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Monday, July 28 2014 @ 08:33 PM EDT

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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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"The Public Ministry Is Not Political" Says Attorney General Ana Belfon

Law & LawyersPanama's Attorney General Ana Belfon said the Public Ministry "is not a political entity," and today she will make a statement on the requests to investigate the allegations published in both local and international news media against the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela.

"The Public Ministry does not live in political times, but rather procedural times," said Belfon.

The Chief of the Public Ministry met on Thursday with representatives from the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime from Chiriqui, to try to a work plan to confront the increase in criminal activities in the province.

She also indicated a task force lead by the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime in Chiriqui is investigating the disappearance of the two Dutch women Lisane Froom and Kris Kommers.

"We are not ruling out any theory in the disappearance of the two young women," she said.

She added that a Dutch organization is collaborating with these investigations. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: So Panama's Attorney General will make a decision today on how to proceed regarding the "Varela Gate" scandal. Interesting. Let's see - I expect she will announce they have opened an investigation into everyone involved, with the exception of Juan Carlos Varela. She will refer to the Panamanian Constitution and Criminal Procedure Code, and pass the responsibility to the National Assembly to investigate Vice President Varela. There's enough meat on the bone regarding the allegations against Michelle Lasso, her father Jaime Lasso, and others involved in laundering the money from illegal Internet gambling in the United States, as well as the allegations regarding the illegal diversion of funds from the Panamanian Consulates in Japan and South Korea.

All next week there will be still more details coming out in the press. Ana Belfon will call a couple of witnesses and generate a couple of headlines. The National Assembly will begin to talk about what to do about Varela. All of this during the final week before the national election which will decide the next president.

With regards to her statement saying that the Public Ministry is not a political entity? Bullshit. Jose Ayu Prado started off as a prosecutor in the Public Ministry who went after the former president Ernesto Perez Balladares (for Martinelli). As a payback for being a loyal lapdog, Martinelli promoted him to the position of Attorney General, where he continued to target corrupt officials, crooks and criminals who were in the opposition. Later Martinelli promoted him again to the Supreme Court. And today, he is the President of the Supreme Court. Not political? Rather, it's the definition of political.

But no matter. Ana Belfon will investigate crime and follow the law. The Lasso family and others apparently did (in fact) break the law, so I expect the Attorney General will investigate those facts. And of course, while doing so she will say "it's not political" and claim to be simply following the case wherever the chain of evidence takes them. However the truth remains, that a guy like Martinelli would never appoint anyone to a position as important as the Attorney General, without first making sure they were playing for this team. That's simply the way he operates.

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Coast Guard Cutter Seizes a Ton of Cocaine

Drug TraffickingU.S. Coast Guard - ALAMEDA, Calif. – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active seized an estimated 2,300 pounds of cocaine, worth approximately $37 million, in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean some 140 miles off the coast of Panama late last month.

Active, home ported in Port Angeles, Wash., was on routine patrol in the region when it was directed to intercept a suspicious Panamanian fishing vessel sighted earlier by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 aircraft.

A Coast Guard boarding team was launched as Active approached the fishing vessel.

During an inspection of the vessel, the boarding team discovered more than 40 burlap sacks filled with cocaine. The fishing boat, the contraband, and five suspected smugglers were turned over to Panamanian authorities.

"I am extremely proud of this crew. They have continually lived up to the cutter's nickname, the ‘Li'l Tough Guy’," said Cmdr. Philip Crigler, Active’s commanding officer. “Through their tenacity we have had great success on this patrol keeping illegal drugs from reaching the shores of the United States."

The Coast Guard deploys assets to both the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea in coordination with other law enforcement agencies and partner nations in the regions to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.

Overall coordination of surveillance and patrols is done by an interagency task force based in Florida. U.S. maritime law enforcement and the interdiction phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific occurs under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda.

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Convicted Money Launderer Michelle Lasso Made First Payment on Varela's Luxury Yacht

CorruptionIn March 2011, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration already had Phillip Gurian and the Panamanian Michelle Lasso under surveillance, for being behind an international network of money laundering from illegal Internet gambling.

The network operated 54 illegal gambling centers in the United States, London, and Russia, and they moved more than $150 million between multiple bank accounts, mainly in Panama, the United States, and the Bahamas.

While Michelle Lasso handled the financial part of Gurian's money laundering network, she also took care of the personal affairs of Panama's Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela, who today is the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, according to bank documents and official records.

The documentation reveals on March 14, 2011 Lasso contacted the headquarters of the yacht manufacturer Bertram Yacht Corporation in Florida in order to make the first payment for the yacht Varela was buying.

Lasso paid $175,000 with check number f011730055101 from one of her banking accounts at the Bank of America NA NY.

Precisely and according to the FBI investigations, several of Lasso's accounts seized by the US Department of Justice, because of their links to money laundering, were in the Bank of America.

Receipt No. 3615 also specifies the payment was directed towards a yacht, model 630, with hull number 5051, data matching the yacht "Centuria" acquired by Varela, in partnership with his brother the National Assembly Deputy Jose Luis Varela.

This payment reveals Varela was not only linked to Lasso through the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, but also by direct payments from bank account linked to Gurian's illegal gambling network.

Earlier this year both Lasso and Gurian were sentenced in Federal Court in New York after being convicted of money laundering.

Lasso, after having cooperated with the investigation, received as a sentence of two years probation and was deported from the United States.

US federal authorities also seized Lasso's bank accounts containing more than 8 million dollars.

In August 2012, the Panama American newspaper was the first to publish an article about the yacht Varela purchased for $2.5 million, which he tried to hide through a company in the British Virgin Islands called Scorley Assets LTD.

But the records of a mortgage on the vessel with Tower Bank confirmed Varela and his brothers are the owners of the yacht "Centuria", which bears the same name as one of the rums produced by their company, Varela Hermanos S.A..

Documents Extracted

Jaime Lasso, the President of the Don James Foundation, tried to erase all evidence in 2012 that it was his daughter who made ​​the first payment for Varela's yacht.

On this date, Lasso went to the offices of Evermarine, the representative of Bertram in Panama, to request the file documenting the purchase of the "Centuria" but the documents were located in the files of the company's lawyers.

After that, Lasso managed to convince an Evermarine employee to get the file for the purchase of the yacht from the law firm, claiming he needed a copy.

The file was returned with only three pages.

This caused the administrators or Evermarine to fire the employee who helped Lasso extract the documents from the file on Varela's yacht, confirmed sources related to the topic.

Panama America requested an interview with the representatives of Evermarine, but they did not heed the request as the the deadline for this edition.

However, Lasso and Varela did not anticipate the receipt proving Michelle Lasso did in fact make the first payment for the luxury yacht would appear, while she was involved in money laundering.

The yacht is 67 feet (20.40 meters) long, 5.52 meters wide, weighing 45 tons and is built with a fiberglass hull. It has a market value of $2.5 million, according to records of the ship.

On August 9, 2011 just days before the breakup of the alliance between the Panameñista and Cambio Democratico political parties, Varela registered the contract for the purchase of the yacht in the Panama Public Registry, using a foreign company as a front.

The law firm Icaza, González-Ruiz y Alemán registered the yacht in Panama.

One of the law firm's directors, Álvaro Alemán, served as the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs while Varela was the Minister.

The notarized document revealed the company Evermarine Corp. of Belize sold the yacht named "Centuria" to a British Virgin Islands company named Scorley Assets LTD for one dollar, and "other considerations of value" that are not identified in the document.

The "Centuria" received its navigation permits on July 29, 2011 as a private pleasure yacht under the Panamanian flag, but under the classification of foreign service on behalf of the BVI company Scorley Assets LTD.

Consulates

This week, we also learned Alberto Arosemena, while he was the Panamanian Consul in Kobe, Japan diverted money to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and he identified at least three transfers to go towards payments identified as "boat" or "yacht."

Arosemena had transferred more than $150,000 to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, according to records found so far.

After that, it is possible the purchase of the "Centuria" also was done with money from the foundation chaired by Michelle Lasso's father, the gynecologist Jaime Lasso. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: The daily dribble of new information continues. Today we learn the first payment for Varela's yacht the "Centuria" was made by Michelle Lasso, possibly using funds generated by the illegal gambling activity in the United States. If that's the case, then the US Justice Department will almost certainly seize that yacht. Now, won't that be an interesting headline.

It's clear to me Martinelli put pressure on Evermarine in Panama, and that's how they got the documents they reveal in this article. And that means the US Justice Department was probably completely unaware that Michelle Lasso wrote a check for $175,000 from her Bank of America account to make the first payment for Varela's new yacht. That explains why the US authorities didn't seize the "Centuria" when they were seizing everything else. They didn't seize it, because they didn't know about it.

Well, guess what. They know now...

Stay tuned for the next installment of "How The Corrupt Third World Country Spins Thanks To Politicians Manipulating The Media." Wouldn't it be a hoot if the FBI seizes the "Centuria" tonight, before Varela can move it out of Miami? Because, after the publication of this article, they are probably gassing up the tanks and filling up the coolers on the boat with ice right now...

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La Prensa Final Poll Indicates Arias Will Win Panama Presidential Election

PoliticsThe final poll conducted for this newspaper (La Prensa) shows voters favor the candidate for the Democratic Change political party José Domingo Arias.

Arias received 37.5% in the poll, representing a 6% lead over the PRD's Juan Carlos Varela, and an 11% lead over the Panameñista candidate Juan Carlos Varela.

However, there are factors that prevent anticipating what will happen on May 4.

12.4% of respondents said they have not yet made up their minds, and the advantage held by Arias over the second place candidate is not large enough to ensure victory in the event that a majority within the block of undecided voters tilt in favor of the PRD candidate.

Another 13.3% of participants in this poll said they might change their mind and vote for someone else on election day.

This "soft" vote - added to the undecided, could introduce key changes to the indications today, and the end result on election day.

In this poll 22% indicated they are afraid to reveal the name of their candidate of choice, suggesting - but not clearly stating or quantifying - that respondents could have masked their true intentions.

Finally, the trend shows an upward direction, although marginal, for the candidacy of Juan Carlos Varela, who rose 1.1 point compared to March.

This poll was conducted by the company Quantix Panama, of 2,930 people between 19 and 22 April 2014, with a margin of error of 1.81 percentage points. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This reminds me of election night in the US in 2012. Although all of the polls indicated Obama was going to win the key "swing" states, Republican "analysts" and "political commentators" on Fox News continuously ripped apart the polling data, trying to find a way for Romney to win. Of course, they were wrong. The polls don't lie, contain magic, or mislead. They are what they are, even if they indicate your guy is going to get his ass kicked.

In this case, the La Prensa newspaper strongly backs the candidacy of the Panameñista party, Juan Carlos Varela. And this last poll indicates (as I have been predicting since August 2011) that Varela will finish this election in third place. However La Prensa paid for this poll to be conducted, and they are obligated to publish the results, even though the results clearly indicate that Juan Carlos Varela is going to have third place all to himself.

So what's a ethically bankrupt newspaper to do? Well, cook the books, that's what! See here? There's undecided voters! And voters who might change the minds! And voters who are afraid to say who they are really going to vote for! Varela could still win!

No, he cant. The margin of error for this poll is 1.8% - which is really pretty small. The results of this poll basically mirror exactly the results obtained by Dichter & Neira for TVN last week. So, now that it's coming down to the wire, Quantix did a good poll, got a relatively big sample (for Panama), and they are predicting a win for Arias.

You can ignore the fact that the La Prensa journalist who wrote this article really (really) wants Varela to win.

It should be pointed out that Dichter & Neira have correctly predicted the winner of every Panamanian election since 1994. That's 20 years of getting it right. I have more faith in their polling data than anyone else's.

The only outlier is the IPSOS poll, conducted for Telemetro, indicating the PRD candidate Juan Carlos Varela now has a very slight 0.3% lead over Jose Domingo Arias. That's laughable. Telemetro is a PRD lapdog. They support Navarro, the same way La Prensa supports Varela. This tells me the IPSOS data is skewed and unreliable. Their results do not reflect the same trends and tendencies as both the Quantix and Dichter & Neira polling data.

I stand by my prediction. Arias will win. Navarro will get second place. Varela will finish in third. And I've been predicting these results for a long, long time. I also thing in the final voting Arias will end up with about five to ten more percentage points, above whatever the last poll says. There will be some last minute moves, but it won't be enough to change the final results.

The last poll to be released will be the Dichter & Neira results for the third week of April, conducted for TVN. Those results will come out tonight.

After that, all polling will cease. According to Panamanian Election Law, there will be no more polling results released between today and the election, now just ten days away. Today is the last day any Panamanian news media outlet can legally release any polling data. Now, watch Martinelli try to get new polling results released in Miami or something. Wouldn't put it past him...

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GUPC Confirms The Project To Expand The Panama Canal Will Be Affected By The Strike

Protests & DemonstrationsThe consortium Grupo Unidos Por El Canal (GUPC) issued a press release today saying the workers on the project to expand the Panama Canal are supporting the strike started this morning by the SUNTRACS construction labor union.

The GUPC said there has been a delay in the work on the project, and their workers are inactive.

The SUNTRACS labor union leader Saul Mendez said this morning their concern is about the wage increase demanded by the union for the workers working on the megaprojects, and that they will remain on strike until there is an agreement.

Mendez said the workers have the right to a raise.

Labor Minister Reynaldo Medina said although the Suntracs rose from the negotiating table and called on its members walk out on strike, the talks will resume at 6:30 pm today. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Ah, smart move by Saul Mendez. The SUNTRACS doesn't actually represent most of these workers, but they are asking for a big raise for them at the negotiating table with the CAPAC. So (obviously) the construction workers who are on the Panama Canal expansion project walked off in support, because they want the raise.

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The Coronado Computer Whisperer

Internet & Technology Nestled between two restaurants directly off the Panamerican Highway in Coronado across the street from the Coronado Mall, lies one of Panama’s best-kept retail secrets: Punto G Electronics.

This is a computer store unlike any you've ever seen (or are likely to see) anywhere else in the world. The owner is Vera Bucek, a glamorous and flirty native New Yorker who opened Punto G Electronics exactly six months after she moved to Panama four years ago.

What makes this computer store so unique is the upscale boutique-factor, the personalized customer-service, Vera’s contagious laughter, and her uncanny knowledge of a variety of technology.

After many years in the technology field and a B.S. degree in Information Technology under her belt, Vera moved to Panama in search of a tropical environment and a place where she could add value to a community by sharing her love of technology. Having visited each and every computer store in whatever city she lived or visited, she felt what they all had in common was a lack of warmth and personality.

So, on her first visit to Panama, when she saw there were no computer repair stores in the area and that the construction of the Coronado Mall was nearing completion, on-the-spot she decided to make Coronado her home and open up shop. Her goal was to create a one-of-a-kind retail and repair store that reflects her fun personality where even a non-technical person could feel comfortable, and where the selection of products was unique and interesting. She also felt it was vital to provide Coronado with competent and accountable professional technical support, using honesty and integrity as the building blocks of the store’s culture.

Her dream was realized on 10 December 2010 – the day she opened the doors to Punto G Electronics, S.A. , fondly referred to by locals as “The Computer Ministry.”

Vera easily admits at first, it was very rough going because she was caught off guard by the overwhelming number of Panama’s “obscure” business and employment laws. On top of that, she had no idea of what to charge customers. She recalls the many all-nighters she worked for free because of employee errors and misunderstandings with customers. But what she did know was that she did not wish to emulate any other computer store, and that Coronado needed her.

Immediately when you walk into Punto G, you can’t help but to notice that the decorative style and earth tones make you feel like you’re in someone’s well-appointed home instead of in a computer repair store. While you’re there, you’d be cheating yourself by not enjoying one of the flavorful Jolly Rancher candies always available at the sales counter. Vera personally brings these candies from the States and they are one of Punto G’s signature pleasures you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Panama. And if you’re in the store for more than a minute, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself tapping your feet and humming to the Motown tunes playing on the store’s stereo system.

Typical Services:

1. Networking (commercial and residential);

2. Computer Repair:

a. Hardware

b. Software

c. Mac

d. PC

e. Linux

f. iPhones and iOS

g. Android tablet and phone customizations;

h. Data Retrieval

3. Computer consulting;

4. Custom Computer Builds;

5. Security Systems.

Unique Services:

1. Cozy entertainment display area with red leather seating;

2. All English new and used DVD’s in manufacturer’s packaging;

3. Apple TV jailbreak expert;

4. Hard-to-find cables;

5. Cool and new one-of-a-kind products;

6. On and offsite technology support;

7. One-on-one computer classes on pretty much any topic;

8. Webstore with real-time product availability;

9. All support staff speaks fluent English;

10. All English computers;

11. Shipping via Courier all over Panama;

After nearly two and a half years in the Coronado Mall, on 22 April 2013, Punto G moved across the street to its current location between California Burger and Asados Del Campo.

As the first computer repair store in Coronado, Punto G has achieved a reputation as a valued asset to Panama’s Gold Coast Beach community. Wherever she goes in the area, Vera is recognized as the Coronado Computer Whisperer and you can easily spot her by the group who invariably gathers around to ask her all sorts of technology questions.

Since nearly all of the store’s products are imported from the United States in very small quantities, Vera rarely needs to explain to her customers that while Punto G cannot compete with the big brand stores in terms of prices, they cannot compete with Punto G in terms of customer-service and attention to detail.

Whenever you’re in the Coronado area, you simply must make a point to visit this gem of a computer store. If you find something you like, you’d best purchase it immediately because their exclusive bleeding-edge products are usually only available in limited quantities, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that you won’t find the same items anywhere else in Panama. You may even want to drop your computer off for a thorough virus cleaning or bring your phone in for an upgrade or custom operating system installation, and experience firsthand how they go the extra mile to please their customers.

You can give them a call at: 345.3877, or visit their website at: www.puntogee.com.

Although Punto G’s business hours are 10a-7p Monday through Saturday, Vera can always be reached at 6911.8760 for any digital emergencies.

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The Road To The Gatun Locks Collapsed - Sinkhole

Canal ExpansionThe roadway of one of the roads used to access the Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal sank yesterday afternoon, near the area where work is being done to expand the Panama Canal, apparently due to damage caused by two large pipes that pass through the area.

"The water began to undermine the land until the land subsidence occurred, affecting vehicular traffic access to the sector of Gatun," firemen and the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) who responded to the scene.

A team of security and maintenance personnel from the Panama Canal Authority are working right now to open a provisional roadway, and to restore normal traffic flow. The depth of the sinkhole was not revealed.

There were no vehicles transiting the site at the moment of the collapse, therefore no casualties or injuries were reported.

ACP Press Release

In a statement, the ACP urges drivers to take necessary precautions, after a section of the Thelma King roadway in Colon suffered a collapse as the result of a sinkhole.

"Personnel responsible for the administration of the construction of the third set of locks in the Atlantic sector reported that traffic on the Thelma King roadway, near the entrance at the northern part of the project, passing the railroad tracks, has been interrupted. However, a detour has been enabled that allows drivers to reach their destination," the statement added.

The press release says personnel of GUPC and the Panama Canal Protection established an alternate route for vehicles through a detour, passing through the project site where the locks are being built. All drivers in the area are asked to obey traffic signs and take the necessary precautions. (Prensa)

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Michelle Lasso - Convicted And Deported From The United States

Corruption The Presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela has tried to minimize the involvement of Michelle Lasso in a case of money laundering in the United States, because she was the key figure in the financial part of the controversial Don James Foundation in Panama.

The Lasso family would have moved $27 million.

The Public Ministry might start an investigation.

Panama's Minister of Trade and Industry, Ricardo Quijano, said yesterday the Public Ministry should eventually launch an investigation into the alleged crimes against the public administration, and for having received funds from money laundering in the case aired by the Miami based Diario Las Americas against the Vice President and presidential candidate from the Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela.

"The Public Ministry should conduct an investigation to see where the money came from, and to ask the Diario Las Americas where it got the information," said Quijano.

But the lawyer Ernesto Cedeño said while the Public Ministry received a criminal complaint on Monday in this case, they can only investigate in the first instance the former government officials who allegedly collaborated with the offense, while Varela should be investigated by the National Assembly, as established in Article 467 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Panama's Attorney General Ana Belfon also spoke about this case yesterday, and she said the Public Ministry does not have the power to investigate either the President or the Vice President, and she also confirmed they received a report from the Financial Analysis Unit.

The Miami based newspaper Diario Las Américas has reported the Don James Foundation was the head of a structure that allowed Varela to divert funds from two consulates he controlled while he was a part of the ruling alliance, in Kobe, Japan and in South Korea.

These funds also would have allowed him to finance part of his presidential campaign.

However, Varela did not anticipate that the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation would be mixed with money from an illegal activity in the United States.

For Varela the case does not merit importance because Lasso collaborated with the American justice system, ignoring the fact that she pleaded guilty to money laundering and that 8 million dollars was frozen in the bank accounts.

In the United States the case is being treated as as one of the strongest illegal Internet gambling organizations disrupted by the FBI in conjunction with the DEA.

Lasso pleased guilty in April, together with the leader of the network Phillip Gurian, before District Court Judge Mae D' Agostino, during the hearing.

According to the Times Union union newspaper, during the hearing where Lasso was ordered to be deported and sentenced to two years probation, Judge D' Agostino scoffed at the statement made by Lasso in which she claimed she was unaware of the severity of her crimes, saying she comes from a country where gambling is legal.

"You speak as someone who was naive and who really did not know what was going on, but I read the wiretaps. I have had the benefit of listening to you, when you did not know the police were listening. You telling me you did not understand what was happening, in my opinion, is just amazing," said D' Agostino.

During the legal process Lasso spent more than 12 months in prison in the United States along with 34 other people who were arrested for being part of this network of money laundering from illegal gambling.

According to the investigations, Lasso managed the bank accounts, credit cards, and made wire transfers for a global sports betting network operated by Phillip Gurian, 52, of Boca Raton, Florida, who pleaded guilty to money laundering.

Lasso, according to the Times Union, also known as Michelle Marie Lasso-Barraza, transferred money to Panama, Andorra, and the Cayman Islands, and created two fictional entities known as Nigel Holdings Inc. and Nigel Holdings S.A..

Hundreds of hours of telephone recordings were made, including conversations via Skype. In one of these conversations with Gurian, Lasso tried to move $4 million generated by a gambling website to a Panamanian bank. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: It's true that statements being made by Varela, Jaime Lasso, and others who are trying to defend the Panameñista candidate have adopted the line, saying "Michelle Lasso cooperated with the authorities, and the case is closed." End of story - and they don't want to say (or hear) another word about it.

However it seems clear that the Panamanian authorities are going to be investigating the money laundering activities of Michelle Lasso, as well as the money her father Jaime Lasso reportedly diverted from the Panamanian Consulate in South Korea - through the bank account of the Don James Foundation - money eventually used by the presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela for this campaign and personal expenses.

I'd like to point out how incredibly stupid it was for Michelle Lasso to "mix" the two illegal activities. Of course we all know there is no judicial security in Panama. At the time when Varela was on top of the world as the newly elected Vice President and Foreign Minister, he probably felt untouchable. It's obvious they expected the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation to the the final resting place for the diverted and laundered money. And, they probably thought that no one would be investigating anything, ever. Times were good.

But a funny thing happened on the way to court. The FBI was listening to the telephone conversations of Michelle Lasso, as she coordinated the details of her illegal money laundering activities. Her statements in court - in which she said she supposedly didn't understand that what she was doing was illegal because she comes from a country where gambling is legal - are typical of the Panamanian elite. The US judge gave her a verbal bitch slap, probation, had her deported, and seized all of the money. So no, nobody bought the "I didn't know..." defense. Stupid.

Using the same bank account from the Don James Foundation to launder the illegal money from Internet gambling that was being used to divert money from the Consulates was also incredibly stupid. Now the Panamanian Attorney General, armed with the official reports from the Financial Analysis Unit, will be ripping through those accounts and banking activities with a vengeance. Lasso has said in public statements that all of those transactions were legitimate, none of the money was pubic funds, and that he did nothing wrong. I suspect he will have ample opportunities to repeat those statements to the detectives, investigators, and prosecutors as the investigation advances.

Varela himself is relatively protected, for now. As I mentioned in previous comments, he enjoys at least two different levels of protection. The National Assembly can open an official investigation into his activities, as the Vice President. As a presidential candidate he's protected by the Electoral Tribunal. But of course all of that changes after 1 July 2014 when Jose Domingo Arias is sworn in as the newly elected President of Panama. Ricardo Martinelli's wife Marta will be replacing Varela as the Vice President (won't that be an awkward photo op) and all of Varela's protections will evaporate in the hot Panamanian sun.

You can expect to see a lot more on this over the next ten or eleven days leading up to the election. The CD and the Panama America will be beating this drum as hard as they can.

Also, don't be at all surprised if the US Justice System eventually makes some kind of a move against the money that ended up in Panama from the illegal gambling activities. In the US, what they care most about is the money. If the Panamanian Financial Analysis Unit can demonstrate to the US authorities where the money actually went and how - then the US authorities might act on that information. What they care about is the money, and demonstrating to those who are involved in these sorts of activities that all of the proceeds - money, cars, houses, boats, planes, or what have you - will be seized. They have already seized businesses and properties in Panama related to this bust, like my favorite place to eat chicken wings and watch football the (former) VIP Sportsbook. Remember when "Big Mike" and "Wild Bill" got busted last year? This is basically the same bust.

Funny, I used to hang out there and bullshit with the President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez, and the campaign manager for the Jose Domingo Arias campaign Jose Muñoz. Want to know what we talked about?

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Panama Will Have To Fill 100,000 Logistics Jobs In The Next Ten Years

Employment & JobsThe Panamanian economy will create 100,560 new jobs in the logistics sector in the next ten years (2014-2024), of which 65% will be operational and middle level technical positions, according to a study by the Business Logistics Council and the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry.

The vacancies will be for forklift operators, warehouse operators, packers, transportation route coordinators, and accounting assistants, among others.

Given the lack of available manpower, the Panama Maritime Chamber is coordinating with the public sector to train people in the area of logistics. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: A story typical of those about the Panamanian economy. Heads up guys, because we're going to be needing an additional 100,000 workers over the next decade - or 10,000 per year - and right now those bodies are not available. Too many jobs, not enough people, full employment (or, 0% unemployment).

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Dutch Police Hint at Criminal Activity in Women's Disappearance

Expat TalesTwo Dutch women who disappeared earlier this month in Panama are unlikely to have gotten lost in the mountainous region, Dutch police said on Tuesday, raising the possibility three weeks into the search that the two may have been the victims of a crime.

Kris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, 22, were hiking near the town of Boquete on April 1 when they were last seen, police said. The area is known to be a popular tourist holiday destination.

Panamanian authorities launched a widespread search for the women, but found no sign of the two would-be volunteers. On April 14, officials decided to downscale the massive operation.

The women's parents have asked for tips and support via social media.

"After 3 weeks there has been no trace of our daughters and we live daily between hope and fear. These are difficult times for us as you can understand," a message posted Tuesday read. "The search for Kris and Lisanne continues unabated and we hope that you will continue sending your tips and suggestions."

Kremers and Froon had traveled on March 15 to Panama, where they first stayed in the town of Bocas del Toro for two weeks before traveling to Boquete, where they intended to volunteer at a school for the remaining four weeks of their trip. Once they got to Boquete, the women were told they would not be able to start their work until the following week -- so they had a week to fill.

Dutch police said an inn keeper saw them on April 1, when the women asked him for directions for their hike. Tired, they later returned to the man and asked for help getting back to town. Police said the man advised them to take a taxi, but he said he didn't see whether the women returned to town or went back to the mountain.

Dutch police spokesman Bernhard Jens said Tuesday on Dutch media that it was unlikely the women would have returned to their hike.

—Becky Bratu (NBC)

Editor's Comment: Based on this report it would seem there's practically no chance they got lost while hiking. It sounds like they completed their hike and were trying to return back to their hotel. I bet they hailed a cab, and then were abducted. Practically every murder I've investigated started off as a missing person case. Hopefully they are still alive somewhere...

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SUNTRACS Construction Labor Union Declares (Politically Motivated) Strike

Protests & DemonstrationsBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - The SUNTRACS labor union declared a nationwide strike, to start this morning at 7:00 am.

Over the past few weeks SUNTRACS has been in negotiations with Panama's Chamber of Construction (CAPAC).

The SUNTRACS and the CAPAC regularly negotiate their collective bargaining agreement, and this year is no different.

However the big difference this year, is that there's an election coming up in just eleven days. And, Genaro Lopez is a leader in the SUNTRACS labor union, as well as an independent presidential candidate representing the recently created "Broad Front For Democracy" (FAD) political party.

The FAD represents the extreme left-wing of the Panamanian political spectrum. Lopez, the FAD, SUNTRACS, as well as all of the other left wing political elements in Panama have been receiving financial support from Venezuela from Hugo Chavez for years. Now that Chavez is dead, that support has continued from his replacement Nicolás Maduro, although in this election Maduro came right out and said he's supporting the PRD and their candidate Juan Carlos Navarro.

Back in the late 1990's - before the start of the economic explosion in Panama - SUNTRACS was a much stronger and more important political element. Back then they represented practically everyone who was active in the economy and working as a construction worker.

Howver over the past fifteen years or so, SUNTRACS' political power has waned due to the explosion of Panama's economy. Right now they only have about 12,000 members but there are hundreds of thousands of people working in the construction industry. The simple fact is that the SUNTRACS no longer represent a majority of construction workers in Panama. Not even close.

This morning the SUNTRACS representatives went on television and announced a "nationwide strike" while saying that "all of the mega construction projects will be shut down" by the strike. Well, not so much.

The fact of the matter is that most - a great majority - of the people working in construction today don't like the SUNTRACS. They won't go out on strike just because the SUNTRACS declares a strike. And, they know that Genaro Lopez is politically motivated, and he's really after the money from the dues paid by their members and Venezuela.

SUNTRACS collects $2.00 per member, per month. With 12,000 members that's $24,000 per month. Genaro Lopez and his closest associates spend that money as they see fit, with no oversight or controls. They do practically nothing for their members in return.

The bottom line is that this "strike" is really nothing more than a political rally designed to achieve headlines. The public school teachers union - also representing a minority and also not representing the grand majority of public school teachers - is part of the "FAD" crew. Again, there are extreme left wing elements in Panama, part of the long existing political spectrum.

The SUNTRACS will be able to make some noise. They might shut down a few streets. There might be some clashes between riot control police officers and striking construction workers. It won't last long. Martinelli will first try to hold back, to give the SUNTRACS some room to make their insignificant and unimportant political statements. The FAD has 0% chance of winning the election in May, and the election is all that matters.

But if the SUNTRACS becomes too much of a problem or a nuisance for the rest of the Panamanian people, then Martinelli will send in the riot control police officers. They will clash with the SUNTRACS guys, who normally like to throw rocks at the police. Then the cops will use tear gas and pepper spray, round them up, and throw them in jail for a few days.

This exact same scenario has played itself out on several occasions in the recent past. For me it's like going to see a play you've already seen in the past. The details will change, the exact way the drama will unfold might be slightly different, however the bottom line is wholly predictable.

The SUNTRACS is looking to score some political points on their side of the equation, and Martinelli is trying to defend or improve his political position on their side of the equation. It just happens to be unfolding with the streets of Panama City as the stage, a construction labor union strike as the backdrop, but with the same actors and final act.

It would be a good day to stay home, make some cool adult beverages, and watch how things unfold on television. Avoid any large crowds or demonstrations. The protests and roadblocks will cause traffic jams. If you just wait a few days, all of this will go away...

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Village Of The Dammed

Infrastructure UpgradesBy Lawrence Reichard - On several occasions Ngäbe-Buglé activists and their indigenous, Latino, labor and supporters have blocked the nearby Pan-American Highway, Panama’s chief economic lifeline. ... But they’ve paid a heavy price for their militancy. At least two protesters have been killed in clashes with police.

Walking along the stone and dirt road that follows the Tabasará River to the construction site of Panama’s controversial Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam is a bit like stepping into a Gabriel García Márquez novel, one titled Chronicle of a Battle Foretold. The road is blocked by huge felled trees and seemingly endless piles of rocks and boulders. You know the battle’s coming, but you don’t know when, or how violent it will be.

The roadblocks were put in place by indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé activists who say that the private Panamanian company that’s building the Barro Blanco dam, Generadora del Istmo S.A. (Genisa), built the road so Panamanian police can cross the rough terrain and evict potentially hundreds of Ngäbe-Buglé protesters. The Ngäbe-Buglé firmly refuse to leave the land—their land—that is slated to be inundated by the dam. The trees, rocks and boulders they’ve used to block the road might not pose much of a challenge for Genisa’s heavy equipment, but the gaping hole that they tore through Genisa’s makeshift bridge over the deep, fast-flowing Tabasará could be a real problem.

High up on a bluff overlooking the Barro Blanco construction site and the scarred Tabasará, hundreds of Ngäbe-Buglé demonstrators have constructed a makeshift protest camp replete with banners and flags and one small, rudimentary, three-wall structure made of palm fronds. Scores of protesters sleep under the stars on tarps and pieces of cardboard. They eat handfuls of Froot Loops, and refried beans are dished out of a five-gallon bucket into cutaway plastic soda bottles.

A few hundred yards away on another rough dirt road, a small contingent of police wearing shirts that read “ANTI-DISTURBIO” (anti-riot) keeps an eye on the camp.

Defying heat in the upper 90s, a young man sitting beside me is covered from head to toe, masking his identity. Only his eyes show. “Where are we supposed to go?” he says. “This is our land. We live here. We have always lived here.” This refrain is repeated over and over by the Ngäbe-Buglé.

Construction of the hydroelectric project began in 2011, and resistance to it has been fierce. On several occasions Ngäbe-Buglé activists and their indigenous, Latino, labor and supporters have blocked the nearby Pan-American Highway, Panama’s chief economic lifeline. In one 2012 action, they grabbed national headlines by shutting down the road for more than eight days. But they’ve paid a heavy price for their militancy. At least two protesters have been killed in clashes with police. And now, with construction of the dam approaching completion, the stakes are even higher.

Genisa has said that only 14 acres of land and five indigenous families will be affected by the dam. According to Ngäbe-Buglé activists, those five families have all refused offers from Genisa of between $1,000 and $4,000 each to abandon the lands they have cultivated, hunted, fished and lived on for what they call “forever.”

But Ricardo Miranda, a Ngäbe activist fighting the dam, says that more than 400 Ngäbe-Buglé will be displaced and another 3,500-plus will lose farmland, hunting and fishing grounds, and access to fresh, clean, potable water. A 2013 report from the United Nations Development Programme concluded that it’s likely that three Ngäbe-Buglé villages will eventually be flooded by the project. Gone too will be four pre-Columbian petroglyphs, which, according to Panamanian archaeologist Jonathan González, are protected national monuments. (Genisa did not respond to a request for comment.)

Genisa is incorporated in Panama, but its board chairman is Luis Kafie, one of the richest men in Honduras. According to Genisa’s website, the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca’s General Congress delegated a decision on Barro Blanco to the Regional Congress of Kädriri, which approved the project. But Ricardo Miranda insists that the agreement is invalid because the congress is not authorized to negotiate a land deal with a private company, and that in such cases a public referendum is required.

Barro Blanco is being financed by the Dutch FMO Bank, the German DEG Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). All the banks’ websites tout their environmental and social responsibility, and Miranda says he hopes solidarity groups in Holland and Germany will pressure FMO and DEG to adhere to official European Union social responsibility standards and abandon Barro Blanco.

In the meantime, the Ngäbe-Buglé have taken their fight right to Genisa and the Panamanian government. Their first protest camp was a mile or two upstream from, and out of sight of, the dam’s construction site. But in March they upped the ante and moved the camp downstream to its current location, within eyesight of the construction site. Panama has national elections coming up on May 4, and few think the government will move on protesters before the election. But all bets are off if the protesters move on to the Barro Blanco construction site, which they have said they likely will—although they won’t say when.

Miranda is the general coordinator of the April 10 Movement (M-10), an organization founded by Ngäbe-Buglé activists in April 1999 to defend the Tabasará watershed from exploitative hydroelectric projects, and in an interview in Panama City, Miranda said that M-10 is ready if the government moves against the protesters. According to Miranda, 20 labor unions and indigenous and campesino groups have committed to shutting down major roads and highways in at least 15 spots scattered throughout the country if Barro Blanco construction is not halted soon. Miranda added that at least some roads will be closed if the government attacks the Ngäbe-Buglé protest camp.

Meanwhile, the Panamanian government is ratcheting up the pressure. On March 20, Miranda says, the government issued warrants for him and for his uncle and fellow activist Manolo Miranda. And activists blame the government for a recent wave of cell phone malfunctions affecting their ranks. With Panama’s economy booming, electricity shortages widening, and the Ngäbe-Buglé digging in to defend their land, the real battle over Barro Blanco may be just beginning. (inthesetimes.com)

Editor's Comment: This article makes passing reference to Panama's booming economy and looming energy shortage - in the every last line. In fact - that's the headline. A simple fact of life is that no matter where you build a hydroelectric plant, anywhere in the world, someone is going to be displaced by the waters rising behind the dam. Every time. In this case in Panama it's 14 acres of land that will be flooded, and five families will be displaced. And of course the people who are protesting the dam and trying to stop it will inflate those numbers, and at the same time those who are building the dam will try to minimize the numbers. Reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

This project is another example of "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." Millions of people in Panama plug things in and turn things on, every day. Panama simply needs more electrical power generation capacity to continue growing. This project will be completed. The protesters will lose their struggle, and will be removed. It's a foregone conclusion, and the only thing that remains to be defined are the details, and how events unfold between here and there.

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The Island Buyer And His Thorny Connections

CorruptionThe City Council of Taboga issued decision number 6, of March 14, 2014, which repealed agreements number 81, 82, and 83 of 2013, through which more than 78 hectares of land were sold to the businessman Ernesto Bósquez Ditrani, who has been linked to land speculators.

The repeal, a product of the demands being made by the residents of Taboga, takes effect as soon as it was adopted, but these lands are the property of the municipality and the council is empowered to dispose of them thanks to a resolution adopted by the National Authority of Land Management (ANATI), except for Tortolita island, because it is an inalienable property of the Panama Canal Authority.

Irregularities

The ANATI transferred the lands on the islands of Taboga, Taboguilla, Tortola, Tortolita and others to the Municipality of Taboga, after the Council "urgently" requested to expand their community land, in August of 2012.

They claimed "Taboga and Otoque will have population and housing growth demanding urgent action for land use planning..." according to Agreement 114.

However in practice, they were actually requesting the land in order to sell it to the businessman Ernesto Bósquez Ditrani.

José Chirú, the Mayor of Taboga, and Azael Ortiz, the President of the Municipal Council of Taboga, decided the fate of the land on the islands a month before it was handed over to them by the ANATI, without having the official appraisal in their hands.

According to the ANATI, they granted 418 land titles on the islands of Taboga and Otoque, however, after the transfer of the land, they have not issued title on any of the lands that were to be sold to Bósquez Ditrani, as provided in Agreement 114.

Bósquez Ditrani says he acted "lawfully" and the only thing he did was to ask for the lands and he proposed to the Councilmen the "idea" of an investment in tourism, something that was not even a project, as described by the Mayor to the people of Taboga.

The businessman said they did not give him a price, none was paid, and there is nothing in his name.

"They (the Councilmen) decided to write it that way. Excuse me, but I was not in agreement. I did not participate. I only made the request," he said.

In order to request land "you only say 'I'm interested in this piece here, more or less of this size. Period. There is nothing more," he said.

And when he was asked if any person presents an idea (to the Municipality) then they can give them one of the country's islands, he responded "Listen, maybe so. Why not?"

Lucky Circle

Bósquez Ditrani , a 42 year old developer, would have gone unnoticed if he had not directly obtained a part of four islands, simply by presenting an idea of what to do with them.

Bósquez Ditrani manages a circle of companies that are or were linked to a lawyer who created companies whose operations of land sales operations are being investigated by the Public Ministry.

It is the lawyer Evisilda Martinez.

Her office did operations of land sales - supposedly illegally - in inadjudicable wetlands inside of the Ngäbe - Buglé Comarca near the border with Costa Rica, which is now being investigated by the Public Ministry.

The company Semper Fidelis Development S.A. links Bósquez Ditrani with Evisilsa Martinez.

The first was the Treasurer of the company and the second, its founder.

Currently the company is chaired by William Bongiorno.

Martinez was also the legal representative, treasurer, and president of this company, along with her husband, the attorney Francisco Antonio Castillo (secretary), and both belong to the Martinez Law Firm, which she represents.

Besides Martinez and her husband, the lawyers José Rafael Reyes y Luis Martínez Pérez also worked as the lawyers for the company Semper Fidelis Development S.A..

Martínez Pérez is the resident agent of the company Goodfella's Panama S.A., the company name of a restaurant on whose board Bósquez Ditrani presides, with his friend Bongiorno as treasurer.

José Rafael Reyes is the attorney for the company Pan American Real Estate Group, S.A., which announced the sale of 31 hectares of land on Taboga for $8.1 million on its website.

Jason Meyers Harris - the former treasurer of this company - is listed on the website as one of the company's contacts to handle the sale of the land.

Meyers Harris was the treasurer of the company with which Martinez Evisilda processed the irregular sale of land in Ngäbe Bugle.

This newspaper (La Prensa) contacted the Pan American Real Estate Group, SA and asked for contacts for the sale of land in Taboga (including Meyers Harris) that appeared on the website, but the secretary said they had nothing to do with Pan American Real Estate Group, and that they had left on a trip.

On another occasion we again asked for the managers of the company.

Jorge Gonzalez Martínez - who identified himself as the company's secretary - replied in disgust: "We are not authorized to give you information about anything. You can write whatever you want."

We contacted Meyers Harris via email. Shortly after we sent him a questionnaire, the announcement of the sale of land in Taboga was removed from the website.

Luis Morales - who answered emails on behalf of Meyers Harris, acting as partner of the firm - said the contract for the sale of 31 hectares of land on Taboga for $8 million was being handled by another partner, but he had withdrawn from the company.

This newspaper contacted that partner and he said the land for sale in Taboga was not his, nor did he have anything to do with it.

Morales also denied a "direct " relationship between Meyers Harris and Bósquez Ditrani, but added any relationship he might have had with him or anyone else "is strictly business."

"About the possible link or connection between Meyers Harris and Bósquez Ditrani by the simple fact that the lawyer Evisilda Martínez has created companies for Mr. Meyers, does not give rise to a connection between them," said the spokesman for Meyers.

Although Bósquez Ditrani was the treasurer of the company Semper Fidelis Development, S.A. - founded by Evisilda Martínez - he kept his distance from her.

"I have no company with her, she is not my lawyer is not all. I know who she is, I have heard her name. But I don't have any relationship with this lady," he said, although he admitted that he knows her, as well as "many lawyers."

When asked about his involvement in Semper Fidelis Development he said "I'm on that Board (but) that does not mean that I own anything."

But Evisilda Martínez founded (the company) and served as its legal representative.

"As she has founded other (companies) for the group for which I work. I work for a group. I can be on many Board of Directors. But that does not mean I have a relationship with people at all. What's more, she founded these companies in 2007 and I started to be a part of this circle in 2010. We do not have any relationship with Evisilda and we do not want to work with her," he said.

In May 2011 Bósquez Ditrani replaced Alejandrina Arrocha Arcia as the Treasurer, when Esther De Frias was the President of Semper Fidelis Development.

Arrocha is the current treasurer of the Pan American Real Estate Group, and she was also a Director of other companies founded by Martinez Evisilda while the lawyer De Frias was a partner in the Martinez Law Firm.

Two weeks after talking to this newspaper, Bósquez Ditrani resigned from his position as the Treasurer and Director of Semper Fidelis Development, S.A., in which Evisilda Martínez - as has already said - was the founder, legal representative, treasurer, and president.

The lawyer Martinez and her husband Francisco Castillo also distanced themselves from Bósquez Ditrani, when they said they did not have and relationship with the businessman, nor any commercial interest in the lands of Taboga.

Since the Directors changed, "we stopped having any sort of relationship with these companies," said Castillo, while at the same time, he denied that the Martinez Law Firm processed the purchase of the land on Taboga for the Pan American Real Estate Group.

"Mr. Jason Harris is a Director of that company, but he has a law firm who attends to those cases," said Castillo.

Another controversial link of Bósquez Ditrani is with the American Brett Ragghianti, who has been reported before the National Council of Transparency against Corruption for allegedly having titled land in a dishonest manner.

Bósquez Ditrani and Ragghianti share the Director's position on the company Panama Land Futures Corp, S.A..

"I have not seen this man (Ragghianti) in eight years. I do not know where he is, and I do not have any business relationship with this man," said Bósquez Ditrani.

Although for the moment Bósquez Ditrani cannot buy the lands on the islands of Taboga, Taboguilla, Tórtola and Tortolita after the repeal of those agreements, the Councilors could process another sale to him or to other businessmen, because the ANATI generously answered their request for land on seven islands. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: OK, I know all of this is really hard to understand. And there's a reason for that. They want to try to make all of this as confusing as possible. You practically need a program to keep track of "who's who" in this whole thing.

But to me this case of characters reads like a list of "old home week." The really funny part about all if this, is that the power behind many of the land grabs - in Bocas del Toro anyway - is Martinelli's former Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu. Martinelli fired Jimmy Papadimitriu when he got caught (in a very public manner) trying to use the ANATI to steal public land in El Hombron and Paitilla. Big scandal, and as a result Jimmy got fired. You don't get to make the Boss look bad.

And I know Jimmy Papadimitriu was also behind the ANATI land snatch in both Chame and in Bocas del Toro.

So here's the really hilarious part. Jimmy Papadimitriu - after he was fired by Martinelli - is now working for the campaign of Juan Carlos Varela.

Juan Carlos Varela - the candidate of the Panameñista political party - is strongly supported by I. Roberto Eisenmann and the La Prensa newspaper, who literally hates Martinelli's guts.

La Prensa newspaper is barking up this tree, thinking they've got something on Martinelli, through the ANATI, somehow.

However, in fact if you chase this rabbit all the way down, kill it, and examine it's guts, La Prensa will finally figure out that they are - in fact - going after their own guy with this one. At this point they apparently have not got that fact figured out yet.

So therefore, you can expect La Prensa will drop this line of investigation like a hot rock, as soon as they figure it out. The ANATI is as corrupt as hell, no doubt about it. They've been handing out land like candy canes all over the place. These guys tried to make a snatch on Taboga, got caught, and pushed back. Oh well, on to bigger and better fish...

And for me, it's funny how the same old crew keeps coming back up like a bad burrito...

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Water Main Breaks - And Floods A House in Bethania

Infrastructure UpgradesA house was flooded this morning in Bethania, after a break in a water main pipe located in the Via Camino Real.

Two older adults had to be rescued from house number 531, located behind the police station in Bethania, by members of the National Civil Protection System.

The pipe broke this morning. Work crews from the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers are already working to repair the break. (Mi Diario)

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Cattle Dying Of Thirst In Los Santos

WeatherRanchers in the province of Los Santos have been reporting cattle are dying due to the dry season and the lack of water in this region.

El Cedro and El Corozal, in the district of Macaracas, are the areas most affected.

Yesterday, on a tour of the area we were able to see a large number of dry springs, creeks, and watering holes, worrying the ranchers of the region, because if this situation continues into May and June it will become more critical.

Already there have been reports of cattle dying from thirst.

Manuel Gutiérrez, a rancher in El Corozal, said there is no water for either animals or people. It is expected that the coming months will be very difficult.

"The cows are falling, I had to put an IV in one a El Corozal Abajo," he said.

According to the rancher, there are more than 500 head without water, because everything is dry.

The veterinarian Jorge Castro said there have been many reports of cattle busting through fences in search of better grass.

Alexis Bravo, the regional director of the MIDA in Los Santos, said they are building dams. (Siglo)

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Part Removed From Metro That Was Causing Trains To Stop Unexpectedly

Infrastructure UpgradesRoberto Roy, Director of the Secretariat of the Panama Metro, reported on his Twitter account last night they moved a piece that was stopping the trains for a few minutes.

"Last night we changed the part that was stopping the trains for a few minutes. It's called the SDD or Secondary Detection Device. All is OK now," Roy wrote.

Roy described the part as a magnet, a device on the track, which caused the train to stop unexpectedly.

In any case, Roy said these problems did not pose any danger to passengers.

Sometimes the trains stopped for several minutes at various stations, beyond what they are supposed to stop for the boarding and exit of passengers.

When this happened, a male voice on the train's public address system expressed apologies because the train had stopped for several minutes, without elaborating on the reasons why. (TVN)

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Formal Complaint Filed Against Varela And Crew - Alleging Money Laundering And Diversion Of State Funds

CorruptionA complaint for crimes against the state was filed yesterday in the Public Ministry, following the scandal linking the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela to money laundering and the diversion of funds.

The criminal complaint refers to the diversion of funds from the consulates of Kobe, Japan and South Korea, the payments to the presidential candidate Varela, and the alleged links to a money laundering network in the United States.

The complainant asked the Public Ministry to open a criminal investigation, to include all persons who appear as beneficiaries or representatives of the 26 bank accounts and companies receiving payments and deposits from the Don James Foundation.

Eduardo Pinnock , who filed the complaint, said the process should clarify whether these accounts received funds from two activities that appear to be illegal: laundering money from illegal gambling in the United States, and the triangulation of public funds from the consulates in Kobe, Japan and South Korea.

"The investigation should include, in addition determining the authors and accomplices, the accessories after the fact who refute this criminal news as a smokescreen, or who try to hide with sophistry and lies about the alleged offenses of money laundering," says the complaint.

Meanwhile, the Miami based newspaper Diario Las Americas has reiterated they possess documents proving money from illegal gambling in the United States was laundered through financial institutions in Panama, and then were used for the Varela campaign.

All of these funds went through the controversial Don James Foundation.

"Michelle Lasso and Philipe Gurain, engaged in the laundering of money obtained from illegal gambling, were prosecuted by U.S. courts. These people transferred money to accounts in Panama, destined not only to the candidate Varela, but also to people who are very close to him: Jaime Lasso del Castillo (the former Consul in South Korea) and Alberto Arosemena Aristides Medina (the former Consul in Kobe, Japan)," reported the Diario Las Americas on Sunday.

The report also stated that some of the funds deposited into the accounts held by the Lasso family were paid in several checks to Juan Carlos Varela.

"As we demonstrated in documents published throughout the week," said Diario Las Americas.

There are three audited accounts where there are checks that would link to Juan Carlos Varela and his campaign.

The Diario Las Americas indicated the checks were written from 2009 to 2013, "the year during which the accounts controlled by Michelle Lasso were closed, because they appear in different lists of compliance due to their association with Gurian to launder money."

The newspaper said they have the registers and documents proving that Varela, his family members, companies, and service providers (to his campaign) received $706,533 from one of the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

"It draws the attention of the investigators that all of the checks issued were written for round numbers, a practice in the world of international finance which has always been a point of suspicion, because the product of dividends, services, or other practices normally are composite figures. This is a Red Alert that generates immediate investigations," the paper said.

The report details some of the payments made from account number 1100000231 of the Don James Foundation in Bnaco Panama to Varela and his family, among them checks: 00008 for $ 25.000 (27-04-2009), 00009 for $70,000 (04 -05 to 2009), 00010 for $25.000 (04-05-2009), and 00012 for $ 50,000.

It is speculated that the Don James Foundation, according to the publication in the Diario Las Americas, was the head of the financial structure Juan Carlos Varela used to triangulate the money produced by two major consulates he controlled while he was the Foreign Minister in the current government administration: Kobe, Japan under Aristides Alberto Arosemena, and South Korea under Jaime Lasso.

All of the operations would have been handled by Michelle Lasso, as reflected in the bank statements and official documents.

The Don James Foundation managed about $13.9 million in its three direct accounts, two of them in the Banco Panama and the other at Global Bank.

But it is estimated the sum exceeds 27 million, if you add the satellite accounts managed by Michelle Lasso, who created a network of more than 15 corporations, more than 10 bank accounts in Panama and the United States, where illegal gambling was conducted offshore, an activity that ended in a coordinated international investigation conducted by the FBI.

The president of the Don James Foundation is Jaime Lasso, who as the Consul in South Korea made direct deposits into the first bank account at the Banco Panama.

Lasso issued a statement last weekend, which states that all transactions made ​​in the Don James Foundation were done with transparency, and that they have nothing to do with the money laundering case that was investigated in the U.S..

Lasso announced he would proceed legally against the Diario Las Americas and all the institutions that issued the reports.

What Lasso did not explain was the reason why he and the former Consul Alberto Arosemena, in Kobe, made recurring deposits for large sums of money to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

These are two of the consulates Varela controlled while he was the Foreign Minister. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: The only thing new in this article is that a formal complaint has now been filed before the Public Ministry, asking for the Panamanian authorities to investigate the entire incident. And of course, now the next step will be for the Attorney General to start working the case. Investigating people like Jaime Lasso and his daughter Michelle Lasso, as well as Alberto Arosemena is relatively easy because they are just common Panamanians under the law. So are Varela's family members, except for his brother, who is a Deputy in the National Assembly. The rest of them don't have any sort of legal protections.

However Juan Carlos Varela himself enjoys a couple of layers of legal protection. First of all as the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party he is protected from investigation or prosecution by Panama's Electoral Law. These elements are designed to prevent the opening of frivolous lawsuits or criminal investigations for purely political purposes. So therefore, the Electoral Tribunal will act as a filter. They would first have to decide to lift or suspend those protections, before any investigation could proceed against him.

Varela also enjoys the protection affording him as the sitting Vice President. According to Article 191 of the Panamanian Constitution, the Vice President can only be held responsible if he;

1. Oversteps his constitutional functions;

2. If he uses coercion or violence during the electoral process to prevent the meeting of the National Assembly, for impeding the exercise of the functions of this or other bodies or public authorities established by the Constitution, or;

3. If he commits crimes against the "international personality of the State" or if he commits crimes against the State.

Article 191 goes on to say that, in the first two cases, the Vice President would be removed from power and would be prevented from exercising public office as defined by law. In the third case, however, "common law" would be applied.

So therefore, it is entirely possible that Martinelli intends to prove Varela is a money launderer, and that he received funds that were first illegally collected by the Consuls in Japan and Korea, and then later transferred to Varela for him to use in his campaign. At first blush one would think Martinelli simply intended to tarnish the candidate Varela, to cause him to lose votes in the upcoming election. However it's possible that Martinelli wants to take Varela off of the table completely - to have him removed from the office of Vice President, and to have him declared as ineligible as a presidential candidate because of these allegations.

Go back and read the very first line of this article. "...crimes against the state..." That means the third number line of Article 191 would apply - and Varela could be investigated and tried as a common citizen. It opens up all sorts of possibilities.

Stranger things have happened. Martinelli flat-out owns the Supreme Court and Attorney General's office, so they could take quick action and issue quick decisions on his behalf. Martinelli does not, however, control the Electoral Tribunal. But if They decide to try to protect Varela, then of course they will be seen as trying to protect an accused money launderer.

So yeah, they've got Varela and his crew apparently caught red handed, with their hand in the cookie jar. Well, actually it's more like they climbed all the way into the jar and were having tea and cookies on an ill gotten yacht, thanks to money laundering, graft, corruption, and the diversion of state funds.

What you are now watching is the slow-roasting of Varela and crew in the press, orchestrated by Martinelli and the CD. They had this one ready and waiting for a long time, and decided to pull the trigger now, right before the election, for maximum impact.

Anyone care to speculate about what the Financial Analysis Unit would find if it was under the control of either the PRD or the Panameñistas, and they started looking into all of the companies and accounts controlled by Martinelli and his crew? In fact, Martinelli has a tremendous strategic advantage because of the position he's in, and he's using all of it. And that's why the CD will probably be running Panama until 2064...

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Former Consul Bought Juan Carlos Varela - Who Appointed Him - A Yacht ("Thanks, Buddy...")

CorruptionThe investigation by the Miami based Diario Las Americas newspaper not only left traces of how large sums of money were diverted from the Panamanian consulates in South Korea and Kobe, Japan to bank accounts in Panama in the name of the Don James Foundation.

South Korea and Kobe were consulates controlled by Varela, when he was serving as the Foreign Minister from July 2009 and October 2012. (See Editor's Comment)

In the case of Korea, Varela appointed his cousin Jaime Lasso, and in the case of Kobe he appointed Alberto Aristides Arosemena, who is linked to his brother, the National Assembly Deputy José Luis Varela.

Two of the multiple transfers from the former Consul Arosemena could be related to the purchase of the new yacht Varela and his brother acquired between 2010 and 2011.

According to the documents of the investigation being carried out by the Diario Las Americas, between May and June 2012 Arosemena made three transfers of $25,000 each to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

This was not a normal transfer from an account at the HSBC Bank in Tokyo to the Global Bank in Panama, to the account of the Don James Foundation.

In two of the transfers, the former Consul Arosemena explained that the money was meant for the purchase of a " boat " or a "yacht."

The dates coincide with the registration of the purchase of the $3 million dollar yacht named the "Centuria," owned by Varela, a luxury property that the presidential candidate of the Panameñista party tried to hide in Miami, after the breakup of the alliance with the ruling Cambio Democratico political party.

Varela tried to hide all traces of the purchase of the pleasure craft.

For this he used an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands named Scorley Assets LTD.

However, the loan contract for the payment of a part of the yacht identify him as the true owner with his brother.

The history of this "zero kilometer" (new) Bertram yacht is full of questions, and is a possible case of evasion.

The Vice President's yacht was baptized with the name of a special rum launched by the Varela Hermanos S.A. liquor company: "Centuria."

Before, and since its purchase in 2011, they have kept the yacht in Miami in the United States, away from prying eyes.

It all started in February 2010, when Varela decided to become part of a select group; the owners of luxury sport fishing yachts.

At that moment in time the Vice President and former Foreign Minister was one of the most influential men in the current government.

Simultaneously his brother also controlled Panama's lawmaking body; he was the President of the National Assembly.

Traveling under the guise as the Vice President and Foreign Minister, on that date Varela attended the "Miami Boat Show," according to two sources, leading him to fall in love with the 2011 Bertram yacht model 630.

And so he took steps to purchase the luxury craft through a dealer in Panama: Evermarine Corp.

Varela ordered a yacht 67 feet (20.40 meters) long, 5.52 meters wide, weighing 45 tons and with a fiberglass hull.

Its market value: $ 3 million, according to two maritime operators consulted by this newspaper.

On August 9, 2011, just days before the breakup of the alliance between the Panameñista political party and the ruling Cambio Democratic, Varela inscribed the buy-sell contract for the yacht in the Public Registry of Panama, using a foreign company as a screen.

One Dollar

Varela used the law firm Icaza, González-Ruiz y Alemán to register the yacht in Panama.

One of the directors of this law firm - Alvaro Aleman - served as Varela's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The notarized document revealed the company Evermarine Corp. of Belize sold the yacht named the "Centuria" to the company Scorley Assets LTD of the British Virgin Islands for only one dollar and "other considerations of value" that are not identified in the document, to which this newspaper (Panama America) had access.

On 18 November 2011, two months after the buy-sell contract for the purchase of the yacht was registered in Panama, Varela's name comes up in a bank loan with the Tower International bank for $2 million dollars in financing, to partially finance the acquisition of the "Centuria," payable within a period of 120 months and with an annual interest of 6.75%.

In the loan agreement with Towerbank both Juan Carlos Varela and his brother the National Assembly Deputy Jose Luis Varela are listed as the sureties and guarantors in each and every one of the obligations assumed by the debtor company, Scorley Assets LTD.

Foreign Service

On 29 July 2011, the "Centuria" received its navigation papers as a private pleasure craft under the Panamanian flag, but under the classification of foreign service on behalf of the company Scorley Assets LTD.

In patent navigation documents the company Scorley Assets LTD left blank the reference of the assessed value of the yacht "Centuria."

However, once again it was reported that the ship was purchased as "new construction" for one dollar, and for "other considerations of value" that are not identified. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: One more detail, with enough meat to chew on for a week. So Varela purchased a new yacht for $3 million dollars. The consul in Kobe, Japan sent him $75,000 over three deposits to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation. And believe it or not the dumb ass put down a reference of "yacht" and "boat" on the transfers. How incredibly stupid.

The Panamanian consuls "do things" for people in the countries where they serve. By law they are supposed to be allowed to legally keep a percentage of the fees they charge, and the rest is supposed to be turned over to the Panamanian government. There is no way in hell these guys should be able to send $75,000 in cash directly to Varela for him to use to buy a new Yacht. This, folks, is the definition of being caught with your hand in the cookie jar. And the other guy - Lasso - is now threatening to sue the Diario Las Americas.

One thing is true. So far Lasso, Arosemena, Varela, and the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and the BVI company Scorley Assets LTD have not been named by the US Justice Department as part of the investigation into online gambling and money laundering. Michelle Lasso was convicted of money laundering. Part of the money she laundered went to Varela. And it got to him through offshore accounts in the Caribbean and the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation. So you can bet your ass that right now, as I'm tying this, there are criminal investigators and analysts in the Justice Department who are tearing apart these transactions. I would not be surprised if there isn't an announcement, pretty soon. They will mostly want the money, that's for sure.

Drip, drip, drip. It's like watching an explosion in slow motion.

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Don James Foundation Denies Abnormalities

CorruptionJaime Lasso, the representative of the Don James Foundation, denied any link between the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela and the judicial investigation in the United States for money laundering against his daughter, Michelle Lasso.

Yesterday members of the Panameñista political party produced copies of checks written during the 2009 election campaign by companies belonging to the Colombian David Murcia - who was investigated for illegal fundraising - to the company Importadora Ricamar S.A., owned by president Ricardo Martinelli, and to CD S.A., the company created to raise funds for political purposes.

The Miami based newspaper Diario Las Americas has been publishing reports for a week now written by the journalist Sergio Otálora, implicating Jaime Lasso and Juan Carlos Varela in illegal activities (money laundering and the illegal diversion of funds from the Consulate in South Korea), implications Lasso labeled as false.

Through a press release, Lasso said the case in the US is closed, and at no time was he involved, the Don James Foundation, or Juan Carlos Varela.

Checks From Murcia

The lawyer Miguel Batista Guerra denounced the existence of checks for several thousand dollars written by companies related to David Murcia, during the 2009 election campaign to the company Importadora Ricamar S.A., to the company CD S.A., and to Ricardo Quijano, the current Minister of Commerce.

These checks, according to Batista Guerro, were "hidden" by prosecutors and they were not included in the investigation led by the head Anti Drug Prosecutor at the time José Abel Almengor, and the Prosecutor of Civil Affairs William Parodi against Murcia, who was tried and convicted in the US for crimes related to the illegal capture of money.

Quijano denied the linking of the party or the companies owned by the President to the Murcia case, and he described the allegation as a way to tarnish the candidacy of José Domingo Arias. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This is nothing more than the most recent attempt by the candidacy of Juan Carlos Varela and the La Prensa newspaper to whitewash the millions of dollars his campaign apparently received - money that came from illegal online gambling activities in the United States, and monies that were illegal collected and diverted from the Panamanian consulate in South Korea to the same bank accounts. First of all, Ricardo Martinelli is not the candidate. With this "news" about some checks from 2009 they are attempting to salvage a few votes with the logic line of "Varela is no worse than Martinelli," or "Martinelli did the same thing Varela did." That is not a winning strategy, especially when you're not running against Martinelli, and you have yet to adequately answer or address the $27.5 million dollar question about your laundry...

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New species of orchid discovered in Panama

Environmental IssuesWashington: US biologists have described a stunning new orchid species from a mountainous area in central Panama.

The Orchid family, contains the largest number of plant species in the world - up to 30,000, researchers said.

Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, stumbled upon the never-before-seen orchid while on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama eight years ago.

Unable to identify it, she contacted German Carnevali, a world authority on orchids.

The orchid turned out to be an unnamed species. So Carnevali recently named it after the Silveras: Lophiaris silverarum.

"Lophiaris" is the genus name, comprising about 40 species in the world.

Lophiaris silverarum is known to grow only in central Panama.

It is not known if it grows in other areas of Central America. The plant blooms only in November, the flowers lasting about a month.

It is not sold in the US because it is very rare and it reproduces very slowly.

Silvera said that because the Orchid Family is so large, there are many species that have not been found before. As a result, new orchid species are being named every year and the number is rising.

"The diversity of orchids is best seen in the tropics, where, unfortunately, habitat is being destroyed very fast," she said.

"As a result, we are rapidly losing the diversity of orchid species. Although there are many orchid species unnamed in nature, it is actually quite difficult to determine for sure that an orchid is unnamed. They are difficult to find and difficult to tell apart," said Silvera.

The Orchid Family contains the largest number of plant species in the world. They are the most collected group of plants by hobbyists.

Close to 30,000 known species exist worldwide; many remain undiscovered. Panama alone has about 1,100 known orchid species.

Orchids are unique in that the flower's female and male reproductive parts are fused together. An interesting aspect is that orchids can easily hybridise or cross.

As a result, some 300,000 orchid hybrids are man-made and commercially available to the public.

The finding was published in journal Phytotaxa.

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Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit Against Barro Blanco Hydro Electric Project in Panama

Infrastructure UpgradesThe Supreme Court rejected a claim against Articles 120 and 130 of Law 6 of Law 6 of February 3, 1997, which allows the compulsory acquisition by the state of several parcels of land found in the area where the Barro Blanco hydroelectric project in the province of Chiriqui is being built.

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Felix Wing, representing Raul Rodriguez , after the Public Services Authority began a process of compulsory acquisition in the area of ​​Barro Blanco, for the development of the new hydro electric power generation facility.

According to the claim, Articles 120 and 130 of Law 6 of February 3, 1997 violate Article 51 of the Constitution, which establishes the concept of expropriation of land in cases of war or serious social disruption.

However, the Supreme Court found in this case the applicant's arguments are unfounded and without legal basis. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: The Barro Blanco hydro facility is a large project that is sorely needed in Panama, to increase the amount of energy being supplied to the national power grid. The simple fact is that the nation's ability to generate electricity has not kept pace with the growth and expansion of the economy over the past decade, and the construction of new apartments, office buildings, malls, and things like the Metro subway system (which runs electric trains.) So this is one of those cases where the project is going to get built no matter what, regardless of what the environmentalists or lawyers have to say about it.

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Fatal Traffic Accident On Pan American Highway

Traffic AccidentsA 38 year old man was killed and a 33 year old woman was injured in an serious traffic accident that occurred on the Pan American highway, on the bridge over the Farallón river. The driver of the vehicle lost control, crashed into the bridge, and then overturned.

The accident caused a huge traffic jam on the highway, because the car had crossed over into the other side of the roadway and have to be removed for the rest of the vehicles could continue on their way to the interior. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: The most dangerous thing you will likely do in Panama is drive...

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More Than 30,000 People In La Chorrera Still Without Water

Infrastructure UpgradesMore than 30,000 people living in the various communities of La Chorrera and Arraiján, in the Western part of the province of Panama, are still without drinking water service after the rupture of a 60" water main last Thursday, 17 April 2014.

The director of the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers in La Chorrera, Maximino Quintero, said repair work continues, and in the meantime they have contracted the services of additional water tank trucks to supply the affected sectors.  

For its part, the National System of Civil Protection has three mobile water treatment plants they are using to supply drinking water to the community, two in El Trapichito and one in El Chorro de La Chorrera, Idaan reported.  

The IDAAN through their Twitter account reported that in cooperation with the Panama Canal Authority they have conducted several maneuvers to achieve adjustment of the coupler, without positive results.

They said the couplers have to be installed under pressure, and they have so far been unable to join the two lengths of pipe.

At 9:00 am today the authorities from the IDAAN will hold a press conference to provide additional details. (Panama America)

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Panama Court Authorizes Sale of Sugar Seized From North Korean Weapons Smuggling Vessel

Panama NewsThe Third Criminal Court of Colon authorized the sale of 200 million pounds of sugar seized the July 10, 2013 from the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang, found to be smuggling a cargo of arms and ammunition from Cuba to North Korea.

A judicial source confirmed the court authorized the sale of sugar, after a request by the Attorney General Ana Belfon.

Belfon requested the court authorize the auction of the seized sugar, which is being stored in a warehouse at the Institute of Agricultural Marketing in Penonomé, and that the money from the sale be deposited in a bank account pending resolution of the legal process.

Julio Berrio, the lawyer representing the seafarers in this case, said the money from the auction of sugar should be turned over to the North Korean authorities.

According to Berrio, this cargo had been declared by the ship's crew, so according to the law it is owned by North Korea.

Three of the 32 North Korean sailors who were arrested in Panama remain behind bars under orders of the Public Ministry, charged with transporting an undeclared cargo of weapons of war.

Last March, the prosecutor released 29 sailors and the vessel. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This is typical in Panama when there's some sort of valuable items seized as part of a criminal investigation. They hold the items for a period of time, then they finally get around to auctioning it off and putting the money in a bank account. The Panamanian justice system is not very good at this process. They tend to hold things like cars for example, for a very long time. The vehicles just sit in the sun and rot, many times with windows blown out or what have you. Just go to the headquarters of the DIJ in Ancon and you will see rows of cars just sitting there, all of them "evidence" in one case or another. So, anyone want to buy a few hundred tons of Cuban sugar that's been sitting in a warehouse for almost a year? Yum... Bacardi should buy the whole load, and use it to make a Special "Cuba Libre" Rum Edition - complete with the image of Kim Chong Un on the bottle. Never miss the opportunity to make a buck.

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4.6 Earthquake Hit Panama / Costa Rica Border Region This Morning

EarthquakesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - An earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale struck the Panama / Costa Rica border region this morning.

The earthquake occurred at 13:36 UTC, or 8:36 am locat time this morning.

The epicenter was located at 8.504N 82.735W at a depth of 30 km.

Distances - 2 km (1 mi) WNW of Santo Domingo, Panama, 13 km (8 mi) W of La Concepcion, Panama, 28 km (17 mi) NNE of Puerto Armuelles, Panama, 31 km (19 mi) SSW of Volcan, Panama, 216 km (133 mi) SE of San Jose, Costa Rica.

USGS Event ID:us b000pr8b

Editor's Comment: Panama frequently experiences these relatively minor earthquakes, especially in this region near the border with Costa Rica. These are actually seen as "good" earthquakes, because they cause no damage, and they allow the stresses in the tectonic plates to be released. The earthquake you should fear is the one that only goes off every 500 years or so, and when it pops then it's a 9.x with massive damage, knocking down every building and structure, spawning tsunamis, mudslides, volcanoes, pyroclastic flows, ash plumes, and fire storms. You know, like in Seattle...

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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SENAN Busts Three Drug Traffickers With 525 Kilos of Cocaine

Drug TraffickingOperational units of the SENAN captured three men, two Colombians and one Panamanian.

They seized 525 kilos of cocaine in Portobelo, in the province of Colon, in "Operation Cristo Negro."

The three drug traffickers were traveling in a 26 foot long speedboat named the "Guerrero."

They had 21 bundles on board, each with 25 kilos of cocaine, for a total of 525 kilos of cocaine, according to field testing.

So far this year the SENAN has seized a total of 3,651 kilos of drugs. (Siglo)

Editor's Comment: A big drug bust in the US is a couple of kilos. A big drug bust in Panama is a couple of tons. In this case 525 kilos is 1,157 pounds (or .57 tons). And the SENAN has already busted more than four tons of cocaine this year.

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Traffic Accident At The National Police Headquarters in Ancon

Traffic AccidentsThis morning there was a traffic accident just outside of the headquarters of the National Police, located in Ancon.

As a result of the accident, two people were injured and part of the decorative wall in front of the institution was knocked down.

Paramedics from the health clinic in Ancon arrived at the scene to help the injured.

The accident occurred between sedan and a Metro Bus. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: One of the annual "exodus" events is currently underway. Every year Panamanians flock to the interior of the country for "Semana Santa" (Holy Week). The news headlines shift to things like traffic accidents, how many police officers are on the job making sure everyone is safe, stuff like that. Not much happens from now until next week. Panama City empties out, so traffic gets very light. There's massive amounts of traffic on the highway heading into the interior, and then on Sunday coming back.

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18 Restaurant Customers (Some Expats) Robbed At Gunpoint in Panama City

Crime & PunishmentEighteen customers of the Os Segredos Da Carne restaurant were robbed at gunpoint by three armed criminals on Tuesday night.

While escaping, they shot the security officer who was working at the Embassy of India in both legs, when he tried to thwart the robbery.

The incident occurred at 10:30 pm on Tuesday on Ave. Federico Boyd in Bella Vista, where the Brazilian restaurant is located.

Early reports indicate several customers, among them both Panamanians and foreigners, were enjoying a nice evening.

Suddenly three men stormed the premises with guns in hand.

One of the offenders stayed at the front door, and the other two went to the cash register.

When they didn't find any cash, they began to rob the eighteen customers who were there.

They took cash, jewelry, cell phones and other belongings.

When they tried to flee, the 54 year old security officer fired warning shots, but he was hit by gunfire in the left thigh and right leg.

The criminals fled the scene in a light blue Hyundai Accent, and a Toyota Yaris taxi.

The wounded man was taken to the Santo Tomas Hospital.

The complaint was lodged with the Directorate of Judicial Investigation (DIJ ). (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Well, someone got released from prison. A few years ago there was a rash of these sorts of "steal from the customers in a restaurant" crimes. Someone got arrested and sent to prison, and they stopped for a long time. Now apparently that guy has been release, so here we go again.

"Warning shots?" That's friggin' stupid. If you're going to use deadly force, use it right. So while this guard was using his weapon as a noise maker, the bad guys were trying to kill him. Bad call. If you're going to engage, engage. If that security guard had dropped a couple of those guys, he would have gotten a pat on the back.

If you ever happen to find yourself noshing on whatever with your favorite squeeze and all of a sudden there's a bunch of dudes with guns - hit the floor and follow their orders. Give up everything with no resistance. Better to lose your wallet and watch than your life.

So think about that - just how screwed would you be if you suddenly lost your wallet. Do you have a photocopy of every card that's in there - front and back? How hard would it be for you to recreate the entire contents of your wallet, get replacement credit cards, dial the 1-800 numbers to turn off cards, etc? Think like a Boy Scout and be prepared.

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Repair Work Continues On 60" Water Main in Western Panama Province

Infrastructure UpgradesWork crews from the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (IDAAN) continue with the repair of a line of 60" water main which broke on Thursday April 17 in La Chorrera.

They have been working for more than 20 hours straight, to restore drinking water service in the affected areas of the West of Panama City.

IDAAN, through their Twitter account, reported their work crews from the metropolitan region are helping with the repairs on this important water main.

Currently the IDAAN is providing water directly to those who go to the El Trapichito water treatment plant. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The events of the past two years have clearly demonstrated that anyone living in Panama who depends on the IDAAN for drinking water should always have a backup supply on hand. The water service can go out at any time, with no warning whatsoever. I recommend getting a few of those large 5 gallon water jugs and just have them available, for when you need them. you can always just use them up, then refill them using tap water to keep it fresh. You can expect the water service to go out at least once or twice a year, no matter where you live.

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