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Wednesday, August 27 2014 @ 09:08 AM EDT

ANATI Freezing Punta Chame Land Grab Titles TODAY!

Franklin Oduber - Director of the National Authority of Land Management (ANATI)
Franklin Oduber - Director of the National Authority of Land Management (ANATI)
By DON WINNER for - I met with the Director of the National Land Management (ANATI) in Panama, Franklin Oduber, in his office for about an hour this morning. He invited me to discuss the situation regarding the issuance of new titles on land in the area of Punta Chame by the former Director of Titles for the ANATI, Anabelle Villamonte. As reported on this website starting on Wednesday, 25 July 2012, it was discovered early last week that the ANATI had issued - for free - title on a parcel of land measuring 9,381 square meters. ANATI issued free title on that land to a newly created Panamanian company called Puntabeach Interprises S.A. on 7 October 2011, through Resolution Number 329. In one of the last acts committed in office by Anabelle Villamonte - after the Juan Hombron scandal had broken in the press and before she left office, she signed off on these land titles which potentially affect as many as 64 land owners, all along the Southern side of the Punta Chame peninsula. This morning the Director of the ANATI assured me they would be issuing a "marginal" (freeze) on all five parcels of land "before noon today" - which will be registered in the Public Registry. This will prevent these parcels of land from being sold or transferred in any way, as the investigation into this case goes forward. And, I learned a bunch of other new details during the meeting this morning as well.

Executive Summary - Bottom Line Up Front: The government of Panama will be taking every required action to reverse the granting of these titles, to take the land away from those who apparently acquired their rights illegally through fraud, corruption, and abuse of office, and the land in question will be returned to state. The owners of the existing "beachfront" lots - some of whom have owned this titled land for twenty to thirty years - will be given first priority and the opportunity to obtain first Rights of Possession over these lands, and eventually title, through the ANATI under Law 80. The ANATI is conducting their own internal investigation, and the results of that investigation will be turned over to the prosecutors of the Public Ministry. The government of Panama clearly wants to "fix this" and "make it go away" as quickly as possible. They know it's deeply embarrassing. (more)

Political Neutrality Statement: I want to say it again - and lately I've been repeating myself on this issue often. I really don't care who is running this country. As an American citizen and a member of the community of English speaking expatriates who live in the Republic of Panama, I don't get a vote. Neither do the 50,000+ members of our community, or the readers of my website who are in the United States and other countries around the world. When I first arrived in Panama on "Black Friday" in the summer of 1987 the former military dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega was in charge. Since then I've lived in Panama through the elections and terms in office of presidents Guillermo Endara (Panameņista 1989 - 1994), Ernesto Perez Balladares (PRD 1994 - 1999), Mireya Moscoso (Panameņista 1999 - 2004), Martin Torrijos (PRD 2004 - 2009), and now Ricardo Martinelli (Cambio Democratico 2009 - 2014). As you will see later, it's practically impossible to describe and discuss this problem over land titling in Punta Chame intelligently without putting it in terms of the political background, and the reality of the ground at the time these things were occurring.

It's My Job As An English Language Journalist in Panama: First and foremost I am a Strategic Analyst - that's my forte - and I've got a Master's Degree and thirty years (plus) of experience to prove it. I tend to sub-specialize on political analysis, and guys like me tend to see the world a little differently. Everything that happens is related to politics somehow or someway. But just because I'm explaining these events against a political backdrop, please do not make the mistake of thinking I am politically motivated, in any way. I got involved in this case because an American who owns land in Punta Chame woke up one day to learn someone had "stolen" the land between his "beachfront" property, and the beach. I started researching and reporting with a "let the chips fall where they may" sort of attitude. It quickly became apparent this whole thing had the potential to blow up into a sort repeat of the earlier Juan Hombron land titling scandal, the links and correlations were obvious and could not be ignored. So, to be perfectly clear - I do not report on these issues because I think one group of politicians is any more or less corrupt than the other - or because I would like to see one group rise and the other fall. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am simply doing my job - nothing more - and I very well might be the last truly neutral journalist in this country.

History Of the "Catastro" and "ANATI" - In order to understand what's going on you first have to know a little history. The government of Panama, specifically the National Assembly, passed Law 59 of 8 October 2010, creating the brand new National Authority of Land Management (ANATI). This new Administration was created and specifically tasked with the job of managing and recognizing Rights of Possession, and issuing titles on land throughout the entire Republic of Panama. Several offices and functions which had previously been in existence under different ministries, organizations, and umbrellas were all grouped together with the newly created ANATI. The ANATI incorporated and assumed all of the functions and powers of the General Directorate of Cadastre (Land Registry) of the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), the Directorate of Agrarian Reform of the Ministry of Agricultural Development, the National Program of Land Management (PRONAT) of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Tommy Guardia National Geographic Institute (Mapping) of the Ministry of Public Works.

Alberto Vallarino - Former Minister of Economy and Finance (Panameņista)

This Is A Pretty Powerful Office: The ANATI is now the sole competent authority in the entire government of Panama responsible for the administration of all issues having to do with Rights of Possession land and the issuance of titles on land. They have the final word on issues related to the administration, custody, adjudication, valuation, land registration, recognition of possession, processing and certification of all real property, including state-owned and privately owned land, and they have exclusive competence for the recognition of possessory rights in real estate of all kinds, including island territory and coastal areas. In short, when it comes to issuing title for land based on Rights of Possession, the ANATI has the last word, as far as the Executive branch is concerned. Of course if there's a dispute, it goes to court.

Jimmy Papadimitriu - Former Minister of the Presidency (Cambio Democratico)

Power Struggle Upon Creation: The proposal to create the ANATI and the early drafts for Law 59 was the source of much conflict among the various power brokers within the administration of Ricardo Martinelli. The old "Catastro" (Land Registry) office was one of the most important and powerful centers in the Ministry of Economy and Finance. It's also important to highlight that at the time these changes were being discussed, the Panameņista political party was still in a functioning alliance with Ricardo Martinelli's Cambio Democratico party. What's more, the Ministry of Economy and Finance was under the control of Alberto Vallarino, who is a Panameņista politician. Everyone was able to quickly and easily recognize the power - and potential - for the new ANATI organization. Vallarino wanted the ANATI to fall under the MEF, so therefore he would be able to control and dictate its functions. The former Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu wanted the new ANATI to fall under his direct control and jurisdiction. Remember Papadimitriu also was able to scoop up many other things and get them under his direct jurisdiction. The most important examples are the new Metro Bus public transportation system and the new Metro subway system, and there are others. When the head-butting started between Vallarino and Papadimitriu, president Martinelli stepped in and set it up so that the ANATI falls under his direct responsibility. Franklin Oduber made it perfectly clear today - he reports directly to the President. There is a chain through the Housing Ministry which he uses to inject things into the meetings of the Executive Cabinet Council if necessary, but the ANATI is basically an independent and autonomous entity that is not responsible to any of the sitting Ministers of State.

Timing is Everything: Have you ever noticed the whole Juan Hombron scandal seemed to bear two coats of paint? Meaning, at some times it seemed like the CD was responsible for the whole scandal, and at other times the CD seemed like they were able to point fingers at the Panameņistas. I never fully understood why, until today. When this new ANATI thing was smashed together, partisan politicians from both the Panameņista party and the CD were put under the same roof. They both knew what was going on, and to be fair both groups should probably bear some of the responsibility.

Alejandro Castillero - Former Director of ANATI (Panameņista)

A Strategic Split of Power: While the alliance between the Panameņistas and the CD was still in affect, they would frequently put one person of trust from each party in the most important positions of power. In the case of the ANATI, Alejandro Castillero was the Director of the old PRONAT which fell under the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) and the Panameņista Alberto Vallarino. The second most important position in the ANATI is the Director of Land Titling - the person who actually has the power to sign off on the documents and grant title. At the instance of the Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu, this position went to the now famous Lic. Anabelle Villamonte - making the position 100% CD. So, there was a strategic split of the power between the two political parties, and that all looked good on the surface. Then, the war started.

Vice President Juan Carlos Varela (Panameņista)

The Alliance Fell Apart: The official date of death of the alliance between the Panameņista party and the Cambio Democratico is 30 August 2011 - the date Ricardo Martinelli fired his Vice President Juan Carlos Varela as the Foreign Minister (or Chancellor). In fact, serious tensions had been growing in the alliance for the prior two months - mostly stemming from the refusal of the CD Deputies in the National Assembly to elect a Panameņista politician as the President of the National Assembly for new legislative period which started on 1 July 2011. The cracks grew and deepened, mostly because the Panameņistas began to slowly wake up to the reality that their dream of being the "anointed ones" going into the 2014 elections were not going to become reality. While all of this was going on, simultaneously the new ANATI was just getting on its feet. But - and this is very important - both the CD and the Panameņistas knew what was being done inside the deepest bowels of the ANATI. So when the alliance finally did break apart for good on 30 August 2011 - the Panameņistas knew exactly where to throw the darts. They were flat out pissed off, so they gave all of the details about Juan Hombron and Anabelle Villamonte to the journalists of La Prensa - and they had a field day. That entire scandal ended with the resignation of the former Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu, because the Juan Hombron scandal was linked back to his family.

Anabelle Villamonte (Cambio Democratico)

Resignations and Investigations: In less than two weeks the two most powerful and important people in the newly created ANATI were gone. Anabelle Villamonte - the lawyer for the Papadimitriu family who set up all of the corporations before being named as the Director of Land Titles - resigned on Friday, 16 September 2011. She was quickly followed by her boss, the Director of the ANATI Alejandro Castillero. He resigned on Thursday afternoon, 22 September 2011. Both of these resignations occurred just as the first reports on the Juan Hombron scandal were making headlines. Castillero left for two reasons - the Juan Hombron scandal happened on his watch, and he was also a Panameņista foot soldier loyal to the former Minister of Economy and Finance Alberto Vallarino. After the breakup of the alliance, the government conducted a "purge" of all Panameņistas, and Castillero left with a "plop." Interestingly enough, although Lic. Anabelle Villamonte submitted her resignation on Friday, 16 September 2014 she actually remained in office for another month. So, she signed all of these documents related to the Punta Chame scandal after she had been caught for Juan Hombron, but before she went out the door. In fact, she signed the land titles on her last day at work. Then, she was gone to defend herself in court.

But No One In The Public Knew What Had Been Done: I am completely convinced the new Director of the ANATI Franklin Oduber knew what had been done in Punta Chame, at least to some degree. As it turns out, his very first day on the job was the Monday morning after Anabelle Villamonte's last day on the job. Considering the notoriety and level of reporting in the press about the Juan Hombron scandal, I find it ludicrous to think the new Director of the ANATI might have failed to conduct an in-depth review and audit of every document Anabelle Villamonte had signed during her tenure in office. And to find out she had signed off on the Resolution 329 that granted land title for free in Punta Chame? Please - don't insult my intelligence. So while absolutely no one in the public or press knew about what was going on in Punta Chame - the guys in the ANATI were almost certainly aware of what she had done.

Tied To Executive Order 425: Ricardo Martinelli had a rough couple of months not too long ago. He went through the whole debacle over the Fifth Chamber in the Supreme Court. After the appointed three judges the public outcry was such that he had to withdraw those appointments, and eventually the whole Fifth Chamber concept was killed. They wanted to try to sell some of the state owned shares in the electricity and telecommunications companies, with the same outcome. Martinelli was forced to abandon those plans. The CD and newly elected President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez wanted to try to reform the Electoral Code to make the playing field more level in 2014, and they were forced to pull back and stall on that front as well. It is my personal opinion that Ricardo Martinelli understood the political need to definitively "kill" the whole Juan Hombron scandal - so that's why he issued Executive Order 425 on 12 July 2012. It's pretty clear at this point Jimmy Papadimitriu resigned as a result of the scandal as well. It's interesting to note that the problems with the land in Punta Chame only came to light after Executive Order 425 was signed and published.

While The Getting Is Good: With this Executive Order 425 Ricardo Martinelli basically made a choice. The elections in 2014 and the political future of the Cambio Democratico political party were (and still are) more important than any one individual - in this case Jimmy Papadimitriu. But as a secondary and potentially unintended consequence, the people (whoever they are) who are actually behind the land grab in Punta Chame apparently decided it was time to quickly dump (sell) these lands. They wanted to cash out while they still could, before it was all taken away from them. They immediately started putting up fences, pounding stakes into the ground, clearing the land, and marketing the land for sale on websites. They wanted to sell it very badly, right friggin' now, and as a result they were discovered.

I Got Sucked In Last Week: On Monday 23 July 2012 I received a telephone call, alerting me to the potential for some kind of a problem with titled beachfront land in Punta Chame. On Tuesday 24 July 2012 the property owner verified that yes, to his astonishment, there actually was a recently fenced off lot of land between his "beachfront" property, and the beach. On Wednesday 25 July 2012 I met with a group of lawyers and the representatives of the land owner, and we went over and reviewed all of the documents and evidence they had gathered thus far. On that day I published my first article. On Thursday 26 July 2012 I drove up to Punta Chame to walk the land for myself, and to shoot some video. On Friday morning, 27 July 2012 I appeared on the channel 2 TVN morning news broadcast. I also published a couple of more articles, based on some new information. That afternoon Jimmy Papadimitriu called me to discuss the situation, and to deny any responsibility for the Punta Chame situation. The La Prensa newspaper published an article on Saturday 28 July 2012, which included some additional links between the lawyers and both the Juan Hombron and Punta Chame cases. Then this morning I met with the Director of the ANATI, and came back to my office to write this article. That's the timeline.

I Know There Are At Least Five Parcels: I told Franklin Oduber at the very start of the meeting that I know there are a total of at least five parcels of land stretching all along the beach. Towards the end of the meeting he pulled out the case file and showed me some of it. Sure as hell, there are at least five parcels of land (if not more) and the exact same "modus operandi" had been followed in every case. In a nutshell - create bogus Rights of Possession documents based on paid-for witness statements filed in the office of the local "Corregidor" (Justice of the Peace), create a land plan based on those bogus documents, apply for a title based on those bogus documents, cram it all through the ANATI in a hurry from one day to the next, hope no one notices.

It's Not Going To Stand: As I have been predicting from the first day I heard about all of this, there's no way this will be able to stand over the long haul, for many reasons. First of all there's the historical precedent established thanks to the Juan Hombron case. People already know about what happened and who's who - so in this situation there's a smaller learning curve. Secondly, the land in Punta Chame is not some remote parcel of mangrove swamp somewhere. It's prime-time very valuable beachfront property worth literally millions of dollars. Third, this land is literally located between existing titled "beachfront" property and the beach itself. Fourth, there are about 64 individual land owners who are potentially affected by this land grab. These people have enough money to buy a parcel of land on the beach for a second home, so you can bet damn sure they will be willing to spend money on lawyers to defend it. Fifth, the law was apparently broken. The rules and procedures for handing out Rights of Possession and land titles are pretty clear. It does not appear the people who pushed through these papers followed all of the correct and legal procedures. Sixth, for political reasons there's no way in hell this administration would be able to get away with it, or successfully defend the actions of Anabelle Villamonte while she was the Director of Land Titles at the ANATI. This was a brazen disrespect of her office, and an obvious abuse of her powers. If I thought about it long enough, I could probably come up with a few more reasons, but that would not change the bottom line. It's going to get "un-done" - that decision has already been made. The devil will reside in the details of how they get from here to there, and how many darts they take in the chest on the way.

What Happened Today: Franklin Oduber flat-out promised me he would be signing five orders called a "marginal" (freeze) on all five parcels of land "before noon today" - which will be registered in the Public Registry. Once those are in place the people who obtained title on these lands will not be able to sell or transfer the lands in any way. Oduber said his office is conducting their own internal investigation, however it is not his job to either prosecute or determine guilt or innocence. He said they would be turning all of the documents associated with his investigation over to the prosecutors of the Public Ministry for them to conduct their investigation, and it will be up to them to determine who did what, when, and how.

The 64 Affected Land Owners in Punta Chame: Franklin Oduber said anyone who currently owns titled property in Punta Chame will be given first priority for Rights of Possession over these lands, which exist behind their lots, between their titled lands and the ocean. He said "that only makes sense" and in reality there's no way anyone else could legally or properly sustain any kind of a claim to ownership of this land. So, this whole thing might eventually work out as a big win for the original land owners in Punta Chame, many of whom have been asking for ownership of these lands for years, and the government has never given it to them.

Appearing on TVN Tomorrow Morning: Franklin Oduber will be appearing on the channel 2 TVN morning news broadcast tomorrow morning, to explain all of these things. He appeared to be sincere in that they have no desire to cover this up, hide what happened, or protect anyone. And he will be facing the nation tomorrow to basically confirm what I've been reporting, and to explain what steps they will be taking to make it right.

There Are More Cases Out There: If you have been the victim of a similar situation, Franklin Oduber wants to know about it. There are all sorts of problems with land ownership in Panama, especially with regards to Rights of Possession property, that's a known risk factor. However if you think or suspect someone in the ANATI has granted fraudulent land title of beachfront property - he wants to know about it, personally. And thing about it, nobody knew about this case until someone put up a fence.

There Should Be An Audit: If I were in Oduber's shoes, I would conduct an in depth audit of every document signed by Anabelle Villamonte. It is now apparent she spent most of her time doing this sort of stuff. I would not waste any time looking at smaller parcels of land in the interior, owned by really poor people, because those are probably legitimate. However if it's in the name of a corporation and anywhere near the ocean - I would freeze it all and figure it out later. Just to be on the safe side. How many times do you think they're going to let themselves get kicked in the nuts by this exact same scam?

Previous Reporting: Here are links to the earlier articles and YouTube videos related to this issue. So, if you don't know what's going on, you might want to go back and read the earlier stuff, so you can follow along.

YouTube Videos: So far I've done two YouTube videos on this issue;

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

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