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Monday, August 26 2019 @ 01:53 am EDT

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The US State Department Has Revoked The Visa Of Panama's Tourism Minister Solomon Shamah

Corruption Officials, who requested to not have their names disclosed, said the government of the United States has revoked the visa of the Panamanian Minister of Tourism, Solomon Shamah, and this was why he could not travel to the U.S. with the delegation accompanying president Ricardo Martinelli at his encounter with Barack Obama. The issue comes at a time when confidential cables written by the former U.S. ambassador in Panama, Barbara Stephenson have been revealed by WikiLeaks linking him to drug traffickers. La Prensa tried once again to contact Shamah yesterday to explain this, but he did not return calls. However, this newspaper has learned that Shamah was in contact yesterday with Martinelli and Enrique Ho, the manager of the new Cleanliness Authority.

This newspaper (La Prensa) sent an email yesterday to President Martinelli, at 9:43 am, asking if he had any comments on the statements made by Stephenson, and at 9:50 am Martinelli responded by saying: "please address this questionnaire to the Chancellor" and he copied the email to Juan Carlos Varela. The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, dodged answering the question. Through a written communication they merely repeated: "On several occasions we have said we will not issue comments on the WikiLeaks cables, which are internal communications of the U.S. State Department."

The Wikileaks cables delivered to La Prensa also confirm that Stephenson, citing DEA sources, said Albert Shamah, the brother of Solomon Shamah, piloted Martinelli's aircraft with David Murcia on board. Yesterday, in the late afternoon, the former vice president and former Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro issued a press release demanding that Martinelli force the immediate resignation of Minister Shamah. "There is a widespread cover-up to these allegations of corruption, and this happens when a justice is not independent and politicized," said Lewis. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: So now Panama's Tourism Minister can't travel to the United States, and he's also ducking the press. Is it even possible to have a Tourism Minister who ducks the press. I mean, isn't it part of his job description to be out there in the press, promoting Panama? Can Martinelli and his team even recognize how screwed up this makes the Republic of Panama look to the international community?

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Belgis Castro Will Be Taken To Trial For Corruption

Corruption He will be taken to court. Belgis Castro, the former Education Minister during the administration of Martin Torrijos, has been called to trial with court dates set for 29 and 30 September 2011, for the crime of embezzlement to the detriment of the Panama East Region. The judge of the Sixteenth Criminal Court also called to trial Juan Zerna Oliver, César Luciano Cordero, Roberto Jesús Ariza and Vidal Jaén Castillo. The preliminary stage of the investigation highlights the unlawful conduct of those named in this process for crimes against public administration and public funds. The Judge Enrique Perez opened a criminal case against Juan Evangelista Castañeda as the alleged perpetrator of the crime of fraud. (Dia a Dia)
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Did The Cambio Democratico Party Receive Money From David Murcia?

CorruptionThe question was going around several weeks ago. Did David Murcia Guzmán gave money to the campaign of Ricardo Martinelli? Frank De Lima, now Minister of Finance and then campaign treasurer, gave a resounding 'no' for an answer. But Enrique Ho admitted he received $380,000 as a loan from Ernesto Chong De Leon, the father of Ernesto Chong Coronado, who has been identified as a confidant of Murcia in Panama and who Ho has known since 1992, when they were both very young and both of their girlfriends were friends. The money, according to Ho, was a loan from the father of his friend, which he would repay with the donations Ho would receive for the the Democratic Change political party. On 18 November 2008 Ho received another check for $189,000 that bounced and then Martinelli decided to return all of the money. Ho said six days later he drew two checks payable to CD S.A. for $380 000, money he then gave Chong in two checks for $180,000 dollars a a bank transfer of $200,000 dollars. (La Estrella)
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Ho Says The Loan From Chong Coronado Was Personal

CorruptionThe current administrator of the National Authority for Urban and Household Cleanliness, Enrique Ho, said the money he borrowed from Ernesto Chong was in a personal capacity. "In late 2007, I made a commitment with the then presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli - the current president of the Nation - that I would donate one million dollars to his campaign, because he had contacts that could help me. However, I had to approach Chong Coronado and he said there was no problem, and he agreed to lend me $380,000 with the intention to repay him with other funds," he said. Ho said that before he asked for the loan from Chong Coronado he asked for him to be investigated in the DEA and the CIA, but the results did not show anything negative.

According to Ho, in July 2008 he asked for the money from the businessman - and at that time the Murcia scandal and the information about the DMG pyramid scheme had not yet broken in the media - in order to transfer the money to the campaign of Ricardo Martinelli and in that way to support the candidature and fulfill the commitment. He added that after the arrest of David Murcia Guzmán on 19 November 2008 one of the checks bounced because he was a customer of Chong Coronado. "When that happened he as the candidate (Martinelli) returned the check to me so that I could return it to Coronado," Ho said while speaking in an interview on channel 13 Telemetro.

He stated that once that happened, he tried to return the money by depositing it in an account held by the businessman (Coronado) in Andorra, but he could not do it, so he canceled the loan with two checks, one for $ 60,000 and another for $120,000 and a bank transfer for $200,000. Ho denied that Murcia Guzmán contributed money to the campaign of the current President of the Republic. He further clarified that he never received money from Murcia Guzmán to finance the campaign of Democratic Change. Yesterday, the official said processed a loan destined for the presidential campaign of Ricardo Martinelli with the PMC Group, headed by Ernesto Chong De Leon (the father of Ernesto Chong Coronado.) (Panama America)

Enrique Ho

Editor's Comment: Could you imagine the potential landmines awaiting any presidential candidate in a country like Panama - one of the world's drug trafficking and money laundering capitals. Guys like David Murcia Guzmán, flush with cash from illegal activity, would be trying to force as much money at a candidate like Ricardo Martinelli in order to buy protection and safety from prosecution. Reportedly David Murcia Guzmán was flat-out pissed off when he was arrested in Panama and quickly deported to Colombia (he has since been extradited to the United States) because he had reportedly paid hefty bribes to officials in the administration of Martin Torrijos and he thought he would be safe here. And that's why he shot a torpedo through the candidacies of Balbina Herrera and Bobby Velasquez by claiming right before the election that he had made multi million dollar donations to both of their campaigns. Anyway, it would not surprise me at all to find out that some of Murcia's money had found its way into the campaign coffers of Ricardo Martinelli. And look how this happened - it apparently got in there in the first place through a third party (Ho) and then the check bounced when the whole David Murcia Guzmán thing came out in the news. Panama's election and campaign laws are not strong enough or transparent enough to prevent this kind of thing from happening. And, no serious candidate in their right mind would knowingly take campaign contributions from drug traffickers and money launderers.

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Immigration Will No Longer Issue Visas To Restricted Countries - Mulino

CorruptionDue to the articles published by the La Estrella newspaper about on corruption and the human trafficking of Chinese nationals by the National Immigration Service in the Republic of Panama, in which key witnesses linked the Director of Immigration Maria Cristina Gonzalez to having participated in these deplorable acts, Panama's Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino said that starting today, the only people authorized to issue visas to citizens from countries with restricted visas will be the National Security Council in conjunction with the Executive and the Ministry of Security. What the Minister has said will be reflected through an executive decree. Once the measure is approved, it will be published for two days on the website of the National Immigration Service to allow for the query or objection from those who require visas. Moreover, Mulino said soon they would be merging the National Immigration Service with the National Customs Authority, within the measures prescribed by law. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Slick. They're not going to investigate Maria Cristina Gonzalez or fire her - but rather by merging Immigration and Customs then in effect her job will simply go away. She will be moved to somewhere else in the government, and Martinelli's team will work to quietly clean up the mess with a minimum of political damage. If they can find a way to purge the rampant corruption in Immigration, which has existed in that entity for decades, then they will be doing a great thing for Panama. In the meantime, however, they continue to execute damage control while trying to avoid another scandal. There's no doubt about it, Immigration is about as screwed up as "chocolate cheese" ...

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"Ruling in favor of Perez B. can be appealed" - Ayu Prado

Corruption Panama's Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado was emphatic when saying today that the decision of the Ninth Criminal Court, Judge Diego Fernandez, which acquitted former president Ernesto Perez Balladares and 14 others of money laundering charges, "can be appealed" to the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. Ayu Prado said on RPC Radio that the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime, Marcelino Aguilar, is the one who will make that decision. The prosecutor Aguilar reported yesterday that next Tuesday he will formally announce to the court his intention to appeal, which he will then defend before the Second Superior Tribunal. "We were prepared for all scenarios," said the Attorney General. However, he said, this decision was the least likely scenario. Despite this, Ayu Prado said "we are activating the corresponding plan" as long as the prosecutor Aguilar makes a decision on this case. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Who are they trying to kid? The decision to appeal the ruling of the 9th Criminal Court was made about two nanoseconds after they heard about it. Of course, Ayu Prado simply has to keep pointing to Aguilar and saying "it's his decision" because they have to keep up appearances. However, everyone in Panama already knows in reality it's Ricardo Martinelli who is actually pulling the strings on all of this. If Aguilar says "screw it" and doesn't appeal, Martinelli's head would spontaneously explode. It would be messy - wouldn't want that to happen. So yeah, there's no doubt - this decision gets appealed, and the government wins on appeal. And then Ernesto Perez Balladares' lawyers will appeal that decision to the Supreme Court, where they will most likely lost, and Ernesto Perez Balladares and gang will be convicted, because this case is political, and it's not about the evidence or law. Just ask Ana Matilde Gomez. All of this was mapped and game planned months ago.

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9th Criminal Court Judge Decides In Favor of Ernesto Perez Balladares (No Surprise)

Corruption Former President of the Republic, Ernesto Perez Balladares, decided to rest these days at his home in Altos del Golf, in the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City, to carefully read the ruling handed down yesterday, Friday, 30 April 2011, which dismissed the charges against him for money laundering that had been asked for by the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, is lawyers confirmed. Perez Balladares is not going to make a statement to the media, at least until next Tuesday, 3 May 2011, after making an analysis, together with his legal counsel, of the 143 page ruling written by the judge of the 9th Criminal Court, Diego Fernandez, they added. "Today he is at his home, and he asked for quiet this weekend," they said. In addition, the sources said Perez Balladares is pleased with the decision of the trial judge, because the ruling sets a precedent that there can be independence in the judiciary. His lawyers also argued that this decision is not only a triumph for the former head of state, but for society in general because it is a decision attached to law. Meanwhile, sources revealed that the Public Ministry has not yet been notified of the decision of the Ninth Circuit Criminal Court. They announced that they will be formally notified next Tuesday, and then they will decide whether or not to appeal the judge's decision. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: These lower court actions and decision are just the warm-up to the big show. This case will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. Of course the Public Ministry will appeal this lower court decision to the 2nd Superior Tribunal. There, they will overturn his decision, and then lawyers for Ernesto Perez Balladares will appeal to the Supreme Court. And there, he will lose because the court is firmly in the back pocket of Ricardo Martinelli. However it will take years before this case advances to that level. When this hearing started in the 9th Criminal Court, I asked some political insiders what was going to happen and they told me "oh, he's going to decide in favor of Perez Balladares because he's PRD, but then his decision will be overturned on appeal..." This is a political case, and the outcome has already been decided. It will just take some time for it to work it's way through the system. Every decision (for or against) will be appealed by someone, and the real decision will be made by the Supreme Court.

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Key Witness Points To De Janon

Corruption Mohamed Cedeño, a key witness in the complaints of the illegal human trafficking of Chinese by the National Immigration Service of Panama confirmed the participation and interference of the former director of the Social Investment Fund (FIS), Gabriel De Janon, in their operations. Cedeño, the driver for the former Chief of Operations and Security of the National Immigration Service, Rolando Taboada, explained how he received orders from De Janon to free the Chinese citizens who had been detained and who were being held in the holding cells of the institution. Also, in an interview with La Estrella, he confirmed that both De Janon and the Director of Immigration, María Cristina González, participated in an operation on 2 September 2010, during which four Chinese citizens were detained, three or which were later deported. Maria Cristina contradicts him (and denies having participated.) By the way, Cedeño denies that he is receiving money from the PRD. Far from this idea, he admits that he enrolled in the Cambio Democratico political party, and claims that joining the party is mandatory in order to get a job at Immigration. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The La Estella newspaper continues to hammer away at the National Immigration Service of Panama, it's (current) Director María Cristina González, and an open investigation which dates back to September of 2010. Apparently La Estrella obtained a copy of the case file of the investigation, and they are using that information as a launching pad to talk to those involved, like this driver the "key witness" Mohamed Cedeño, and others involved in the case. While I suspect La Estrella is somewhat politically motivated in their investigation, at the same time there is no doubt whatsoever that the National Immigration Service is probably the most corrupt element of the government of Ricardo Martinelli. I wrote to him personally last year after publishing a series of articles and investigations into the SMN and María Cristina González, basically to warn him that "you've got a huge problem at Immigration..." He blew me off, and María Cristina González is still at the helm. I feel this is an exceptionally important issue for the members of our community of English speaking expatriates in Panama because all of us, at one time or another, are going to have to deal with Immigration. My investigations were focused on the ways Immigration officials would extort bribes from foreigners under the threat of deportation. Remember the US State Department revoked the visa of former Panamanian president Ernesto Perez Balladares due to his involvement in the illegal trafficking of Chinese immigrants, through Panama and eventually to the United States. Corruption in Immigration is nothing new, but it would have been nice to see some real "change" with the arrival of Martinelli. When they took office he said anyone caught with their hand in the cookie jar would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Well, those promises were apparently BULLSHIT - because María Cristina González is still sitting there, although she is practically buried in cookie crumbs. Let's see how they decide to deal with this scandal. I bet they blow it off, sweep it under the rug, put on a "who, me?" face, and make like there's nothing wrong. So, exactly what does María Cristina González know, and why is she being treated with kid gloves? Why is she being protected?

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"Civil Society" Leaders Call For An Investigation of Immigration and Resignation of Director

CorruptionMembers of civil society demand that following the revelations made by the La Estrella newspaper in the investigation of corruption within the National Immigration System for the alleged trafficking of Chinese immigrants, the Attorney General should initiate an immediate investigation against Maria Cristina Gonzalez, director of the entity. Professor and lawyer Miguel Antonio Bernal said given the seriousness of the allegations, Gonzalez needs to be separated from her post as soon as possible, as well as other persons who have been related to the allegations of human trafficking. Coinciding with Bernal, is Mauro Zuñiga, another civil society leader, who sees immigration as another "pus pocket" scandal of the government that claims to be about change. The former director of Immigration added to his reactions a request for the Attorney General to order the arrest of Gonzalez, due to the seriousness of the accusations. He said that in addition to collecting bribes, there is an obvious crime of kidnapping. Balbina Herrera of the Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD), warned that what is succinct inside of immigration with the alleged trafficking of Chinese, is extremely delicate and the general public should pay attention, because human beings are involved. Recognizing that Gonzalez is in Washington with the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, amid the storm swirling around Immigration, the PRD leader said that Immigration is part of the president's team. "When Martinelli returns, I hope that he says he will investigate the irregularities that have been pointed out, because it is he who must make the determination, without blaming others," he said. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: In case you didn't notice, the La Estrella newspaper has apparently turned 100% PRD - and therefore severely anti-Martinelli. In any case, heads up to a severe case of bias (alert).

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US Embassy Links Balbina Herrera's Son To Toxic Chemical Import (WikiLeaks)

CorruptionAlthough the United States had no conclusive information about those responsible for the mass poisoning with diethylene glycol in Panama, they did have some reports of the possible link to Virgilio Periñán Herrera, the son of former presidential candidate of the PRD, Balbina Herrera, to the importation of the toxic chemicals. In a report sent to Washington, the former US Ambassador Barbara Stephenson said "stories of incompetence and malfeasance have plagued Herrera's son and campaign adviser: Virgilio Periñán." Detailed in a cable leaked to Wikileaks, that the link would be "the importation of the toxic diethylene glycol with altered labels that ended up in the cough syrup of Panamanians which left dozens dead." However, this was not the only case in which they would be involving Periñán Herrera. He is also associated with two shipments of onions contaminated with dioxin. For this scandal, which became known only four months prior to the 2009 elections, the Electoral Court lifted Herrera's electoral protection, who was a presidential candidate for the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). This action was taken so that the Third Anti-Corruption Prosecutor could investigate her, because she is a shareholder in the company Agrovicaral Imports & Exports Inc., where her son is listed as president and treasurer.

Ambassador Stephenson said that "being able to choose her own running partner (Juan Carlos Navarro), Herrera would probably also be likely to choose her relatives." The diplomat was referring to, also in a cable of December 24, 2008, the "blunder" by Pablo Garrido, Herrera's brother, who served as ambassador of Panama in Belgium. She explained that the lack of timely notice to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry on the renewal of the privileges of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) to the European Commission, was a "terrible oversight." Stephenson said Ernesto Cerrud, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Garrido and Herrera's daughter, who also worked at the embassy in Brussels, left the agency "to hell" to take unpaid leave to work for Herrera's campaign. The ambassador said although this error does not affect Herrera directly, it contributed to the growing perception that the PRD government, led by Martin Torrijos, is "the gang who can's shoot straight." (Panama America)

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Immigration: The Route Of The Bribes

CorruptionGranting a visa to a Chinese immigrant was a windfall at the National Immigration Service. At least that was made evident by Asians who paid as much as $40,000 dollars to be here legally. Four of them testified before the Office of the Auxiliary Prosecutor in the investigations being carried out after a complaint was filed about the trafficking of Chinese immigrations, supposedly woven into the very bowels of the National Immigration Service. The route of the business began with the delivery of cash. For example, Nuoshun Hou handed over in two payments a total of $40,000 dollars to his countryman, Hong Shi Zhang, for having accelerated the documents for his brother and sister-in-law. This money later went into an account held by the company Thunder International, in which the Panamanian consul in Haiti, Juan Diego Arauz, is listed as a legal representative. By the way, Arauz is linked in another company to businessman Alexandre Nogueira Ventura, who in turn is a client of the same lawyer as Maria Cristina Gonzalez, the Director of Immigration. Although the prosecutor knows that Araúz is a representative of Thunder, he has not been called to testify. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The local newspaper La Estrella has been bitch-slapping Panama's National Immigration Service and it's director María Cristina González over the last few days in a series of articles about corruption within that organization. No surprise here - I've been saying the same thing in one way or another for a long time (and basically getting ignored.) Anyway, now it will all come home to roost. It always does, sooner or later. Now maybe some of the Colombian hookers they've been extorting money from for years will also come forward to file formal complaints. Well, probably not. They don't want to answer the question "Occupation?" in a formal complaint. And, that's exactly how and why the corrupt bastards in Immigration have been getting away with it, for decades. They can deport anyone who complains. Nice guys, eh? It's nothing new, Immigration has been one of the best "producers" for corrupt governments going back for generations. That place will never get cleaned up unless they put me in charge, and I don't want the damn job (the pay sucks).

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Comptroller Seizes 44 Vehicles And Asks For Dismissal Of Government Employees

CorruptionA total of 44 official government vehicles had been seized as of Good Friday as part of an operation conducted by the Legal Division of the office of the Comptroller General of the Republic to detect the misuse of public property during the commemoration of Holy Week. Officials of the General Directorate of Audits carried out strict surveillance at various locations around the country and checked on the use of 574 cars, of whom 514 met the requirements to be able to move, according to a press release from the institution. The Comptroller said she would seek the dismissal of any government employee who is a repeat offender in this type of infringement, sending the report to the Public Ministry in order to proceed expeditiously with criminal investigations. Comptroller authorities recommend avoiding the use of official vehicles, including leased vehicles, which should remain the the parking lots of the institutions concerned. Official government vehicles can only be used by public servants who need to use them, who must carry a letter of safe conduct including their names, the date, the place of their mission, as well as the names and identification of anyone who is accompanying them and all of the occupants of the vehicle. Similarly, all official vehicles that still have the licence plates from the year 2009 will be held without exception at the public entity to which it belongs, until the new documents for 2010 or 2011 are obtained. (La Estrella)
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Eaton: Spadafora Lost His Visa For "Corrupt Practices and Activities"

Corruption Former President Martin Torrijos was one of the first people in Panama to learn the United States decided to revoke the visa of Supreme Court judge Winston Spadafora, for being "corrupt". The former ambassador William Eaton informed Torrijos of the decision on 25 November 2005, five days before the official confirmation. This is indicated by a cable sent to Washington by Eaton on 12 December of that year. Eaton reported he had a conversation about it with Torrijos, and that Torrijos had asked him not to announce the revocation of Spadafora's visa. Torrijos argued he was working with the newly appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Graciela Dixon, to exert pressure to make changes and possibly resignations in this organ of the government. Eaton said Torrijos was concerned the revocation of Spadafora's visa would make negotiations with Dixon more "difficult." "We are skeptical of Torrijos's comments that he and Dixon will clean up the Court. However, seeing is believing," Eaton said in the cable.

The former ambassador told Torrijos in the meeting that Spadafora's visa had already been revoked and it would not be returned, although the embassy had no plans to make a public statement of the fact. Eaton told Torrijos that Spadafora lost his visa "because his corrupt practices and activities as Supreme Court Justice were undermining democratic and judicial institutions in Panama," according to the cable released by WikiLeaks and turned over to the Panama America. The U.S. Embassy confirmed the revocation of Spadafora's visa on 30 November 2005, amid a wave of rumors that spread throughout the country. Despite this, the judge has managed to remain in office for three presidential terms. Meanwhile, Eaton doubted how Torrijos absorbed the news. "We can assume that Torrijos will have its own reasons for wishing that the revocation had never occurred or that the news had never been disclosed, but we doubt that their real reasons were those that he gave," said the former ambassador. (Panama America)

Supreme Court judge Winston Spadafora (right) was nominated by former Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso on 5 December 2001.

Editor's Comment: Ricardo Martinelli will appoint the replacements for these two Supreme Court judges - Winston Spadafora and Alberto Cigarruista - who were named to the court by Mireya Moscoso back in 2001. Martinelli already enjoys a solid majority on the court that only has four judges named by the PRD. However the replacement of Winston Spadafora and Alberto Cigarruista will give him two more of "his" people - meaning Cambio Democratico guys - and not leftovers from the Mireya Moscoso (spat) years of endemic "Arnulfista" corruption. And once again WikiLeaks makes "news." So Winston Spadafora was considered by the US Embassy to be corrupt and therefore they cancelled his visa. Is there anyone who didn't know that already? Well, of course there's value in seeing the cable confirming what we basically knew already. However it's ironic to have witnessed all of the recent huff over Almengor, while Spadafora has been sitting there like a happy toad for ten years. Ribbit...

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Credentials Committee Closes and Tosses Complaints Against Almengor

CorruptionThe Credentials Committee of the National Assembly decided not to entertain the complaints against Judge Jose Abel Almengor, as confirmed by Miguel Fanovich, the chairman of this committee. With five votes in favor, the committee adopted the decision not to admit the complaints, and ordered the case against judge Almengor closed, in relation to various crimes such as corruption. According to the committee, the complaints did not have the summary evidence required in order to give continuity to a judicial inquiry. Fanovich said the emails submitted by the former judge Zulay Rodriguez can not be admitted as evidence, as established by rule. The complaints now cannot be forwarded to the Public Ministry. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Slick. There's your quid pro quo. Almengor resigns, and Martinelli accepted his resignation, however today he is still in his position and his resignation will not take affect until a replacement has been named and seated. By tossing the complaints, the Credentials Committee is basically washing their hands of the whole thing. They now cannot forward the complaints to the Public Ministry for them to open an investigation against Almengor as a normal citizen once he leaves the bench. Of course, the people who hounded him out of office are free to submit new complaints against him once he's out of office, but this action basically ends whatever the National Assembly was going to do. The problem lies in the fact that according to the Panamanian Constitution, it falls to the National Assembly to investigate the members of the Supreme Court, and it falls to the Supreme Court to investigate the members of the National Assembly. So, the end result is that both organizations have one another by the scrotum - so no one ever actually investigates anything. Like, you go after our guys and we'll go after your guys - that kind of a thing.

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National Assembly Will Forward Almengor Investigation To The Public Ministry

CorruptionAfter the former Supreme Court judge José Abel Almengor resigned his position, the Credentials Committee of the National Assembly will send the six complaints against him to the Public Ministry. In a letter sent on Thursday 14 April 2011 to president Martinelli, Almengor says his decision was motivated by personal reasons. Ruling party lawmaker Manuel Cohen, a member of the Credentials Committee, said that due to Almengor's resignation "we have no authority" in the case. He added that in any case it would fall to the Public Ministry to decide whether or not to open an investigation. What happens is that the National Assembly, according to the Constitution, is responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges and allegations made against the President of the Republic and the sitting magistrates of the Supreme Court, and upon his resignation Almengor becomes just another citizen, so therefore any investigation would fall to the Public Ministry, headed by Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado. On Wednesday night, the commissioners agreed to combine in a single block the six complaints against Almengor in a marathon session that lasted until 9 pm. Also, with five votes in favor and 3 against (from the PRD members), and with the absence of Mario Lazarus, the Credentials Committee threw out the first complaint against Almengor and 4 other Supreme Court judges, that had been submitted by attorney Rolando Botello Candanedo on 28 March 2011. After having thrown out the first complaint, there were six other cases pending against Almengor, including that filed by the former judge Zulay Rodriguez, which were to have been resolved in the coming days. Almengor's decision to resign comes comes amid the scandal over his alleged involvement in the PAMAGO group, established in January 2010, to remove Ana Matilde Gómez from the Attorney General's office. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: So, as I predicted weeks ago, the endgame does not change at all. Ana Matilde Gomez is still out of the Attorney General's office. The case against Ernesto Perez Balladares and 14 others for money laundering goes forward. Now Ricardo Martinelli will appoint someone else to the Supreme Court and the balance of power there remains unchanged. What's more, eventually Ricardo Martinelli will appoint three additional judges to fill the positions created by the reactivation of the Fifth Chamber - that will bring the total to 8 from the "Grand Opposition Alliance" against only four from the PRD. This whole thing probably took a few more coats off of Martinelli's patina, but it's still only the second quarter of his presidency and there's a long time left to play. There's tactics, and then there's strategy. It was time to pop this Almengor zit and move on to bigger and better "El Toro" Bull Roasts. And I suspect that somewhere down the line they'll have a Zulay Rodriguez Clam Bake as well. All in due time...

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Supreme Court Judge José Abel Almengor Resigns

CorruptionThe requests made by many people that Supreme Court justice José Abel Almengor should resign from this position, after being the subject of several complaints and lawsuits due to his alleged links to a plot to remove the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez from office, have been heard. In a press release, the Supreme Court confirmed that Almengor has put his resignation before Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli. The official note adds that Almengor sent a note to the President in which he stated that his decision was for "personal reasons." Currently, the Credentials Committee of the National Assembly is discussing a number of complaints against Almengor, who is still a judge of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: There's something about this that I don't understand. In Panamanian Spanish when someone resigns, they say they "pone su cargo a disposición" (place their position at the disposition of) their boss. Like, if an underling like a Vice Minister or something is being forced to resign, rather than just firing the guy, he is given the opportunity to resign, and he "places his position at the disposition of" his boss to make the decision, and then the boss accepts the resignation. However in this case it seems to be completely inappropriate for a Supreme Court judge to "place his position at the disposition of" the President of the Republic - as if he works for the president, and as if the president is his boss. I know, the President nominates a candidate to the National Assembly, who then vote to approve the nomination, and the new judge takes his seat on the Supreme Court. However, there is supposed to be a separation of powers in a democracy. What, is Ricardo Martinelli going to say "no, I don't accept your resignation - get back to work" or something like that? Do you get my point? I mean, Almengor should have just resigned, and that's that. Whatever. Now that he's gone, Ricardo Martinelli will appoint someone else and they can all get back to the real task at hand - which is the "Bull Roast 2011" ...

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Credentials Committee Tosses Complaint Against Supreme Court Justices

CorruptionWith five votes in favor and 3 against the Credentials Committee of the National Assembly threw out the first of six complaints filed against Supreme Court judge José Abel Almengor. The complaint was presented by the attorney Botello Rolando Candanedo, representing Ezequiel González Núñez, last March 28 for allegedly committing four crimes such as extortion, extortion, influence peddling and crimes against public administration. After hearing the recommendation of the Technical Committee appointed to evaluate the case against five judges of the Supreme Court, among them Almengor, which concluded the file should be closed for lack of evidence, the members of the Credentials Committee approved this recommendation. The Technical Committee is composed of José Rigoberto Acevedo, Estelvina Contreras and José del Carmen Murgas, the three members of the Legislative Counsel. The findings of the consultants, in a report, which was endorsed by the five members who are part of the governing "Grand Opposition Alliance", were that the complaint filed by Botello Candanedo had no victim, no primary evidence of legitimacy, the types of crimes described were not accredited, and the Commission is "impeded" from searching for evidence. At the end of the night, in a new session which started at 7:29 pm, they agreed to combine the six complaints against Almengor into one single file and then start an analysis, in that, excluding the issue of the four other Supreme Court justices. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: OK, so there were a total of seven complaints filed in this most recent flurry. There was one that was against five of the Supreme Court justices, this one that they decided to close. Then there are six others which have now been combined into one, all against Almengor. Clear?

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Their Fate Will Be Decided In One Month (Ernesto Perez Balladares - Money Laundering)

CorruptionAfter 21 hours of hearings, the judge of Panama's Ninth Criminal Court, Diego Fernandez will take 30 days in order to decide whether or not to open criminal proceedings for money laundering against former Panamanian president Ernesto Perez Balladares and 14 others. In the allegations, the Organized Crime Prosecutor made the surprise move of questioning the forensic audit conducted by the Institute of Legal Medicine, which indicated that they did not find money laundering through the companies Lucky Games and Shelf Holding, that are being investigated in this process. The prosecutor Marcelino Aguilar requested the indictments of Ernesto Pérez Balladares, Ricardo Caputto, Rómulo Abad, Henry Mong, Jaime Espino, Jeniffer Espino, Vicente Calderón, Roosevelt Thayer, Carlos Carrasquilla, Adelio Green, and Enrique Prettelt, as well as the acquittal of Humberto González, Eyda Achón and James Tobbiason. He also requested that the precautionary measures be maintained against the former president, and a certification of copies in order to investigate two accounts of Banistmo International in the Bahamas.

This position of the Prosecutor against the results of the forensic experts José Vergelli y Fabio Duarte Navarro, both former officials of the Public Ministry, was the flag used by the eight defense lawyers who wielded their arguments, noting that the audit was legal, because they did not find any traces of money laundering nor alerts in the companies. The eight defense lawyers called for the dismissal of charges against all 15 defendants, that the proceedings should be called null and void, and the case should be closed. They did not rule out the possibility of opening an investigation against the Prosecutor for Organized Crime. Their requests to have the case ruled null and void was based on the fact that even though the judge Diego Fernandez denied that there should be an audit conducted by the UAF, an audit conducted by the Direction of Judicial Investigation was introduced into the file that was used by the prosecutors during the investigation. (La Critica)

Editor's Comment: Question - Is it normal for the Institute of Legal Medicine to conduct forensic audits in highly charged cases of money laundering involving $30 million dollars? If this audit was conducted by two guys who are "former members" of the Public Ministry, that most likely means they worked there when Ana Matilde Gomez was the Attorney General, and their "investigation" was supposed to be the lynch pin used by the defense to pull the wheels off of the investigation. Pretty slick - manipulate the evidence and you can manipulate the results of the trial. So, apparently the Public Ministry went and got another forensic audit - this one conducted by the DIJ and not some other bozos controlled by the PRD - which apparently came up with something closer to the truth and reality. And now the defense is fighting like hell to get it thrown out. Amazing stuff. The only thing more fun watching politicians at work is watching politicians in court. Well, even that is trumped by politicians in jail. As I have said already on several occasions - I bet the outcome of these hearings are already decided. There will be a trial, they will be found guilty, and all appeals will fail (regardless of the evidence that's in the case file.) It's political...

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The Credentials Committee Will Decide Fate of Almengor Cases Today

CorruptionThe members of the Credentials Committee of the National Assembly will decide today, Wednesday, 13 April 2011, if they intend to combine the case files of the complaints, grievances and lawsuits filed with them against the Supreme Court judge Jose Abel Almengor over the Pamago scandal. The plan was announced this morning by the Chairman of the Credentials Committee, Miguel Fanovich, after holding a discussion with PRD lawmaker Benicio Robinson over the methodology they will use as they proceed with their handling of the cases against Almengor. When speaking in an interview on the channel 13 Telemetro morning news broadcast, Fanovich said "the decision has already been taken" in last Tuesday's session, even with the approval of three members of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party; but Robinson rejected that. In fact, the local news media only picked up in Fanovich's announcement that the six different case files would not be combined, because according to him, they come from different sources. Today's meeting will take place even though several of the commissioners have not read the entire file, including Robinson, because, he said, he only received it yesterday.

Panamanian Supreme Court Justice José Abel Almengor has been involved in a scandal involving the removal of the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez (called the "Pamago Scandal") - and there are now six complaints pending against him before the Credentials Committee of the National Assembly.

Potential Conflict of Interests Downplayed: On the other hand, Fanovich dismissed articles published in the local media that at least six of the nine members of the Credentials Committee, including him, have cases pending before the Supreme Court of Justice. The deputy used the excuse that the majority of his colleagues in the National Assembly have some kind of case pending in the Supreme Court for alleged electoral crimes, and in the National Assembly here are a total of 27 complaints that have been filed against almost all of the magistrates of the Supreme Court. (La Estrella)

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Preliminary Hearing of Ernesto Perez Balladares Continues

Corruption Panama's Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime, Marcelino Aguilar, sustained his "prosecutor's opinion" today before judge Diego Fernández, in which he requested the indictment of Ernesto Pérez Balladares, former President of Panama (1994-1999). In the allegations, prosecutor Aguilar - who was accompanied by his three assistants - also requested the indictment of 11 others and a provisional stay for the other three defendants. Aguilar said this group of people conspired to create shell companies in order to receive monies from Lucky Games, a company benefiting from a direct concession to manage slot machine halls received during the administration of Pérez Balladares. In addition, he made reference to the companies Joyas del Mundo, PTY Adventures, Corporación Alcor, Kestel Management, Grupo Granate, Blue Cascade and Mister Bull. This Tuesday, April 12, the second day of the hearing is taking place - being held in the Ninth Criminal Court - against the former Panamanian president and 14 others for money laundering. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This "preliminary hearing" will decide whether there will be a trial, or if the charges should be dismissed because there is not enough evidence to sustain the prosecution's case. This is the first time the investigation and the case against Ernesto Perez Balladares has left the hands of the Public Ministry, and is being heard by a judge. Remember all that stuff last year when Ernesto Perez Balladares was on house arrest, that he had to report before the prosecutor every 15 days, that he could not leave the country, etc? All of that was done by the prosecutor. And, the bulk of this case was developed by Jose Ayu Prado, the former Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime, who was elevated by Ricardo Martinelli to the position of Attorney General, replacing Ana Matilde Gomez after Giuseppe Bonissi resigned amidst a scandal. And of course, this case is more about the politics and less about the proof and evidence.

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Prosecutor Asks For A Criminal Trial of Former Panamanian President

CorruptionPanama's Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime asked the judge to open a criminal case against former President Ernesto Perez Balladares for alleged money laundering, at the preliminary hearing that began this morning in the Ninth Criminal Court before judge Diego Fernandez. During the first hour and a half of the preliminary hearing, the opinion of the prosecutor was read in which the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime detailed the disbursements of the deposits from accounts held by the company Lucky Games to Shelf Holding, Joyas del Mundo, PTY Adventure and other companies totaling more than $30 million dollars and whose movements, according to the Public Ministry, could not be justified by the accused. The Public Ministry argues that Lucky Games is the company which was given the concession for the operation of slot machines during the Pérez Balladares administration, when it privatized the National Casinos. Enrique Pretelt, the son-in-law of Perez Balladares, is a partner in Lucky Games, and the former president tried to justify that Shelf Holdings is a family business and therefore the movements of monies in the accounts between the two companies occurred. He further explained that he loaned money to Pretelt and deposited money to Shelf Holding, but no documentation was found to prove such a loan. The Ninth Criminal Court must determine whether there are grounds to prosecute the former president. Should he be put on trial and convicted, Perez Balladares could face 5 to 12 years in prison. (TVN Noticias)
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Former President Ernesto Perez Balladares and 14 Others In Court Today on Money Laundering Charges

CorruptionThe former Panamanian president Ernesto Perez Balladares and 14 other co-defendants appeared in court today, Monday, 11 April 2011, at the preliminary hearing of the case against them, in which they are being prosecuted for money laundering, in the Ninth Criminal Court. Ernesto Perez Balladares was the president of Panama from 1994 to 1999. Upon arrival at the Ninth Criminal Court, Perez Balladares once again fended off the accusations that have been made against him. When speaking to the local media who were outside of the courthouse, Perez Balladares said it is now up to the judge to determine "who is telling the truth, and who invented things." As of 8:31 am, the only defendants that had arrived were the former president Perez Balladares, as well as others who have been accused - Rómulo Abad (the private secretary of the former president during his administration), Enrique Pretelt (his son-in-law), and Roosvelt Lito Thayer Galindo (the former Housing Minister.)

For his part, Luis Carlos Cabezas, one of the defense lawyers for the former president, called for the process to be "impartial." "Here there is no crime of money laundering," said the lawyer, who also insisted in cleansing the names of his client as well as those of the 14 other defendants who are linked to this case.

Starting at 8:00 am other people started showing up at the courthouse - figures from the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), including Francisco Sánchez Cárdenas (PRD Party President), Mitchell Doens (PRD General Secretary), Balbina Herrera (former presidential candidate), Javier Martínez Acha, Priscila Valenzuela, Reynaldo Rivera and Anel Bolo Flores. After forming a committee to support the former Panamanian president, the group called for a fair and apolitical trial. They also asked Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, "remove your hands from the justice system." In statements made to TVN Channel 2, Rivera (the former Minister of Labor) said Perez Balladares is a victim of political persecution. He said this case stems from a "judicial terrorism" against those who oppose the current government.

The case against Perez Balladares and the 14 others has to do a process of money laundering after having allegedly received and dealt with money - some $20 million dollars - money that was unjustified or unaccounted for, from a company that administers slot machine rooms (like mini-casinos.) The special prosecutor against organized crime, Marcelino Aguilar, filed the criminal prosecution against Perez Balladares and 11 of the 14 defendants, and also asked for the provisional dismissal of the charges in this case against the other three defendants. In his view, these people could not justify the sums of money they received from the company Shelf Holding Inc. and from four other companies, resources from Lucky Games. This latter company received a direct concession to manage slot machine rooms during the administration of Pérez Balladares. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This is the story that's dominating the Panamanian news cycle today. This battle between Ernesto Perez Balladares and the government of Ricardo Martinelli has been the root cause of everything having to do with Ana Matilde Gomez - she was removed because she refused to prosecute this case. The current Attorney General - Jose Ayu Prado - was the former Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime before he was promoted (by Ricardo Martinelli) to his current position. Painting the most prominent PRD political figures as corrupt has been the cornerstone of Martinelli's grand strategy since day one. He also has a personal vendetta against Ernesto Perez Balladares which dates back to when he was fired as the Minister of the Panama Canal. So, a lot of this is just old fashioned "payback". The 9th Criminal Court will be the "first instance" in this case. No matter who wins or loses the case at this level, someone, one side or the other, is going to appeal the case to the Superior Court level. And once the appeal is decided at that level, then it will be appealed to the Supreme Court where - by then - Ricardo Martinelli will have seated eight of the twelve Supreme Court justices (after the three new judges are added due to the "Fifth Chamber" expansion.) So, considering all of that, are there any doubts about how all of this is going to turn out? Oh yeah, then there's the evidence and all of that as well. Can't forget the evidence, you know. However don't forget that "this is Panama" (TIP) and in high profile political cases like this, the decisions are political and the evidence is just so much window and set dressing for the stage upon which the drama is acted out. Anyway, this morning it's "lights, camera..." and the journalists are standing in puddles of their own making outside of the courthouse. This is as good as it gets.

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Credentials Committee Begins Hearings on Almengor Complaints

CorruptionThe Credentials Committee of the National Assembly began meetings today, Tuesday, 5 April 2011, to evaluate whether or not to open an investigation into the six complaints filed against Supreme Court Judge José Abel Almengor. On today's agenda the members of the Commission would only consider the request submitted by the former Ombudsman, Italo Antinori before the Public Ministry (in which he himself asks for an investigation), but lawmaker Elias Castillo requested the inclusion of the additional six complaints against Almengor. The Commission decided to include on the day's agenda the six complaints against Almengor, which they will evaluate one by one. The Credentials Commission of the National Assembly consists of Miguel Fanovich (President of the Commission), Elías Castillo, Gabriel Méndez, Manuel Cohen, Mario Miller and the substitutes Julio Luque and Antonio Pope. Almengor was denounced for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to remove Ana Matilde Gomez from the Attorney General's office. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Of course there was a conspiracy to remove Ana Matilde Gomez from office, and of course the National Assembly will vote to throw out these complaints against Almengor. Or even if he's forced to resign or is removed, then Ricardo Martinelli simply replaces him with some other dude, so there's no change in the endgame. The public opinion of the National Assembly is already in the basement, so they literally have nothing to lose. I think they will just go through the motions and then do what they decided to do already last week.

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Zulay Rodriguez Fears Her Case Will Be Thrown Out Tomorrow

Corruption The former deputy judge Zulay Rodríguez, said on the channel 2 morning news program today that she has received telephone calls warning her that the complaint she filed against Supreme Court Judge Jose Abel Almengor in the National Assembly will be closed on Tuesday (tomorrow) and that she will be thrown in jail. Rodriguez said there is a whole machine operating against her. She said the saddest thing is that she has been collecting evidence from more than a year ago, that are not email, but rather sworn affidavits. She regretted that she has been attacked in her private life as a woman, a mother and a professional, and that she is saddened that they have also attacked the witnesses. The former deputy judge said she did not get paid (take bribes), said she always decided cases according to the law, and that her decisions were reviewed by her superiors.

She explained it was the judge José Abel Almengor who took her into PAMAGO, the group "Pursued by Ana Matilde Gómez." She admitted that the group wanted to get Gomez out of the Public Ministry, but said the group had people with very specific criteria, who felt persecuted. In her case, Rodriguez admitted that if she acted for good or bad at that time, she did so because she thought that Gomez was entitled not to interfere with phone calls from a public prosecutor (Arquímedez Sáez). However, she made the proviso that she would discuss her personal motivations before the court if an investigation is opened. She added that if an investigation is not opened, then she cannot speak the truth. She also denied having pressured judge Almengor to be appointed as a judge, although she admitted that she sent him emails saying that she had the merits for the position, since she had been a deputy judge, who did not charge anything, and that she had 10 to 15 years of administration. "If he has academic merit, then so do I," she said. (TVN Noticias)

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Sidney Sitton Says Blas Velásquez Gordillo Threatened Him

CorruptionThe lawyer Sidney Sitton, who appeared in an interview last Friday on channel 13 Telemetro, reported receiving threatening calls. One of them, from a close friend of Supreme Court Judge José Abel Almengor. During an interview this morning on Telemetro, Sitton played a voice message left on his cell phone "I have the support of all my friends in order to do what I have to do and they will pay the money for the bond, because it's over." According to Sitton, the male voice that said he would look for him day and night, that would cost him his life, belongs to Blas Velásquez Gordillo, a friend of Almengor's. Sitton is one of the key witnesses in the complaint filed by the lawyer and former judge Zulay Rodriguez, to investigate Supreme Court Judge Alemengor for an alleged conspiracy against the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez, and for alleged corruption within the Supreme Court. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Everybody already knows how this whole PAMAGO scandal is going to play out, or at least what they suspect will actually happen on the ground. The National Assembly will eventually vote to close the case and not take any real or substantial actions against Almengor or anyone else. They will eventually take the same action with all five similar complaints that have been filed. And even if Almengor is eventually forced to resign then Martinelli will just appoint someone else who is also faithful, so there's really no change in the power structure in the end. And there is no separation of powers right now in Panama. Everyone already knows there was a "conspiracy" to throw Ana Matilde Gomez out of power - and they did so because she refused to go after Ernesto Perez Balladares for money laundering. So, Gomez is gone and now the corruption case against Ernesto Perez Balladares is going forward. I'll see your money laundering, and trump your conspiracy scandal with paybacks and payola. This is one big PRD vs. the "Grand Opposition Alliance" showdown at halftime - and it's all a setup for the 2014 elections. Martinelli's "grand strategy" is to paint the PRD as corrupt. They are trying to turn it around on him. So right now the corruption ball is going back and forth over the net like it's Wimbledon or something.

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A Million Dollar Dance Behind The PAMAGO Scandal

CorruptionAbout $17.2 million dollars are moving behind the scandal of the group Pursued by Ana Matilde Gomez (Pamago), revealed yesterday the lawyer Roniel Ortiz. The lawyer said the money is related to the investigation that took place against Rancheram and Arnoldo Aleman, cases in which it is connected the former deputy judge Zulay Rodríguez. Ortiz said that in the trial against Rancheram, a suspect who supposedly is being investigated by the United States for money laundering, Zulay intervened as a mediator, giving money to judges to release more than $2 million, belonging to a housing project. In the other case, against the former Nicaraguan president Arnoldo Aleman, Ortiz said Rodriguez was hired to release more than $16 million dollars that are still part of a process that is in court. For his part, the former Ombudsman Italo Antinori called the former judge a "public enemy" because, he said, her accusations are false. According to Antinori, when everything occurred around 20 January 2010, the date when he came out against the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez, the former judge was part of the Pamago group, that was being led by Ortiz. Appearing on the program Face to Face, the lawyer Zulay Rodriguez said she would take more than six witnesses to the National Assembly who will testify under oath about everything that happened in the Supreme Court. The Rodriguez also called Jose Abel Almengor an opportunist. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Oh my gosh! Corruption in the Panamanian Judicial System? Say it isn't so! I guess no one has heard about Pedro Miguel Gonzalez. Or Winston Spadafora. Or Graciela Dixon. Or CEMIS. What, we're supposed to see this as something new? Well, in reality what's new is that there's someone who is willing to set their hair on fire in public, create a scandal, try to bring others down, etc. Complete this phrase - "Hell hath no fury like..." then fill in the blanks for yourself. And for the record all of this crap is like Christmas for the journalists. Lots of stuff to talk about. Accusations and counter-accusations, bribes and payola, back room deals, power brokers, corruption. Panama is beating itself with a big black rubber hose right now, and I wonder how much of this is getting any attention in other countries. Like - "there's corruption in the Panamanian judicial system (yawn) ... " = not a headline. Nor is it "news" but rather "olds."

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The National Assembly Has Five Complaints Against Supreme Court Justice José Abel Almengor

CorruptionThe number of allegations against Supreme Court judge Supreme Court, José Abel Almengor has risen. The Credentials Committee of the National Assembly reported the arrival of three new complaints on Friday amid the uproar over the revelations of manipulation of justice. Almengor is accused of participating in a plot with the group PAMAGO to dismiss the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez. The documentation of the charges was presented to the General Secretariat of the legislature and then submitted to the Credentials Committee, whose chairman is the Panameñista lawmaker Miguel Fanovich. Jorge Zúñiga and Humberto Serrano, acting in their personal capacity as citizens, each filed complaints against the judge, while Taira Barsallo filed a complaint on behalf of the National Association of Women Lawyers. The first complaint from the "civil society" against the judge became effective on Wednesday 30 March when the Citizens' Assembly, which has about 80 groups, presented their documents and demanded that he he brought to trial. Later that same day, the former judge Zulay Rodriquez, who revealed the alleged conspiracy that allegedly involved members of the Executive, presented her formal complaint and took two small boxes of documents and evidence in the case. On Monday 28 March, the lawyer Rolando Botello filed a complaint in the National Assembly against the Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of removing Ana Matilde Gomez from her position. The five judges who voted to find the former Attorney General guilty on 11 August 2010 were the current President of the Supreme Court Anibal Salas, Alberto Cigarruista, Wiston Spadafora, Alejandro Moncada Luna and Wilfredo Saénz, Almengor's deputy.

Details - The President of the National Assembly José Muñoz said they would act with total independence from both the Executive and Judicial branches. He stated that ultimately the committee members will make the final decision of whether to dismiss the case or not. On Tuesday, April 5, the Credentials Committee will begin the analysis of the complaints against Almengor. The committee chairman Miguel Fanovich, will appoint a subcommittee to prepare a report about the complaints that should be ready within ten days. Almengor was appointed by the Executive in mid-December 2009 and ratified on 24 December of that same year with the deputies present, 40 in favor and 16 against. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: In my humble opinion the eventual outcome of this drama is a foregone conclusion. All three branches of government in Panama are under the control of one man - Ricardo Martinelli. I suspect the National Assembly will eventually to vote on the matter, and there will be a party line acquittal. Or guess what - even if Almengor is forced to resign then Martinelli will just appoint some other dude that's just as loyal. The strategic end game remains the same, regardless of the development of the details from here to there.

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Martinelli Asks For Investigation Into Allegations of a Conspiracy Against Gomez

CorruptionPanama's president Ricardo Martinelli asked for a thorough investigation into the alleged plot to remove Ana Matilde Gomez from her position as the Attorney General. "I ask for an investigation, but without the media turning the issue into a soap opera full of love, action, and excitement," he told local media upon arrival at the National Hospital. Martinelli asked television channels and newspapers to stop looking for improved ratings as a result of the situation, which, he added, is harmful to the country. What's more, he added that it's necessary to learn the truth about the accusations made by Rodriguez against Supreme Court Judge Jose Abel Almengor, the former Ombudsman Italo Antinori, and current members of his administration.

Martinelli made his statements upon arrival at the National Hospital where went to visit the former baseball player from Los Santos Roberto "Flaco bala" Hernandez, who will travel to the United States today to continue with his treatment of esophageal cancer.

For her part, the lawyer and former judge Zulay Rodriguez said the emails which supposedly prove the conspiracy against the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez are not fake. "The emails will be made public once I file a complaint with the National Assembly so as not to contaminate the evidence," she said while speaking to the channel 13 morning news broadcast Telemetro Reporta. She added that the emails name a judge and his wife, the journalist Juan Carlos Tapia, and Italo Antinori, among others. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Let's see - Ricardo Martinelli controls the entire Executive branch of government, the National Assembly is dominated either by his party members or their allies, he has a solid majority on the Supreme Court, and the opinion on this case will be written by his ally - the current Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado - who spearheaded the investigation against Ernesto Perez Balladares and who is now effectively Ana Matilde Gomez's replacement. This, my friends, is the definition of the fox guarding the hen house. Anyone who thinks this entire incident is going to get a complete, fair, and impartial investigation - please raise your hand. Guys - of course there was a conspiracy to remove Ana Matilde Gomez from office. What, is there someone out there who still doesn't know that? Now there will be denials on all sides, the committee (or whatever) will look into it (or not) and then there might (or might not) be a vote and if it goes before the full body of the National Assembly, there's no way it gets 47 votes. None. So this by definition is a case of mental masturbation. Please pass the lube, and you might as well enjoy it while it's happening, because the eventual end result is a foregone conclusion. Stroke, stroke.

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Centeno Will Remain In Position - For Now

CorruptionPanama's Minister of Government and Justice, Roxana Mendez, said yesterday that Irving Centeno, an adviser to the Prison Service, and designated director of that institution, will remain in his position, despite the fact that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the United States has linked him to a criminal gang in a diplomatic cable sent from the US Embassy in Panama to Washington DC. The Ministry of Government said through a press release the information contained in the cable would be evaluated at the time when they are deciding whether or not to make his appointment as the Director of the Prison Service permanent. Mendez avoided talking about it directly yesterday, but on Thursday she said the information against Centeno "had been clarified." Yesterday, the agency was more cautious: "We have no knowledge that Centeno has been involved in any irregular situation, but at some point he should give his version." What's more, they even warned that if an investigation is warranted in the case, then so be it. According to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Centeno, while he occupied the Office of Security in the Tocumen Airport at the start of the Martinelli administration, was linked to a band of criminals who robbed visiting businessmen who were traveling with large amounts of cash through the Tocumen Airport directly to the Colon Free Trade Zone. The embassy said in the cable that this information had been obtained by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Centeno, meanwhile, denied the accusation. (Panama America)
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PAMAGO Scandal - "Civil Society" Calls For An Investigation

CorruptionCivil society groups and the political opposition remain vigilant in seeking clarification of the allegations made by Zulay Rodriguez against the group "Harmed by Ana Matilde Gomez" (PAMAGO), that involves the executive branch of government in a "conspiracy to remove the former Attorney General." Magali Castillo of the group "Citizens Alliance for Justice" believes it is not only a conspiracy against the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez, but rather it could be seen that the organizations involved in protecting justice were marred in a negative way, affecting not only the country's image, but also in the violation of the constitution by those who are supposed to defend it, which is why it is important that the Public Ministry should immediately open an official investigation to determine what really happened .

The situation is aggravated because it is even mentioned that there were meetings held in the Palace of the Herons. "People think this is only about the former Attorney General, but it has to do with public officials who violate the constitution, in offering the offices in the presidency for meetings. Even taking away her name - Ana Matilde Gomez - this is still very embarrassing for the country," said Castillo. The People's Alliance for Justice believes that at this point of the scandal, there should be someone in the presidency who can clarify whether or not there were meetings held at the palace. They also note that Dr. Italo Antinori, should fall by his own weight from continuing the reforms to the Constitution, partly because the method they plan to use is not correct, and because the process should be more participatory and democratic.

Quijano In Favor Of An Investigation: Coinciding with the Citizens Alliance, the Vice Minister of Commerce, Ricardo Quijano, also said he favored the start of an investigation into the allegations made against Italo Antinori and Supreme Court Justice José Abel Almengor, of conspiring against the former prosecutor. Quijano said the inquiry should be initiated without involving the state if the attorney Zulay Rodriguez, who denounced the plot to La Estrella, has all of the evidence.

Yesterday the President of the National Assembly emphasized that if a formal complaint is made, then they would initiate investigations. Martinelli president, meanwhile, said he didn't know if Italo Antinori would continue to lead the effort to reform the constitution.

PAMAGO takes a negative position on a conspiracy against Gomez. The group of "Chased by Ana Matilde Gomez" issued an email yesterday afternoon to La Estrella, which they say will be the last public clarification on the complaint made by the lawyer Zulay Rodríguez. "1 - That the lawyer Zulay Rodriguez Lu claims to have met with persons who are removed and different, other than the members of the PAMAGO group in order to conspire against Ana Matilde Gomez. 2 - That the motivations of Zulay Rodriguez to attack judge José Abel Almengor Echeverría and Doctor Italo Antinori Bolaños, a specialist in Constitutional Law, are of a personal nature."

PAMAGO said Rodriguez has not been honest in the statements given to the media, distorting the truth to attack the group, and including personal differences with Almengor and Antinori. "We hope that Ms. Zulay Rodriguez has the probity, honesty, and chivalry to accept publicly that none of the members of PAMAGO had knowledge, nor did they participate in the meetings that she claims to have had with others in order to conspire against Ana Matilde Gomez, nor of the problems or personal differences of any kind that she has or has had with persons outside of the group."
But Rodriguez said that what she has told La Estrella is only an excerpt of all of the information she has, which she will only say in court because she ensures that the little amount of information she has released is totally true. She has even reported having received threats for having exposed the "tamal", which has caused a need to change her telephone number every two weeks, as stated in an interview with Telemetro. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Once again - by now everyone knows Ricardo Martinelli conspired to have Ana Matilde Gomez tossed out of office. And everyone also knows that the National Assembly, Supreme Court, and Public Ministry are all in his back pocket, and no one is going to do a damn thing. The "civil society" can flap around all they want and it's not going to change a damn thing. Reality on the ground remains the reality on the ground.

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