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Sunday, August 31 2014 @ 02:32 AM EDT

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SINAPROC Issues Alert For Rains - Coinciding With High Tides

WeatherThe National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) issued an alert this morning, Monday, 2 June 2014 - due to light to moderate rains that will coincide with high tides. (more)

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Immigration Doesn't Know If Hurtado Is In Panama

Panama NewsThe National Immigration Service does not know if Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the former director of the Department of Administrative Security (DAS ) of Colombia, is still in Panama. (more)

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ACP to charter post-Panamax ship for training in Panama Canal's new locks

Canal ExpansionThe Panama Canal Authority (ACP) will charter a Post-Panamax vessel before the opening of the expanded Canal to be used for training purposes in the Third Set of Locks, the ACP press release said.

The Executive Vice President of Operations Esteban Saenz reported that the Panama Canal will charter a Post-Panamax ship to train pilots and tugboat captains that will assist in transits through the new lane.

Saenz said the vessel will be used several months before the opening of the expanded Canal to test the new locks.

"This is one of the best ways to train our pilots and tug captains in the joint effort required to transit through the two new lock complexes of the expanded Canal," said Saenz. He added that since 2011 the Panama Canal has promoted workforce training for the operation of the expanded waterway.

Panama Canal Updates Simulator for Expanded Canal

Since 2012, a total of 186 of the approximately 280 Canal pilots have been trained at the Panama Canal's Center for Simulation, Research and Maritime Development (SIDMAR) using Post-Panamax model ships.

"SIDMAR's mathematical modelling and simulations have been updated and parts of the expanded Panama Canal such as the locks, navigational channels and Culebra Cut have been added to train our pilots and captains in such maneuvers," added Saenz.

Panama Canal Pilots Train with Post-Panamax Vessels

The Executive Vice President of Operations said that 77% of the Panama Canal pilots have participated in maneuvers with Post-Panamax ships and more than 2,000 operations have been registered with these types of vessels at the ports located on both entrances of the waterway.

In addition, Canal pilots have participated in theoretical and practical training programs in Berendrecht Locks in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, which are of similar size and operation.

Editor's Comment: I've been contacted by Panama Canal pilots, who have expressed their serious concerns with the design of the new locks. They are experts with decades of experience, and several of them have told me they expect there will be "serious problems" with the planned scheme of using tugboats to move and maneuver these massive ships in the tight confines of the locks. The tugboats won't have the room or space to maneuver, to be able to use their powerful engines to move the ships, especially when the wind is blowing hard. The massive post-Panamax vessels that will be using the new locks present very large side profiles that will act basically as a huge sail. The predicted bottom line is - the ships will be hitting the sides of the locks. Both the locks and the ships will be damaged. And once the ACP figures out that the new scheme won't work when the wind is blowing from X direction over X miles per hour - then they will be forced to shut down operations and delay transits until weather conditions improve. Let's see what happens once they actually start to use it...

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Pileup Causes Backup - Centennial Bridge

Traffic AccidentsTwo 18-wheelers and three cars were involved in an accident today on the road leading to the Centennial Bridge, with no injuries. (more)

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Supreme Court Hearing on Ana Matilde Gomez Sentencing Starts

Law & LawyersShortly after 10:00 am this morning a hearing started at the Supreme Court of Justice to decide on a request made by the former Attorney General and National Assembly Deputy-elect Ana Matilde Gomez. (more)

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Costa Rican Red Cross Joins Search For Missing Dutch Women

Expat TalesMembers of the Costa Rican Red Cross joined the search for the two missing Dutch women today, who disappeared on the "El Pianista" hiking trail in Boquete, Chiriqui. (more)

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SINAPROC Director Denies Wrongdoing In Search For Missing Dutch Women

Expat TalesThe Director of the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC), Arturo Alvarado said the people who were responsible for finding the two missing young Dutch women, who have been missing since 2 April Boquete, Chiriqui have not overstepped their bounds because they are experts in the subject matter. (more)

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Panama's Supreme Court Declares Asylum Granted To María del Pilar Hurtado To Be Illegal and Unconstitutional

Panama NewsPanama's Supreme Court decided the asylum granted in 2010 to the former Chief of Colombia's Department of Administrative Security (DAS) María del Pilar Hurtado, is illegal because it violated the Constitution. (more)

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Cause Of Fire In Viejo Veranillo Unknown

Safety & Security"It's hard to watch as all of your belongings and appliances go up in flames," said Gloria Barba, one of the 16 people who were left homeless by the fire yesterday in Viejo Veranillo. (more)

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Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz provides aid to rescue friends lost at sea in Panama

Boats and Sailing Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz had just caught David Buchanan’s major-league debut on Saturday night, but baseball was quickly distanced from his mind. Three of his friends back home in his native Panama were missing after their boat capsized.

Despite the distance, Ruiz was able to aid in the effort, providing financial support to pay for extra search boats.

“Whatever he thought he needed to do, he was going to be able to do it,” Juan Samuel said Tuesday, interpreting for Ruiz.

At game time on Sunday, a game in which Ruiz did not play, only one of the three had been found. By the seventh inning, a second had been taken to safety. After the game, Ruiz got the news that the final friend had been rescued after 40 hours in the water.

All three of Ruiz's friends survived.

Editor's Comment: Dale, Chooch...

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Former Ecuadorian Lawmaker Has Fled From Panama To Costa Rica

Panama NewsProsecutors in Ecuador have evidence the former lawmaker Galo Lara, who has been sentenced to ten years in prison for his complicity in a triple murder, fled from Panama to Costa Rica, according to the director of the investigating agency, Galo Chiriboga. (more)

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Fire At The Super99 Supermarket

Safety & SecurityThere was a fire in the Super99 supermarket located on Via Porras this morning. (more)

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Metro Bus Driver Dies Of A Heart Attack

Traffic AccidentsA Metro Bus driver died of a heart attack this morning, Thursday, May 29th, as he began his work day as usual, according to one of his colleagues. (more)

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Former MIDES Officials Sentenced To Prison For Embezzlement Case

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

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Developing Real Estate in Panama - Not For The Faint of Heart

Real EstateBy Kent Davis for Panama Equity - Developing in Panama is not for the faint of heart, but there are some notable success stories of expats coming to Panama, identifying a need, and successfully and profitably executing a real estate development.

When Brian Wagner moved to Panama in 2007 from Seattle, he had a vision of what type of development he was looking to build. Focused on the affordable housing market, the types of projects and how they have materialized are quite different than originally envisioned.

“It took several years to find the right properties with the characteristics that lend themselves to inner-city affordable housing,” Wagner said. “With PH Casco View, the project’s feasibility required innovative building variances. This required lobbying and technical presentations , and we had to work our way up the Ministry of Housing before anything got done.”

His story is similar to that of Gema Fercasa, who came to Panama from Spain with her family, who set their sights on an area just outside of the San Francisco neighborhood near Parque Omar.

“I come from a family of developers, and in 2010 we knew that the party was coming to an end in Spain. So we started our research, of course focusing on Latin America, which at the time was really starting to pick up economically. We considered Brazil but found that the language was going to be an issue, and safety was also a concern. We also considered countries like Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela, but were concerned with the lack of judicial security and didn’t want to have to worry about the government coming in and taking over our assets. The Dominican Republic was interesting, but was not really a place we wanted to live, and we ruled out places like El Salvador and Honduras because of the crime and poor schools for our kids. We appreciated the fact that Panama was a dollar based economy, was very safe, was a financial center with available credit, and was a place that we could see ourselves living and raising our kids.”

Developing in Panama for these two expats was of course very different than developing in the US or Spain.

In some cases, developing in Panama has clear advantages:

For instance, according to Wagner, the local building materials and design in Panama are much simpler than in his native Washington State. “All three of the projects we’ve developed have been slab and block construction, as opposed to dealing with lumber, sheet rock, insulation and other costly construction methods. Building codes in Panama are also less rigid and at the end of the day, an important difference between high end and affordable housing are the quality and costs of finishing materials.”

For Wagner, the process has its expected challenges as well. Focused on the area just outside of the historic district in downtown Panama City, project planning has taken a lot longer than what he expected. Entities such as the municipality (Municipio), the housing authority (MIVIOT), the environmental oversight agency (ANAM), the tax authority (DGI), the public registry (El Registro Publico), and the land registry (Catastro), many of whom do not have any communication between each other, are all necessary to deal with to launch a successful development, which makes getting approvals difficult and time consuming. Gema’s first venture has also turned into a success, but was not without it’s challenges either.

“We were fortunate, in that we acquired a parcel that already had the zoning and permissions we were looking for, most notably the anteproyecto.”

Typically, getting to this stage would have taken four months to finalize the environmental impact study, four months to prepare the plans and submit them to the municipality, and then another five months within the municipality to get approvals, but according to Gema, “we saved at least a year by buying the land with approvals and we were able to start selling and taking deposits from buyers as soon as we closed on the land.”

In Panama as in Spain, developers are legally permitted to use buyer’s deposits to cover costs and not required to hold those funds in escrow. Both agreed that this was a huge advantage from a cash flow perspective.

The bank financing piece was also attractive for both Wagner and Farcasa. Banks in most cases will finance up to 80% of the cost of construction and in some cases banks will even allow builders to take a draw against the irrevocable letters of payment that the developers have taken from buyers to cover the balance.

“We’d never be able to do something like that in the US,” Wagner said, “but the rules and norms are different in Panama”

“Banco General ended up being a fantastic partner,” Fercasa notes. “In fact, they were eager to lend us the money because of the nature of our buyer, who was Panamanian. They knew they were going to get all of the other business from them…the mortgage, car loans, and new banking relationships. They were actually chasing us to write the loan!”

Both developers also faced very serious challenges, including having to replace their general contractor, incompetent attorneys and more. We plan on covering this and exploring the theme of foreigners developing in Panama more in the next chapter, so stay tuned!

All the Best, Kent Davis - Panama Equity Real Estate. Panama City, Panamá. El Cangrejo, Argentina Tower. Office: +(507) 396-0931 Mobile: 011 (507) 6030-6782 USA Number: 404 865 1629 Skype: kentpd22 View listings at www.panamaequity.com

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50% OFF Getaway in Playa Coronado Selling Out Fast

HotelsIn just 24 hours, 250 nights at the windswept TRYP Playa Coronado Resort have been booked at incredible discounts. The sale, promoted by OfertaSimple.com, is valid for weekday or weekend trips now through the end of August.

http://ofertasimple.com/ofertas/panama/tryp-playa-coronado-suite-dos-personas-desayuno-incluido

The TRYP Playa Coronado Resort by Wyndham has two fantastic restaurants, a breakfast buffet, an amazing pool space and a great beach ideal for passing a relaxing day. Close to Panama City, Playa Coronado is a fantastic option for both families and couples looking for a getaway.

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William Dathan Holbert Riots In Prison (Takes Hostage) - Still No Trial Date Set

Expat TalesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - A riot occurred in the jail in David, Panama - when the confessed serial killer William Dathan "Wild Bill" Holbert broke out of his cell and took another inmate hostage, in an attempt to regain some lost privileges. (more)

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Following The Trail Of The Missing Dutch Women in Boquete

Expat TalesMore than a month and a half has passed since they were last seen, but the image of the two young Dutch women, Lisanne Froon, 22, and Kris Kremers, 21, remain plastered on the walls of stores and hotels, as the search for them continues. (more)

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State revenues fall short

Money MattersThe current revenue in the first quarter of 2014 were 200.4 million dollars under budget (projections). (more)

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MOLIRENA Will Reevaluate Their Alliance With Cambio Democratico

PoliticsAfter the Democratic Change political party failed to win the presidential elections on 4 May, the MOLIRENA party will asses whether or not to continue their alliance. (more)

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Corrupt Panamanian Officials Issue Bogus Licences To Mariners In Turkey

Panama Flagged VesselsA request for an audit from the Department of Foreign Policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for fees charged by the Panamanian consulates located in Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey found endorsement certificates for mariner's licences that were blank (had not been filled in with the personal information of the individual), but they had been stamped and signed, said a government source. (more)

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Government Pulls Bill To Recognize Gay Marriages in Panama

Panama NewsFollowing recent criticisms and questions, Government Minister Jorge Ricardo Fabrega announced on Saturday he contacted National Assembly Deputy Dana Castañeda, who is the President of the Committee on Government, asking him to not rush the discussions in the first debate on Bill 718, that would recognize or legalize same-sex marriages made ​​abroad. (more)

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Teachers strike ends after agreement with Meduca

Protests & DemonstrationsBoth sides had to give. That was the condition set by the Human Rights Ombudsman - acting as a mediating body in the conflict - and the negotiations eventually succeeded. (more)

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Alaska Plastic Surgeon Indicted on Tax Evasion Charges for Concealing Bank Accounts in Panama and Costa Rica

Expat TalesWashington, DC - The Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced today that a federal grand jury in Anchorage, Alaska, returned a superseding indictment yesterday charging Michael D. Brandner, an Anchorage physician specializing in plastic surgery, on three counts of tax evasion. Brandner has also been charged with seven counts of wire fraud in an indictment returned in September 2013.

According to the superseding indictment, Brandner engaged in various activities to evade his taxes for 2008, 2009 and 2010, including making false and misleading statement to IRS special agents and filing false tax returns for each of the three years. In the three false returns, Brandner failed to report the existence of financial accounts in Panama and Costa Rica over which he had signature authority, and also failed to report foreign interest income of more than $9,000 for 2008, more than $150,000 for 2009, and more than $150,000 for 2010. The indictment also alleges that Brandner attempted to evade more than $600,000 in federal income taxes over the three years.

According to court documents, Brandner engaged in a scheme to hide and conceal millions of dollars of assets from the Alaska courts and from his wife of 28 years who was divorcing him. Shortly after the divorce was filed, Brandner left Alaska and drove to Central America after converting assets into five cashier’s checks worth over $3,000,000.

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. If convicted, Brandner faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison for each of the three tax evasion charges and a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the seven wire fraud charges.

The case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation and by Homeland Security Investigations and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Ignacio Perez de la Cruz of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder for the District of Alaska. (Press Release)

Editor's Comment: Whoops. I would love to know the "back story" on how the IRS was able to obtain the details regarding Brandner's bank accounts in Panama. I suspect it was through cooperation with the Panamanian government. If that's the case, then this is just one more example of why Panama is no longer a safe place for US citizens to hide their money from the IRS. You might thing you're getting away with it. There are legions of Panamanian lawyers who will tell you they can set things up for you. But the times, they are a'changin' folks. What used to work no longer works. There is a room full of IRS agents who work at the US embassy in Panama, and the only reason they are there is to track down cases such as this.

Ah, wait. Someone has already written that article about how this rocket scientist got himself caught. Yeah, read that article and take it to heart. If you're trying to hide money from the IRS in Panama, you're an idiot...

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Witnesses in Italy Testify - The Bribes Were For Martinelli

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

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Striking Teachers Enter Ninth Day Of Hunger Strike

Protests & DemonstrationsThrough clenched teeth, an English teacher who has been on a hunger strike asked the authorities of the Panamanian government and even the United Nations to intercede in their ongoing conflict with the Ministry Education, over the methodology used to determine salary increases. (more)

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Extraordinary Legislative Sessions To "Mine The Path" For President Elect Varela

PoliticsOn Wednesday May 21 the Deputies of the National Assembly will meet in Special Sessions called by the Executive, headed by President Ricardo Martinelli, where approximately 30 bills will be addressed. (more)

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Negotiations Continue Between Panameñistas and PRD For Control of National Assembly

PoliticsThe Deputy from the Panameñista political party Luis Eduardo Quirós said the talks with his colleagues from the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) in an attempt to reach an agreement to achieve control of the National Assembly continue. (more)

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Trained Dogs Will Be Used To Search For Two Missing Dutch Women

Expat TalesConfident their daughters are alive and will be found soon, the parents of one of the two young Dutch women who went missing in the foothills of Volcán Barú announced they will use trained search dogs from Holland to search the Pianista hiking trail. (more)

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Ludwig Hoffman And The "Stahlratte" - Operating Illegally in Panama?

Boats and Sailing By Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - A new source has provided me with additional information regarding attempts by the serial killer Javier Martin to book trips for unsuspecting backpackers who want to travel between Panama's San Blas islands and Cartagena in Colombia, from his jail cell in Panama's La Joya prison, using a smart phone smuggled in by a corrupt prison guard, aboard Ludwig Hoffman's "Stahlratte" (Steel Rat) sailing vessel.

It turns out Ludwig Hoffman might be working illegally in Panama, by using his "Stahlratte" sailing vessel to haul backpackers from the San Blas islands to Cartagena, Colombia. My source tells me "Ludwig Hoffmann is working illegally in Panama," saying "he is a parasite, operating in Comarca Kuna Yala without any permit." I'm currently working to verify and validate this accusation.

Admittedly the Panamanian government is notoriously absent with regards to these sailing vessels that regularly and routinely ferry backpackers from the San Blas islands to Colombia. There is little oversight, no inspectors, and few regulations. The little government presence that exists is notoriously corrupt, as well. Remember Ismael Sagel Lopez, the Port Captain of El Porvenir in the San Blas islands? After Javier Martin murdered the Frenchman Jean Pierre Bouhard, Martin literally drove a little dingy with an outboard motor all the way from Portobelo to El Porvenier, where he paid bribes to Ismael Sagel Lopez to create bogus ownership documents for Jean Pierre Bouhard's catamaran the "Levante." Javier Martin had just shot Jean Pierre Bouhard in the head and thrown his body into the ocean, in order to steal the "Levante." See this article for the details: Panama Port Captain Creates Fake Official Government Documents For Serial Killer.

I am being told Ludwig Hoffman has been operating a commercial sailing operation in the Guna Yala for years, without any permissions or permits to do so. I am currently attempting to contact the lawyer who is representing the interests of the Guna Yala people in these sorts of situations. Several calls have gone to voicemail.

Ludwig Hoffman and his "Stahlratte" sailing vessel will be arriving in Panama on 13 June, and then departing on 17 June for Cartagena, Colombia. I will be advising the lawyer who represents the interests of the Guna Yala people, as well as the Panamanian authorities, that this supposedly "non-commercial" sailing vessel will be stopping in Panama just long enough to pick up backpackers, who pay $510 per person to make the trip. This is the schtick Ludwig Hoffman has posted on his website;

  • "Our Project - SV "Stahlratte" is NOT a commercial sailing-vessel! The owner is a foundation, which was founded in 1984 as a commune and the ships purpose was/is to be a traveling platform for group life/experience. The project is run without any profits and the main issue is the surviving and maintenance of this historic ship.We try to keep it sailing for many people to have fun and good experiences. The crew is entirely composed of volunteers (also backpackers), who work in a rotation system for 3-6 month without being paid. All money earned with guests sailing on "Stahlratte" is exclusively spent for the maintenance of this vessel and the living of the 4-5 crewmembers on board."

Well, that's nice. An all cash business. Sailing around the Caribbean between Panama, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize. Not answering to anyone. And according to Ludwig Hoffman - supposedly "not commercial." I've long suspected there might be sailing vessels hauling backpackers around the Caribbean, using them basically as camouflage to run drugs to the North and money to the South. One thing I've noticed about criminals who get caught, is they immediately tend to accuse others of doing the exact same things they were doing. When I caught Javier Martin trying to arrange passage for backpackers aboard Ludwig Hoffman's "Stahlratte" - he posted an article on his website accusing me of (you guessed it) using a sailing yacht to traffic drugs and launder money. I wonder if the US Navy or the DEA has ever taken a real hard look at the "Stahlratte." Birds of a feather and all that. Nah, it's probably nothing...

And, I'm not stupid. The "Stahlratte" can carry a total of 25 passengers and crew - it's a relatively large boat. Most of the people who are providing me with information about Ludwig Hoffmann and his vessel are also in the business of transporting backpackers from Panama to Colombia, making him their competition. I get it. However he's also the only one who was willing to accept reservations from his buddy, Javier Martin. The rest of the gang saw my reporting, and piled on. So I'm not blind to the fact that this is their opportunity to maybe scoop up some of the people who were going to be riding on the "Stahlratte." It's a cutthroat business.

But here's what floats my boat. If anyone out there every wants to do business with Javier Martin - they can bet that sooner or later I'll find out about it. And then their boat will be the featured centerpiece of a similar series of articles. What Javier Martin is doing is illegal. Consider this to be a public service announcement.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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