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Thursday, July 31 2014 @ 01:22 AM EDT

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Panama judge acquits N. Korean crew over arms row

Panama NewsA Panamanian judge acquitted and ordered the immediate release Friday of three North Koreans detained last year for trying to transport undeclared Cuban weapons through the Panama Canal.

The North Korean freighter Chong Chon Gang was stopped last July and discovered to be carrying 25 containers of Cuban military hardware, including two Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft, air defense systems, missiles and command and control vehicles.

The ship's 35 crewmembers were arrested and the vessel and cargo seized for potential violations of a UN weapons embargo and as a threat to the canal's security.

Panama initially released all crewmembers except three senior officers charged with arms trafficking.

On Friday, Judge Carlos Villarrea finally acquitted and freed that last group, named as Ri Yong Il, Hong Yong Hyon and Kim Yong Gol. He also acquitted the other 32 crewmembers.

Villarreal's decision was based on the fact that the incident "was of international character and outside Panamanian jurisdiction," a court statement said.

Panama only had the right to convene the United Nations Security Council to allow the body to issue its own ruling on the weapons cache found, the judge said.

Additionally, the crewmembers could not be held responsible because "they were executing and obeying direct orders from the state of North Korea," he said.

Villarreal ordered the return of the more than 200,000 sacks of sugar that had been used to conceal the undeclared weapons cargo, but did not release the confiscated arms, saying the rightful owner had yet to be proven.

"The law was applied and this judge will be remembered for being brave and daring to liberate North Koreans despite internal and external pressures against the accused," the sailors' lawyer Julio Berrios told AFP.

"If all goes well, they will be leaving the country at the end of next week via Havana, Moscow and Beijing."

Both Havana and Pyongyang said the weapons were obsolete Cuban arms being shipped to North Korea for refurbishment under a legitimate contract and due to be returned to Cuba.

But neither country explained why the shipment was hidden if it was indeed legitimate.

Panama asked the United Nations to send a mission to determine if the attempted shipment violated a UN embargo on arms deliveries to North Korea.

Panama authorities said in April that a UN team's report confirms that the cargo violated the embargo. (AFP)

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Foreign Diplomat (US Army MSG Omar Velez) Suspected Of Murder

Expat TalesThe prosecutor in the province of Los Santos said a "foreign diplomat" was involved in the murder of a woman whose body was found on Monday, June 23, 2014 on a farm near the Guararé river. (more)

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Magda Maxwell Jumps Ship - Will Also Work For Varela

Panama NewsThe new administration of president-elect Juan Carlos Varela is sweeping up all of TVN's journalists. Now we learn the newscaster Magda Maxwell is also leaving in order to join the Varela team. (more)

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Hearing Today in Italy For International Corruption in Panama

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

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Deputy Marcos Gonzalez Denies Owning Pirate Buses

Cars & TransportationThe National Assembly Deputy from the Democratic Change political party, Marcos Gonzalez, said on Friday he is not the owner of a "pirate" bus business, as he has been accused in the news media. (more)

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Authorities Seize More Than 228 Kilos of Cocaine

Drug TraffickingNational Police officers seized more than 228 kilos of cocaine, discovered in a van located in the Costa Sur along the Southern Corridor, in Juan Diaz. (more)

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A Quarter Of Western Panama Suffers From Water Shortages

Infrastructure UpgradesThe lack of a continuous supply of potable water in the Western part of the Province of Panama is of great importance. Almost a quarter of its population do not receive the service from IDAAN, in part, due to the lack of contracts, the low efficiency of the service, and the custom of obtaining drinking water from natural sources, many of them unhealthy. (more)

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

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

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First Quantum Minerals unit suspends copper project in Panama

Gold & Mining(Reuters) - Minera Panama, a subsidiary of Canada's First Quantum Minerals Ltd, said on Thursday it has shut down until further notice a $6.4 billion copper project in the country, citing labor disruptions.

Opposition to a new work schedule sought by Minera Panama during the project's construction phase sparked the conflict, the company said in a statement.

Since Sunday, nearby highways have been blocked by defiant workers as others have engaged in what Minera Panama describes as illegal work stoppages.

"The decision to close the site has been difficult and unfortunate," the company said in a statement, adding that boosting the project's efficiency is "absolutely necessary."

The company said workers are being evacuated and will be paid through June 28. It did not say when construction will resume, but added that it was "committed to the long-term success of the project."

Located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of the capital near the Caribbean coast, the project would aim to produce about 320,000 tonnes of copper, 100,000 ounces of gold and 1.8 million ounces of silver a year, the company's website said.

Shares of First Quantum Minerals rose 1.9 percent on Thursday to close at C$22.51 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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Harris man, last seen in Panama, declared dead

Expat TalesBy Derrick Knutson - Bob Ehlert, of Harris, who is known to many in the county because of his involvement with the University of Minnesota Extension as a Chisago County Master Gardener, has been declared officially dead by the U.S. government.

Ehlert was last seen more than a year ago in Panama.

According to a story the Post Review printed on the search for Ehlert last year:

Doug Ehlert, Bob Ehlert’s nephew, said the family and authorities discovered numerous oddities in relation to his uncle’s disappearance.

He said the two men who had been working on Bob Ehlert’s boat in Panama visited the condo sometime after June 21, 2013, and found it unlocked. Upon entering, the men found a broken wine glass, but nothing was missing from the home.

“(Leaving your home unlocked) is kind of surprising in Panama City,” Doug Ehlert said. “You see a lot of houses with razor wire fencing on them.”

A note was also later found that said Bob Ehlert was leaving for two weeks with a woman named Diane to look at properties in a remote resort area called Bocas del Toro.

Doug Ehlert said he looked at the note, and he and Mariah Ehlert, Bob Ehlert’s daughter, thought it didn’t look like Bob Ehlert’s handwriting. He also said it didn’t look as though it was written by a native English speaker.

“It started with ‘I going’ instead of ‘I’m going,’” he said. “It also said, ‘to see some old friend.’ A native English speaker would say ‘an old friend.’”

By talking to some people in the area, the two found out Bob Ehlert met two Colombian women, possibly named Diana and Anna, at a bar called the Havana Club and he went to a soccer game with the women.

Doug Ehlert said he was not able to get in contact with the women.

“I found out that down (in Panama) there are a lot of young Colombian women who prey on older men,” he said. “There have been several scams with women (asking men) to look at real estate.”

But for Doug Ehlert, even the real estate scam possibility doesn’t seem to explain the disappearance. He said he checked his uncle’s browser history on his computer at his condo and found no evidence that he was looking at properties in Bocas Del Toro. He also said it would be odd for his uncle to look at properties there because purchasing houses or condos there can be difficult.

“Titles are hard to get,” he said. “It’s a risky investment unless you’re very careful.”

In addition to those discoveries, Doug Ehlert said they found a receipt from a hardware store that showed Bob Ehlert had bought a sledgehammer, a carpenter’s axe, a pickaxe and spray paint. He and Mariah Ehlert are unsure why Bob Ehlert would have purchased those items.

Doug Ehlert added that his uncle’s bank statements do not show any activity since he went missing, and his sailboat was docked at a Panamanian marina.

However, Bob Ehlert’s car was missing.

In an email last week, Mariah Ehlert said the investigation into her father’s disappearance is still ongoing and “hasn’t lost momentum.”

However, she added, “Things take an extraordinary long time down there (in Panama).”

On a website she set up to update people about the search for her father, mariahehlert.wix.com/findbob, Mariah Ehlert posted this:

“Bob Ehlert had an adventurer’s heart. He wasn’t afraid to get out and try something new; he loved to drink good wine, travel to far-out destinations, sail, garden, give back to his community, and, of course, he loved his family and friends deeply. Bob was much loved and is greatly missed.

“May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rains fall soft upon your fields and,

Until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

-Irish blessing”

(ecmpostreview.com)

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John Patrick Acord Has Been Arrested in Panama

Expat TalesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - John Patrick Acord, indicted by a United States Grand Jury in Houston, Texas for operating a fraudulent investment scheme from September 2011 - September 2013, that raised over $5.5 million dollars from investors who believed they were purchasing shipping containers, has been arrested in Panama City.

Sources say Acord was arrested in the Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City, Panama yesterday. He is now reportedly "sitting in the holding cell at immigration, with no identification."

In Acord's scheme investors were promised guaranteed returns ranging from 13% to over 16%, depending upon the amount invested.

In reality, the 'profits' that were paid out to investors to perpetuate the scheme were actually funded by funds raised from new investors.

This form of investment fraud is the classic Ponzi Scheme; distributing a portion of the money raised from new investors to earlier investors to create the impression of an ongoing, legitimate and successful business operation.

Investors were further deceived by being told that the chief financial officer was an individual name John Delano, when in truth, Delano was a fictional name for Acord.

They also failed to disclose to investors that:

  • Acord had two prior federal fraud related convictions.

  • Acord had twice been permanently enjoined by the Securities & Exchange Commission.

  • Acord's partner Steven Patrick Jones had a prior federal conviction related to shipping and interstate commerce.

  • That investor funds were used for the personal living expenses of Jones and Acord.

  • That Jones and Acord created sham 3rd party leases to create the appearance of a going concern.

The Texas State Securities Board had issued an emergency cease and desist order in July 2012 in connection with the fraudulent activity, however Jones and Acord continued to sell investments in the phony business, EcoEnergy Group, Inc. dba Intermodal Wealth, Inc.

Editor's Comment: Good. Taking out the trash, once again. I have no idea why criminals from the United States continue to think they can "hide" in Panama. Panama will now find some sort of problem with Acord's immigration status, and put him on a flight to Houston, where he will be arrested upon landing.

Related Article: Wanted - John Patrick Acord - US Fugitive Hiding In Panama City - Ponzi Scheme

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Shootout On Calle Uruguay in Panama City Leaves Two Injured

Crime & PunishmentTwo people were injured in a shooting that occurred during the early morning hours on Wednesday outside of a nightclub on Calle Uruguay, in the area of ​​Bella Vista. (more)

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US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez - Prime Suspect In Murder Of Panamanian Woman

Expat TalesA US Army soldier is under investigation for the murder of a Panamanian woman, a crime perpetrated on Monday afternoon in the town of Guararé, in the province of Los Santos. (more)

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Varela Denounces Use Of ANATI For Political Persecution

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

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Relatives Of Missing Dutch Women Accept Their Deaths in Panama

Expat TalesThe relatives of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, the two Dutch women who disappeared in Panama last April, issued a statement this morning in which they accepted the deaths of the girls. (more)

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PRD And Panameñistas Extend Negotiations

PoliticsTalks between representatives from the Panameñista political party and the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) in Panama, in an attempt to reach an agreement on control of the National Assembly, could be extended until one day prior to 1 July - the day the new government of president-elect Juan Carlos Varela takes office. (more)

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Remains Found Of Other Missing Dutch Girl

Expat TalesThe bone remains found in the Panamanian jungle last week are those of the second missing Dutch woman, local sources have told Nos television.

DNA testing on tissue from the bones has revealed it to be that of Kris Kremers, the sources told Nos. Other human remains found at the scene were earlier tested as those of Lisanne Froon.

The two young women disappeared on April 1 when they went for a jungle walk close to the town of Boquete where they were staying.

River

No sign of them was discovered until last week when a local found a rucksack containing some of their possessions close to a river. Searches of the area turned up shoes and human remains.

A spokesman for Kremers’ family said the news of their deaths ‘was still overshadowed by the many questions surrounding their deaths’.

It now appears likely the women either got lost on their walk or had an accident. The remains were found 10 kilometres from where they were last seen. (Dutchnews.nl)

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President-Elect Varela Will Formally Present His Cabinet Tomorrow

PoliticsThe president-elect of Panama Juan Carlos Varela will officially present his Cabinet tomorrow, those who will serve starting from 1 July 2014 until 2019, reported EFE today. (more)

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Martinelli Plans To Grant Pardons To Politicians and Journalists As He Leaves Office

PoliticsPresident Ricardo Martinelli confirmed yesterday he will grant pardons to politicians and journalists, and that he will reduce the sentences of some prison inmates. (more)

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Panamanian Prosecutor Confirms - Remains Are Those Of Lisanne Froon

Expat TalesThe Public Ministry through the First Superior Prosecutor of Chiriqui, Bethsaida Pittí and coroner Silvia Bandel confirmed on Monday DNA analysis conducted on skeletal remains match samples provided by the parents of Lisanne Froon, and they went on to say what they found was a foot. (more)

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Financial Pacific - Linked To International Investigation

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

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Gringo (US/Denmark Expat) Assaulted In Bocas del Toro - Needs Blood Donations

Expat Tales By Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - On Saturday night six armed, masked men assaulted and abducted 73 year old Stig Pedersen at his home located in Tierra Oscura, in Bocas del Toro, in the Republic of Panama.

They hit him on the head and hauled him off in his own boat, a "white T-top with 'Puff' written on the bow." The boat has a 75 hp four-stroke motor. At the time of the assault, the assailants were reported to be headed towards Almirante.

Stig Pedersen lives in Bocas del Toro and he has a home in Dolega.

Pedersen currently needs six pints of A+ blood. He was beaten severely and has several brain hemorrhages. He is at the public regional hospital in David. Please help, or forward to those who can.

Editor's Comment: Reportedly Pedersen recently told a friend that a neighbor "wants him dead." Obviously the National Police should start their investigation with whoever made the threat against him.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Tissue Found In Panama Belongs To Lisanne Froon

Expat TalesBy Laura Klompenhouwer - The human remains that were found last week in Panama are those of Lisanne Froon. (more)

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Tissue from Lisanne Froon

Expat TalesHuman tissue found on Thursday in the Panamanian jungle belongs to Lisanne Froon, one of the Dutch women who have been missing since April 1. (more)

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Remains Found of Lisanne Froon; Kris Kremers Still Inconclusive

Expat TalesThe human remains found last Thursday in the Panamanian jungle belong to Lisanne Froon, one of the two women from Amersfoort who have been missing since April 1. (more)

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Dutch Media Reporting Human Remains Belong To Lisanne Froon

Expat TalesNew, grim revelations suggest the human remains found in the mountains of Bocas del Toro could belong to Lisanne Froon, one of the two Dutch women who disappeared on 1 April, as reported by various news outlets in Holland on their websites. (more)

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Human Remains Found In Bocas del Toro Belong To One Of The Missing Dutch Women

Expat TalesPublic Ministry sources say DNA tests performed on human remains discovered in the province of Bocas del Toro confirm they belong to one of the two Dutch women who have been missing along the "El Pianista" hiking trail in the province of Chiriqui, since April. (more)

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Panama police say remains may be missing Dutch women

Expat TalesPolice in Panama say they have found bones and a pair of boots that could be the remains of two Dutch women who went missing more than two months ago.

Lisanne Froon, 22, and Kris Kremers, 21, disappeared from the town of Boquete in early April.

A backpack containing two mobile phones thought to belong to the women was found in the same area last week.

Investigators say the finds are "significant" and that DNA tests will now be carried out on the bones.

Police said the remains were found in Bocas del Toro province on Thursday.

They are continuing to search the area where the items were found.

Dense woodland

The women had traveled to Boquete earlier this year to do social work with children after completing a two-week Spanish course.

They were last seen on 2 April as they went walking along a mountain path in the densely wooded area along the border with Costa Rica.

The parents of one of the women, Kris Kremers, visited Panama in April to help raise awareness of the search.

A Dutch search team traveled to Panama in May but did not manage to find the women.

The parents of the women have offered a $30,000 (£18,000) reward for anyone providing "concrete information" about their whereabouts.

Boquete is a popular destination for hikers exploring the nearby cloud forest, waterfalls and coffee plantations.

In 2009, a 29-year-old British man disappeared from the town. He left all his belongings and only had with him his passport, credit card and a few dollars.

While visitors are warned against travelling to Panama's eastern border with Colombia because of the presence of Colombian rebels in the area, its western border region is generally considered to be safe. (BBC)

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Remains Found In Panama: Testing To Verify Missing Women's DNA

Expat TalesInvestigators looking into the disappearance of two Dutch students in Panama have found human remains near a location where the women’s personal belongings were discovered.

The remains were brought to the forensic lab in Panama City for DNA testing, said the officer of justice, Betzaida Pitti during a press conference yesterday.

Police in Panama have been working with Dutch officials trying to track down Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers. The two have been missing since they left their boarding house for a hike on April 1.

Two different shoes and boots were found, announced RTL journalist Britta Sanders on Twitter. No other details were released.

The Dutch Forensic institution (NFI) will be analyzing the belongings of the missing girls, much of which was inside a backpack. It is unclear if the mobile phones that were found on Friday were owned by the two girls. The NFI believes there is a big chance that useful information can be found on these phones.

A bag with the belongings of Froon and Kremers was found last week, including the two phones, two pairs of glasses, money, and an identity card belonging to Froon. The bag was found in Alto Romero, which is located at the Pianista trail. The girls planned to hike around that area, the day they went missing. (nltimes.nl)

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Public Minister Confirms New Findings In Case Of Missing Dutch Women

Expat TalesThe First Superior Prosecutor Bethsaida Pitti confirmed significant new evidence was found during the inspection this morning in the area of the Rio Culebra in Altos Romero, along the coordillera Changuinola in the province of Bocas del Toro, which will be transferred to the Institute of Legal Medicine of Panama. (more)

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