as hell, someone had erected a fence "behind" his property. In order to be clear, when his real estate agents went out there yesterday morning to look at the land and to see what was going on, they discovered someone had fenced off a parcel of land between their client's beachfront property lot - and the beach. That is to say - between his property and the ocean. Now to be clear, the owner's title clearly says the Southern boundary of his land is the high tide mark. The Southern boundary of his land is supposed to be the water - not some other lot of land.
Punta Chame Is Growing: The ocean can change things. There are many different ways Mother Nature can step in and change the lay of the land. Some examples might be the flow of a river, a mudslide, or in this case, the action of the ocean and the tides. In some areas along the Pacific coast of Panama property owners have had to erect seawalls because the ocean and wave action have "eaten away" the beach and taken the sand away. When they bought their property they were the required distance away from the ocean - but the ocean has moved closer to them. In the case of the Southern side of Punta Chame the opposite is occurring. The natural action of the waves and ocean has deposited sand along the beach. So therefore, the beach is getting wider. As a result, anyone who had beachfront land in the area now has "more" land. According to Panamanian law, there has to be a 22 meter boundary between the high tide line and the property line. All of the existing titles in Punta Chame along this part of the coast list the ocean as their Southern boundary. Specifically, there is a ten meter wide right of way (public access) and then an additional 12 meters from the high tide mark. So far so good, right? That's when the ANATI stepped in.
Wider Beach Land Snatch: Puntabeach Interprises SA was newly created as a Panamanian legal entity on 23 June 2011. On 7 October 2011, through ANATI Resolution No. 329, Lic. Anabelle Villamonte, who at the time was the Director of the Office of Land Titles of the "Autoridad Nacional de Administración de Tierras" (ANATI) (National Land Administration Authority), granted - for free - title to a parcel of land measuring 9,381 square meters to the company Puntabeach Interprises S.A.. So, I know the starting date was 23 June 2011, and the title was issued on 7 October 2011. I'm going to list and describe the documentation I have so far, basically in chronological order as they occurred or were created;
ANATI Conducting An Investigation: Between yesterday afternoon and today, the people who are now running the ANATI have "woken up" to this situation in Punta Chame. They sent an inspector out there today to see what's going on. The ANATI has opened their own official internal investigation into this case. When they were called a first response from a high ranking ANATI official was "that's completely bogus, that can't be." They seemed to be in a state of disbelief or shock. In any case, they certainly didn't know about what is going on, and they are just now starting to get their act together.
Not In The Media Until Now: I wanted to get this out there quickly, mostly out of fear that there might be someone out there, somewhere, who could be about to write a check for a whole lot of money to buy a parcel of land that - by surface appearances - should never have come into existence. There are a whole lot of people who own land in Punta Chame, and I'm sure those people will be going nuts. Anyway, expect a whole lot more on this issue, especially once it gains a foothold in the Panamanian media. As the smart man once said, "here we go again..."
Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.