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Friday, August 29 2014 @ 08:15 AM EDT

Corruption

Panama is a transit country for drug trafficking, especially cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Huge quantities of drugs generally pass through Panama going to markets in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The money from that trafficking activity comes back down through Panama to be laundered. The Panamanian National Police Direction of Intelligence and Information (DIIP) and Judicial Technical Police (PTJ) coordinate with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other international police and anti-drug forces to discover and disrupt large, well-funded drug smuggling rings primarily based in Colombia and Mexico. Recently there was a world-record 20+ ton maritime cocaine bust that had a street value of almost half a billion dollars. Those one-kilo small square bricks you see on television are worth about $25,000 each on the street in Chicago. With all of that drug money flowing through Panama there are ample opportunities for corruption on the part of local government officials who generally are very poorly paid. In 2004 Panama's President Martin Torrijos was elected on a "zero corruption" campaign platform and in reality his administration has made significant efforts to combat government corruption. Anti-corruption efforts generate headlines and discussion, and in this section of Panama-Guide.com you will find a collection of those articles related to the various cases of corruption by people in positions of public trust in Panama. If you require additional information about this or any other category of information regarding the Republic of Panama please take advantage of our powerful in-house search engine. And if you still can't find what you're looking for we even take requests! Welcome aboard, and please remember to tell your friends about Panama-Guide.com, the #1 English Language Website about the Republic of Panama. Salud.
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National Assmebly Has Concerns Over Comptroller's Performance

CorruptionThe National Assembly Deputy Ana Matilde Gomez is concerned about the "limited and law-abiding" appearance of the Comptroller Gioconda Torres de Bianchini, according to statements made on the Telemetro morning news. (more)

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CD Call Center Scandal: Charges Filed, Arrests Ordered

CorruptionPanama's Second Anti Corruption Prosecutor, Lizeth Chevalier, today announced that she has formally charged and ordered the arrest of those responsible for the call center operated by the Democratic Change political party. (more)

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National Assembly Funds Paid For CD Smear Campaigns (Call Centers)

CorruptionLast April, when the call center scandal broke, the government ministers of the administration of then president Ricardo Martinelli denied that the Democratic Change political party was using public funds for its operation. (more)

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Scandal Splashes Another Of Martinelli's Cousins

CorruptionThe mayor of the district of Portobelo, Carlos Chavarria, said the dentist Reinaldo Della Togna Martinelli - a cousin of the former President Ricardo Martinelli - demanded $80,000 to lobby the then Minister of Economy and Finance, Frank De Lima, in order to attend to the company A2Z Strategy Construction Panamá, S.A. (more)

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Junk Cars "Burning Gas" At The Labor Ministry (Stealing Public Funds For Fun And Profit)

CorruptionThe Minister of Labor and Workforce Development (Mitradel), Luis Ernesto Carles, said in a statement on the Telemetro news he would continue to conduct audits and that "it doesn't matter what the former officials of the previous administration say." (more)

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New AMPYME Director Files Complaints Over Corruption

CorruptionAda Romero, following her ratification as the new Director of the Office of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (Ampyme) said she would be filing a series of legal complaints on Friday before the Public Ministry, for the alleged irregularities they have found within the institution. (more)

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Panama Will Increase Transparency At Consulates To Reduce Corruption

CorruptionPanama's Vice President and Chancellor, Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, presented a draft of a new law before the Cabinet Council meeting yesterday involving greater transparency of the Consular system, seeking to reform the functions Panama's consulates and the registration of ocean going ships under the Panamanian flag, which could result in a 25% increase revenue in this sector. (more)

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Florist: "I was pressured by friends of the president to give up the land"

CorruptionCésar Segura, the florist who was granted an area of 5,700 square meters of land in Punta Paitilla revealed on Tuesday during an interview on Telemetro, that he have up his land in 2011 after reaching an agreement with the Btesh and Virzi group, in which he was promised the payment for the property would be with other property. (more)

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Only Four Of Varela's Cabinet Members Have Complied With Constitutional Requirements

CorruptionPublic servants who failed to file a statement of assets within the time frame as established by the Constitution could face a judicial process that is punishable with imprisonment, explained experts in administrative law matters. (more)

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Abigail Benzadón Filed A Complaint Against The Former Head of the Transit Authority

CorruptionThe Attorney General's Office is handling a complaint filed against the former director of the Land Transit and Transportation Authority (ATTT) Roberto Moreno, for offenses against public administration and public faith, and for irregularities in the purchase of items for the institution. (more)

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Panameñista Politicians File Public Statements of Personal Assets (As Required By Law)

CorruptionThe President of the National Assembly, Adolfo Valderrama; Panama City Mayor Jose Blandon and the president of the republic, Juan Carlos Varela, presented statements of their assets yesterday. (more)

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New AMPYME Minister Finds "Irregularities"

CorruptionThe Minister of the Micro, Small, and Medium Business Authority (AMPYME), Ada Romero, denounced that they have found a series of irregularities in this authority which they have just taken over as part of the new government, and that by Friday she will have submitted an official complaint to the Public Ministry, for them to start and investigation. (more)

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Mendez to Blandon: "The People Want To See How You Keep Your Promises, Not A Witch Hunt"

Corruption"I do not understand, because now they have uncovered something I have already explained," said the former Mayor of Panama City Roxana Mendez, in response to questions raised by the new Mayor Jose Isabel Blandon. (more)

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Hearing Today in Italy For International Corruption in Panama

CorruptionThe trial for international corruption in Panama over the alleged payment of bribes for contracts with Finmeccanica against Valter Lavitola will be held today in Italy. (more)

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Franklin Oduber Could Be Guilty Of Corruption (Ya' Think?)

CorruptionThe overflights made by government officials from the National Authority of Land Management (Anati) to photograph from the air properties owned by the political opponents of president Ricardo Martinelli in December 2013 will be investigated, starting on 2 July 2014, by one of Panama's Anti Corruption Prosecutors, revealed yesterday the Attorney General Ana Belfon. (more)

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Varela Denounces Use Of ANATI For Political Persecution

CorruptionJosé Luis "Popi" Varela, recently reelected as a Deputy to the National Assembly and the brother of president-elect Juan Carlos Varela, presented evidence on the Telemetro television news broadcast indicating on 4 December 2013 government officials working for the National Land Authority (ANATI) rented a helicopter to take photographs of land owned by Juan Carlos Varela, the presidential candidate for the PRD party Juan Carlos Navarro, and his running mate Gerardo Solis. (more)

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Financial Pacific - Linked To International Investigation

CorruptionAn international investigation reveals links between the case of the Financial Pacific brokerage house and the former Treasurer of the Partido Popular political party in Spain, Luis Bárcenas, who has been accused of illicit enrichment, and whose fortune is estimated at 48 million Euros (or 65 million dollars, today.) (more)

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Attempted Assassination Against Vernon Ramos' Assistant (Financial Pacific Case)

CorruptionGustavo Gordon, a government employee who works for the Superintendency of Market Securities who is scheduled to testify before the Thirteenth Prosecutor for the trial of Mayte Pellegrini, who has been accused of financial crimes to the detriment of the brokerage house Financial Pacific, was stabbed yesterday in the park Urracá, on Avenida Balboa. (more)

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Alejandro Perez Threatens To Sue For "Violating His Privacy"

CorruptionThe lawyer and former Minister of Government, Alejandro Pérez defended himself on Monday morning, after the broadcast of a video that was posted on YouTube, after a collision with another vehicle, showing him exchanging words with the other driver involved in the accident. (more)

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Panamanian Politician Alejandro Perez - Driving Drunk, Causes Accident, Leaves Scene (Video)

CorruptionBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - There's a minor flap in the morning news today, after the prominent politician Alejandro Perez was caught on video tape over the weekend - drunk, causing a traffic accident, being combative and belligerent, and leaving the scene of an accident. (more)

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Former IDAAN Officials Sentenced To Three Years In Prison For Stealing Materials

CorruptionThe Thirteenth Criminal Court sentenced three former officials of the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (Idaan) to three years in prison, for their roles in a network that was stealing supplies and materials from the IDAAN's warehouse, which were then resold. (more)

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Supreme Court Keeps Financial Pacific Former Directors On The Sidelines

CorruptionThe Third Chamber of the Supreme Court denied a request made by Ivan Clare, one of the former directors of Financial Pacific, asking for the suspension of a resolution issued by Panama's Superintendency of Market Securities provisionally and indefinitely suspending his license as a securities broker. (more)

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President-Elect Varela's Name Appears In Lavitola Case File in Italy

CorruptionThe president-elect of Panama Juan Carlos Varela appears in the case file against the former Director of the Italian newspaper Avanti, Valter Lavitola, and the former Commercial Director of the Italian group Finmeccanica, Paolo Pozzessere, for alleged bribes paid to Panamanian officials. (more)

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Tocumen Fuel Tank Concession Going To "Friends of Martinelli"

CorruptionPresident-elect Juan Carlos Varela said yesterday the approval of a grant of 4.5 hectares of land is going to "business people who are close to the president (Ricardo Martinelli)" related to a concession for the distribution of jet fuel to aircraft at the Tocumen airport. (more)

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Panamanian Prosecutors Travel To Italy For Finmeccanica Corruption Case

CorruptionOfficials from Panama's Public Ministry traveled to Italy to learn the details that are being released in that country regarding Lavitola Valter who faces charges of international corruption conducted in several countries, including Panama. (more)

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Former MIDES Officials Sentenced To Prison For Embezzlement Case

CorruptionSix former officials of the Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) were sentenced to prison for fraudulent embezzlement, through the use of checks to pay for travel and per diem expenses during a tour to promote the "100 for 70" social assistance program. (more)

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Witnesses in Italy Testify - The Bribes Were For Martinelli

CorruptionGiusseppe Schiattarella, the Chief of the Research and Special Operations Division of the Carabinieri Corps, and Mauro Velocci, the former president of the Svemark consortium - the company that was to build modular prisons in Panama - said yesterday before the judges of the Court of Naples, Italy, that the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, was the final recipient of the bribes. (more)

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Balbina Herrera Calls for Probe

CorruptionThe PRD politician Balbina Herrera said issues such as the Valter Lavítola scandal should be reviewed in the next administration.

According to Herrera, it is extremely important and sensitive for the country that President Martinelli has been called to testify in Italy. (Mi Diario)

Editor's Comment: Balbina Herrera keeps coming back, like a bad burrito...

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Panama Closes Bribery Case - After US Fails To Cooperate With Investigation

CorruptionPanama's Superior Prosecutor for Organized Crime requested the judges responsible for the case to provisionally close a case involving allegations of the payments of bribes to officials of the Civil Aviation Authority by the US company BizJet, that received the contract to maintain the presidential aircraft between 2004 and 2009.

The prosecutor sent his request in early March 2014, because law enforcement authorities in the United States failed to respond to a second request for judicial assistance in order to clarify key pieces of data (evidence) contained in the Panamanian investigation.

The prosecutor sent their first request for assistance to the United States in May 2012 asking for collaboration, but the answer they sent in response to the Panamanian investigators was not enough (insufficient) for them to continue the investigation.

They sent a second request for assistance in 2013, asking for the evidence that linked the Panamanians to the alleged bribes.

According to judicial sources, these elements would be important to the process.

The director of the AAC, Rafael Barcenas, confirmed that the officials mentioned in investigation in the United States are still working for the entity, and while there is no legal decision his office will not take any action against them.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened an investigation into the alleged payment of bribes by BizJet in Panama, Mexico and Brazil.

Later, a Federal Court in the United States sentenced two of the company's executives.

According to Mexican media reports broadcast in April 2013, the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority paid $2.8 million to BizJet International Sales and Support Inc., between 2004 and 2009, for maintenance of the presidential aircraft.

Two of the four former directors of BizJet who were processed in the United States were sentenced after pleading guilty to paying bribes.

According to the FBI process, BizJet paid bribes to Panamanian officials of the Civil Aviation Authority. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: What? In the United States there's a law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). This law is (supposedly) designed and intended to prevent US companies from doing exactly this - paying bribes to corrupt foreign officials in order to secure government contracts for their businesses. In reality however all FCPA enforcement actions have been voluntary disclosures by the companies involved. The BizJet case was also a voluntary disclosure.

There's a good chance the Department of Justice in the United States either failed or refused to respond to the request for information submitted by the Panamanian prosecutor due to the details of the negotiated settlement between BizJet and the US government. If you look at the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in this case, "Official 6" is the Chief Mechanic for the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority who received the bribes and a cell phone, in exchange for securing the government contract to repair and maintain the aircraft used by Panamanian president Martin Torrijos. Specifically, items #25 and #26 on page A-26 of the DPA include the details about the payment of the $10,000 bribe and purchase of a cell phone.

The Panamanian Superior Prosecutor for Organized Crime opened an investigation, and has been trying to bring this "Official 6" to justice within the Panamanian legal system for more than two years now. I first covered the story when the US Department of Justice issued their press release (See: Oklahoma firm fined for paying bribes in Mexico, Panama 15 March 2012). There was one more story a year later, when the sentences were announce for the two former BizJet executives (See: Former US BizJet Executives Convicted For Paying Bribes in Panama 9 April 2013). If you look at the actions taken by the Attorney General's office in Panama, they issued their first request for information when this case became news in 2012. Then they followed up with a second request on April 2013, when the convictions were announced. So apparently the Attorney General's office has been responding to the news media reports on this case. Now, one year later, their "clock" has run out on this investigation.

But notice the prosecutor is asking for the case to be "provisionally" closed in Panama against the as yet unnamed "Official 6," the government employee who received the bribe. This means that, at some time in the future if they get more or additional information, they can come back and ask the court to reopen the case. Like, if the US officials in the Department of Justice respond to their request for information, and provide them with the "smoking gun" information then need in order to bring this corrupt official to trial.

The details of the DPA also make it perfectly clear that the BizJet company did everything in their power to cooperate and assist the US Department of Justice in this investigation. They discovered the illegal activity during an internal audit. Once they figured out what was going on, they disclosed the results of their investigation, and fully cooperated with the investigation. The DPA also requires BizJet to cooperate with the investigations being conducted by foreign law enforcement agencies into corrupt officials. See Item #5 which starts on page 3 of the DPA.

So, both BizJet and the Department of Justice know the identity of "Official 6" who works at the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority. The DOJ can (if they wanted to) provide that information to Panama's Attorney General, so they can proceed with their investigation and prosecution.

The question remains - why haven't they responded? I called the Department of Justice to ask. The office where the two prosecutors who worked on this case responded by saying "we have no comment, you have to call public affairs" and they gave me the number. I called them, explained what was going on, and asked for a comment or statement from the DOJ. That was early this morning, and I expected to have received some sort of a reply by this afternoon - but nada. Maybe there will be a surprise waiting for me in my email inbox tomorrow, but I doubt it.

I also spoke to Professor Mike Koehler from the Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Law, who is "the" recognized expert when it comes to issues dealing with the implementation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He has published articles related to this BizJet case, and he helped me understand what was probably going on between the DOJ and BizJet, and why.

The bottom line remains the same. Panama is about to drop their efforts to investigate a corruption case, because the US Department of Justice either can't or won't give them enough solid evidence to prove exactly who "Official 6" is - so they can mount a legal case against him. So yeah, obviously the DOJ is all about helping third world countries fight corruption. Sure. We hear you...

And how screwed is BizJet on this deal? They found out about the criminal activity that was happening inside of their own company, and reported it to the government. They helped the investigation, and cooperated completely. And what did they get for their troubles? A fine of 11.8 million dollars. When you compare that to the FACT that the only cases the DOJ has ever prosecuted under the FCPA are those involving companies (like BizJet) who have "self-reported" - the obvious answer for every other US company who is watching this Kluster unfold is simple. BizJet could have simply fired the offending employees, shred all of the documents, delete the emails, and forget it ever happened. The odds are exactly 0% that the DOJ will investigate, sleuthing on their own accord, to uncover these dastardly deeds. And what's the worst that can happen? A fine of $11.8 million? Yeah, good call, BizJet. Gotta make the lawyers happy, first. I'm sure the penalties would probably be much stiffer if you actually did try to cover something like this up, but damn...

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Former DEA Regional Director Confirms Evidence Exists Against Varela

CorruptionConfirmation that it was Michelle Lasso who paid the initial down payment in 2011 for the luxury yacht being purchased by the presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela, while she was, at that time an important part of a money laundering network for $150 million of the illegal proceeds of Internet gambling in the United States, could be enough of a reason for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other justice organizations to open a new investigation, that could involve the Vice President of Panama.

The former director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for Mexico and Central America, Larry Holifield, said yesterday the documents that have been presented in the news media are sufficient grounds for the United States to start an investigation into the case that links Varela to a money laundering network, and a foundation that received money from two consulates that could be, supposedly, acts of corruption.

On 14 April, the Miami based U.S. newspaper Diario Las Americas launched a journalistic investigation in several series, in which they linked Varela with the Don James Foundation, which was financially managed by Michelle Lasso between 2009 and 2011, the period of time during which she was under investigation by the FBI for her involvement in a network of illegal gambling led by Phillip Gurian.

The Don James Foundation and the Lasso family moved nearly 30 million dollars, including deposits of large sums from the Panamanian Consuls Jaime Lasso in South Korea, and Alberto Arosemena in Kobe, Japan.

The Diario Las Americas said in their investigation the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and the funds diverted from the Consulates Varela controlled during the early years of the Martinelli administration could have been mixed with the money managed by Michelle Lasso from the illegal Internet gambling activities in the United States.

One indication of this is that Lasso paid the initial payment of $175,000 from her personal bank account at the Bank of America for the purchase of Varela's luxury yacht from the Bertram Yacht Corporation.

This bank account could be one of Lasso's bank accounts seized in the United States after she pleaded guilty to the offense of money laundering, where she was convicted and sentenced by a federal court.

"I imagine, and I bet that in this case there are already people interested in the FBI, the Treasury of the United States (IRS), the Justice Department, and the Attorney General of Panama. The U.S. Embassy in Panama should also be interested in this case, because in my experience I've never seen as much documentation such as in this case, and the linking of a person of such importance in a country," said Holifield, who was also the Deputy Director of the DEA in Bogotá between 2002 and 2006.

He said the opening of an investigation should clarify where the money came from, and why it was sent to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, and why Vice President Varela is receiving amounts of money from this foundation.

Holifield said in the cases he has had to investigate, he had to deal with many rumors, and there are people who will say anything, but in this case there is a lot of documentation that directly link the people involved.

"There are documents in this case which say a lot, there is a lot of activity that looks like money laundering, and we have Michelle Lasso admitting to having been involved in money laundering. The thing missing are the witnesses which could complete the investigation. With a witness they could have an important case," said Holifield.

The former Regional Director of the DEA also said there would be no problem with Michelle Lasso being a part of any new investigation, even though she has already been convicted of money laundering.

"She lived in Florida during this activity, and what's more they have had recordings as evidence in the gambling case. They already have recordings and who knows what else they have. Another investigation can be opened in the United States against Michelle Michelle because these are different criminal acts," said Holifield .

Despite the documentary evidence, on Wednesday Varela denied having received money from Michelle Lasso, but admitted having received payments from the Don James Foundation, supposedly justified as donations to his campaign and family investments. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Well, I really don't see how a new investigation can be opened up against Michelle Lasso, because she has already been investigated and convicted of money laundering. Holified says this is a different criminal act, but where? I don't get it. Maybe I'm missing something. to me it seems like the same activity of money laundering.

However, he does make a great point in that the FBI and Justice Department already have thousands of hours of telephone call recordings of Michelle Lasso. They can certainly look at the $175,000 supposedly spent as the initial down payment for Varela's luxury yacht, and if that money came from the illegal Internet gambling operation, then it most certainly could also be seized. If it's still in Miami, that is. And of course, if her father Jaime Lasso and the Don James Foundation were involved in the money laundering operation, then of course they could also seize all of those funds as well.

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