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Friday, October 31 2014 @ 11:54 PM EDT

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Former President Admits To Being A Speed Freak

Corruption By Jose Otero and Santiago Fascetto for La Prensa - "I have never committed an illegal act in my life. I've broken the law sometimes, because I like to drive faster than the law usually allows, but that's the only violation I have made to the law." With these words former Panamanian president Ernesto Perez Balladares tried to distance himself from the investigation into the supposed laundering of funds opened by the Public Ministry, involving Shelf Holding Inc., a company he manages and which constantly received sums of money from the casino company Lucky Games S.A. "To suppose that this public servant could participate in money laundering is not only absurd, it's stupid," Perez Balladares said yesterday during a press conference. Perez Balladares avoided discussing his ties to Shelf Holding Inc., whose bank accounts he controls, and through which moved in recent years several million dollars through the local banking system. He did not say why the company had received money from Lucky Games Ltd. However, he former president accused Panama's president Ricardo Martinelli of "political persecution" and said the government uses the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) as a "political police". The core of the file of the investigation being conducted by the Special Prosecutor's Office for Organized Crime, by prosecutor José Ayú Prado, is based on a preliminary report from the UAF consisting of over 600 pages. Prado Ayú confirmed yesterday that he is investigating suspected money laundering, and that the case involves the company Shelf Holding Inc. (See Comments)
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Former CSS Director René Luciani Defendes Spending

Corruption Panama America - In a letter dated September 2, 2009, the director of the CSS, René Luciani, said the Foundation does not qualify for this type of contract because they did not have a hospital setting. It also claims they hired the San Fernando Clinic to provide service to 18 dialysis patients with a commitment to increase their capacity to attend to patients starting from 15 June 2009. Luciani also justified the individual contracts and hirings by saying that at the time dialysis patients, led by David Ocálagan, were protesting and exerted pressure on the CSS. (Editor's Comment: René Luciani has now been removed from the CSS, and almost certainly the administration of Ricardo Martinelli will follow their previous pattern of conduct to find irregularities and to forward that information to prosecutors for formal investigation. When he left the CSS there was a formal ceremony and he was handed a plaque and a pat on the back, which drew the ire of the patients and family members of those who are suffering from the effects of DEG poisoning. René Luciani had enough political power within the PRD to hold onto his position even though the CSS was in the center of the storm. Now that the PRD is out of power and René Luciani is out of the CSS, you can probably expect to hear more about him in the future rather than less.)
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Pérez Balladares, Investigated for Money Laundering

Corruption By Santiago Fascetto for La Prensa - The Public Ministry has opened an investigation into alleged money laundering against Shelf Holding Inc., the company managed by former Panamanian president Ernesto Pérez Balladares that consistently received sums of money from the company Lucky Games S.A.. The investigation which began on 14 September 2009 is being handled by José Ayú Prado, the Chief of the Public Ministry's Special Organized Crime Prosecutor's Office. This was confirmed to La Prensa by high ranking judicial sources. The core of the case file is comprised of a preliminary report from the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), which consists of over 600 pages and covers part of the money trail from bank accounts managed by Lucky Games S.A. to bank accounts with ties to Perez Balladares. The UAF focused on two companies; Shelf Holding Inc. and PTY Adventures Inc. They also analyzed three bank accounts, two that were opened in the Primer Banco del Istmo (now HSBC) and a third in the Banco Panameño de la Vivienda (Banvivienda). The latter account - as was reported in La Prensa - is managed directly by Perez Balladares, who is the authorized signatory on the account along with his personal secretary. From there funds were taken to pay for personal expenses, political donations, employee payroll, and foreign travel for the former president. Some of that money came from Lucky Games, SA, the company which the administration of Ernesto Perez Balladares awarded a concession to operate slot machine facilities in 1996. Rogelio Cruz, the former president's lawyer, said the report by the UAF was not signed by any responsible person and was done "without complying with the requirements of the law." Cruz also called irregular the investigation being conducted by the Public Ministry irregular and warned that "The newspaper La Prensa will commit criminal libel" if it publishes the information. The investigation being conducted by Ayú Prado joins another investigation pending against Perez Balladares for the alleged crimes against public administration. This investigation - which is being conducted by the prosecutor Yolanda Austin - has been left without action. Defense lawyers for Perez Balladares filed two appeals; the first to have the case nullified for supposed "double jeopardy" and another to have the criminal case closed. The fate of the case was left to the judge Georgina Tuñón.
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Protection Lifted from Belgis Castro For Another Corruption Case

Corruption By Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - Panama's Electoral Tribunal lifted the electoral immunity of former Education Minister Belgis Castro in relation to another corruption case being investigated by the First Anti Corruption Prosecutor for the scandal involving contracts to remove fiberglass insulation from schools, this time in Chiriqui. The damage to the state detected in this case amounts to $249,496.10, according to an audit by the Comptroller. According to the Comptroller the Ministry of Eduction let direct contracts to four companies that were supposed to remove the fiberglass from 15 schools, but the work was never completed.
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Another attempt to stop the CEMIS case

CorruptionBy JOSEPH OTERO for La Prensa - A new action against the reopening of the CEMIS case was presented by counsel for former Democratic Revolutionary Party lawmaker Mateo Castillero, one of the three defendants in this process. Castillero's technical defense filed a motion for annulment yesterday, alleging that the Solicitor General, Ana Matilde Gomez, violated due process by failing to notify the parties involved of a request to reopen the case made in March 2005. On 22 July 2009, the full Supreme Court decided to reopen the file, but the ruling to hand down this decision still has not been published and it remains in the hands of Judge Oyden Ortega. Castillero's lawyer challenged Judge Ortega but six days later, on 29 September 2009, the full court rejected this appeal. Ortega's draft is circulating among the judges, who must define under what conditions the investigation will be reopened and who will conduct that investigation; the Public Ministry, the National Assembly, or the Supreme Court, through a judge acting as a prosecutor.

Editor's Comment: This CEMIS scandal is potentially the most important corruption case in Panama right now because both Martin Torrijos and Balbina Herrera are involved as allegedly having taken bribes, as well as a host of lawmakers. A key strategy for the administration of Ricardo Martinelli is to keep up the pressure on the PRD with a never ending series of corruption litigation - so that in five years there won't be any PRD members left who are clean enough to survive a political campaign. When Panama pulls out of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) then Martin Torrijos loses all immunity and protection from prosecution - so all bets are off.

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Ombudsman: Police Major Committed Four Fouls

Corruption By Denise Lara for Telemetro Reporta - The Ombudsman, Ricardo Vargas, spoke today about the investigations into a case of apparent abuse by a Major of the National Police who attacked two fuel station attendants. Vargas criticized the position of Director of the National Police, Gustavo Perez, who expressed his support for the office without having waited for the results of an internal investigation. The interview follows:

Editor's Comment: This incident, which was caught on video tape, is growing in importance. On Friday there was a hearing in the office of the local corregiduria which basically resulted in the issuance of a protection order, and nothing more. According to Vargas the National Police now have to conduct an internal investigation, and his office will request those results. They will also be conducting an inspection in the office of the corregiduria to ensure they followed proper procedures in the hearing because the fuel station attendants are saying they were not allowed to present their side of the story. You really don't need to know much - just watch the videotape and it's obvious this was a cop, in uniform and on duty and armed, who thought it was alright for him to reach out and grab people by the throat and then punch them in the face. If the Director of the National Police does not come down harshly on this guy, there will be calls for his head.

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Anticorruption Czar Denounces Abnormalities In Property Acquisition

Corruption TVN Noticias - Panama's anti corruption czar filed a complaint against the managing director of the Office of Social Security, Eduardo Carrasquilla. According to Fernando Nunez Fabrega, Carrasquilla used his position when he served as the Director of Income of the Office of Social Security to obtain goods illegally, which he says cannot be justified. Involved are a farm in Boquete, a house in Clayton, another in Albrook, and a car. According to the complaint, Carrasquilla used his sister in law Eloisa Serrano Gutierrez as an intermediary to hide the true owner of property located in Clayton. The denounced irregularities also involve Victor Manuel Leiva and Javier Quiros, who served as the judge executor. Fabrega said his complaints would be presented to the Public Ministry.
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Former Education Minister Salvador Rodriguez Could Be Arrested At Any Time

Corruption By Juan Manuel Díaz C. for the Panama America - Panama's Supreme Court ruled the prophylactic request of habeas corpus filed on behalf of former Education Minister Salvador Rodriguez to prevent his arrest was "not viable", leaving open the possibility the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor could order his arrest in the ongoing scandal involving contracts for the removal of fiberglass insulation from schools. The Supreme Court based their decision on the fact that the Office of the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor had not ordered the arrest of Rodriguez, and therefore the request was "not viable." In their decision the justices explained that national jurisprudence holds that the real or certain threat against the accused is constituted by the written order imposing preventative detention, which must also be pending execution. Rodriguez's attorney, Victor Almengor, said the Court's decision leaves the door open for the Third Anti-Corruption Prosecutor to order the arrest of the former minister. In that sense, the former Senior Prosecutor Cristóbal Arboleda thinks the prosecutor could issue an arrest warrant against the accused at any stage of the investigation, and that this could happen in the case of Rodriguez.

Castro Remains in Prison: On the other hand, the Supreme Court has has not reached an agreement on the legality of the arrest order issued against the other former Minister of Education, Belgis Castro, after five of the court's nine judges opposed the draft decision presented by Judge Victor Benavides. Benavides's draft would have declared the arrest legal, but also would have granted house arrest against Belgis Castro. However, during the discussion period of the draft, five justices expressed objections and no agreement was reached, and they decided that the first observer, Judge Jerónimo Mejía, would take over the case. Now, Mejia will prepare a new draft decision and send it to the rest of his colleagues, who will have a period of five days for some form of observation. If there are any comments produced, the draft ruling must then be submitted for consideration by the Full Court. Meanwhile, Castro's lawyer, Carlos Carrillo, said it was "disturbing" that the Supreme Court is taking so long to decide a request that should have been addressed urgently. Carrillo said he hoped the judges would decide this appeal in the coming days because his client is still suffering from ill health.

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Bosco Slips on Another Banana Peel

Corruption By Grisel Bethancourt and Zelideth Cortez for La Critica - The Sixth Court may order the separation and arrest of the Chief of the Municipal Police, Edgardo Reeder Gonzalez, who was sentenced of a drug trafficking case dating to March 1995 which resulted in the seizure of 273 kilos of cocaine that were being shipped to Europe through the cargo terminal of the Tocumen International Airport. Yesterday, the Secretary General of the Panama City Hall, Arsenio Fernandez, reported Reeder's separation from this position, who on Tuesday had been championed by Mayor Bosco Vallarino in a meeting of the City Council, where he claimed he had been unjustly imprisoned for four years while he participated in a covert operation. However, Reed was sentenced to 9 years and 8 months in prison on 11 July 2000, in an investigation into a cell of the Cali Cartel that was operating here in Panama. The unanimous decision by judges Hipólito Gill Suazo, Elvia Batista and Luis Mario Carrasco overturned the acquittal handed down in the lower Sixth Court on 18 March 1998. In the investigation Reeder, who was at that time a member of the PTJ, could not justify the purchase of a property for $48,000 dollars, some money that was in bank accounts, and a suitcase that was found containing $45,000 dollars in cash. (more)
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Panama's Anti Corruption Czar Promises Another "Big Fish" Will Fall

Corruption Panama America - Without providing any additional details, the Executive Secretary of the National Council of Transparency against Corruption, Fernando Núñez Fábrega, told on the Telemetro Reporta news program he would release details of a new case involving alleged irregularities in the Office of Social Security on Friday. Fabrega called the person who apparently committed these acts of corruption within that institution a "big fish." Yesterday Fábrega together with Panama City Mayor Bosco Vallarino went to the Public Ministry to file a complaint against a presiding judge responsible for garbage collection fees, who was apparently making people pay for trash collection, but the money never arrived to the coffers of the municipal government.
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Prosecutor Dismisses Bobby Velasquez - David Murcia Case

Corruption By Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - Panama's Organized Crime Prosecutor recommended the investigation into the alleged multi million dollar campaign donation supposedly made to PRD politician Roberto "Bobby" Velasquez by ponzi scheme kingpin David Murcia be dismissed. David Murcia Guzman has been convicted in Colombia and is being investigated in Panama for money laundering. Prosecutor José Ayú Prado determined through this investigation there was no elements or evidence to substantiate the crime. He said the dismissal was impersonal, because no one was charged in the investigation, and there were no indictments issued. Ayú Prado said he expects the Judge of the Ninth Criminal Circuit Court, where he filed his opinion, will review the case and the judge will determine whether or not he shares the opinion of the prosecutor. "The file was forwarded as complete as possible, within the period of time allowed to us under the law; There were approximately 13 files that were sent to the court," he said. David Murcia Guzmán told the media he delivered a suitcase containing $3 million dollars to the Mayoral campaign of Bobby Velasquez in a meeting held in November 2009 at the Hotel Sheraton. The complaint in this case was filed by Panameñista Luis Eduardo Camacho. Panamanian prosecutors tried on two occasions to take a sworn statement from David Murcia in the La Picota prison in Bogota, but he refused to cooperate. (See Comments)
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Health Ministry Questioned for Direct Contracts

Corruption By ISIDRO RODRIGUEZ for La Estrella - Direct purchase contract agreements have become the preferred method of the current government. The Ministry of Health has not escaped this "fever" and they have already approved direct contracts worth more than $4.7 million dollars. In the first 84 days of this administration Health Minister Franklin Vergara approved two contracts directly. The first went to a company called Keydex Panama, SA, for about $1.7 million dollars for the purchase of 20 type II ambulances. The second contract is for $3.67 million that went to the companies Constructora Real S.A and Design Build & Engineering Panama Inc, for the construction of a Primary Health Care Center in the Garzas de Pacora. Both companies were only formed months ago. Fernando Cebamanos, a leader of Comenenal, considers it "serious" to give a contract to build health center to a company that does not have experience. But Health Minister Franklin Vergara said "it's the quickest way to respond."
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New Record Set - 275 Corrpution Complaints Filed Against Torrijos Administration

Corruption La Estrella - There have now been 275 complaints and allegations of corruption filed by more than forty government agencies and state institutions against the actions taken during the administration of Martin Torrijos. The files speak of cases which include damage to the state worth millions of dollars. Some call this a witch hunt being perpetrated against the PRD by Ricardo Martinelli, however the investigations continue and the citizens expect justice to be done and that those who are found to be guilty pay the consequences.
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Police Major Punches Gas Station Attendant In The Face, Caught On Video

Corruption By Marggie Trejos for El Siglo - A major in the Panamanian National Police, who was both on duty and carrying his issue service weapon, arrived in a patrol car to the Texaco gas station in Las Américas of Las Mañanitas, and punched a service station attendant in the head. A security camera captured the assault, which was transmitted by Telemetro (you can see the video at www.elsiglo.com.) The video shows how Major Ricardo Rodriguez grabs the two gas station attendants by the collar, smacks one on the chest, exchanges some words with them, and then punches the other one in the face. All of this occurred on the morning of Wednesday, 9 September 2009. El Siglo attempted to talk to Major Rodriguez but those attempts were unsuccessful because he does not answer his cell phone. Until last week Major Rodriguez was assigned to the police station in Alcalde Díaz, but now he has been transferred to Penonomé in the province of Coclé. The person who did speak to El Siglo was his wife, Veronica Encina, who said yesterday the Major hit the gas station attendants because a few hours earlier she was taking her daughter to school, but stopped on the way at that gas station, where these same attendants treated her badly and they said an obscenity to her 15 year old daughter. According to Veronica, at about 6:00 am that day, she was taking her daughter to school but on the way she stopped at the gas station. She said it was shift change at the time, so therefore she had to wait 45 minutes to be attended. "I got upset because they had attended some other customers who arrived after I did," said Veronica, who is Chilean. She also said she called this to the attention of the gas station attendants, and she said that when it was her turn to be served, she gave her daughter the money to pay for the gas. According to Veronica, the dispatchers allegedly said an obscene word to her daughter who burst into tears. Supposedly, at that time she was speaking by cell phone to her husband and he heard everything. That, she said, is why her husband went to the gas station and hit the gas station attendants. Those who were attacked did not strike back. Remember, Major Rodriguez was armed. But the other dispatchers who were working there said Luis and Eugenio never said anything obscene to either the girl or his wife. "She was all full of rage because we were not able to respond quickly, because we were in a shift change," said the dispatcher who yesterday gave his version of events, but who asked that his name not be published, out of fear that Major Rodriguez will go there to punch him as well. Besides the aggression, Major Ricardo Rodriguez filed a complaint against the gas station attendants before the Corregiduría t the Las Mananitas, and this hearing is set for next Friday at 10:00 am. Furthermore, the wife of Major Rodriguez said he is not sorry for what happened. "He told me that if he had to do it again, he would," said Veronica.
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Chito Montenegro Files Complaint Against Judge

Corruption Panama America - The Secretary General of the Anti-Corruption Front, Enrique "Chito" Montenegro, presented Tuesday before the National Assembly a criminal complaint against Judge Jerónimo Mejía, for allegedly trafficking in influence. Montenegro says his complaint included evidence allegedly showing how Judge Mejia trafficked influences in the cases of Nelson Urrego, Alexander Ventura Nogueira, Grupo Motta, Samuel Lewis Navarro, René Luciani, Juan Carlos Tapia , and CEMIS, among others. According to Montenegro, Mejia's law firm continues to handle cases, through his wife and legal representative, and a group of lawyers who all have left the Public Ministry either as former prosecutors or superior prosecutors. "The Credentials Committee of the National Assembly should review this case and call Mejía to trial," said Montenegro, who reiterated that the evidence is overwhelming.
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Decision Expected Thursday in Corruption Case

Corruption TVN Noticias - Judge Victor Benavides said this Thursday we will know the fate of the former Education Minister Begis Castro when the full Supreme Court decides on the request of Habeas Corpus presented by his defense lawyers to have his arrest and subsequent detention declared illegal. Benavides said most of the judges will participate in the decision, and sources in the court indicate the draft decision could declare Castro's arrest to be legal, but to order a different interim measure, rather than detention. The Former Minister of Education has been detained for weeks on order of the Second Anti Corruption prosecutor who has pressed charges against him for embezzlement and ordered his arrest. Castro was hospitalized for seven days at the Social Security hospital, where doctors performed various examinations to determine his health condition with regards to hypertension and diabetes presented by the former Minister. All of this controversy and scandal surrounding the former Minister is the product of contracts let directly to companies to supposedly removed fiberglass insulation from schools in the eastern part of the Province of Panama and in Colon, but in some of these schools fiberglass never even existed.
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Government Denies Irregularity in Taxi Permit Scandal

CorruptionBy SHELMAR VÁSQUEZ SWEEN for La Prensa - It took the Executive Committee thirty six hours to determine that the 294 temporary operating permits for taxis, whose issuance had been described as irregular last Tuesday by the former director of the Ground Transit and Transportation Authority, Sandra Escorcia, to be in order. Presidential spokeswoman Judy Meana said all of the permissions were signed by the then Deputy Director of the ATTT, Roberto Moreno, arguing that he was temporarily placed in charge of this entity from 27 to 29 July. All of the permits were approved on 27 July, the first day Moreno took over the ATTT. After reporting the incident, Escorcia held a meeting with the Ministers of the Presidency and Government and Justice, during which she mentioned the existence of an audio recording proving how the permits were issued in an irregular manner.On the recording it was discovered how the transactions were accomplished in order to obtain the permits in exchange for a bribe ranging between $4,000 to $5,000 dollars. When asked about the issue, Escorcia said she has not had contact with the authorities. (See Comments)
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Giro Mingthoy Charged For Loss of Statues

Corruption By Luis Alberto Castillo C. for the Panama America - The Second Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office filed charges against the former administrator of the Parque Omar, Mingthoy Giro, in the case involving the disappearance of the bronze statues called “Los Juegos de Antaño” (The Games of Yesteryear). Giro, who was a close aide to the former first lady, Vivian de Torrijos, was summoned to be questioned at 9:00 am today. This is another investigation being conducted by the prosecutor's office, thanks to investigative work by the Panama America, which can now be added to the allegations of the theft of public funds from the FECE and the irregularities in the handling of the fiberglass school contracts. Information gathered by the Panama America detailed that the prosecution believed there were irregularities in the custody of the statues, which were in a storage facility in the Parque Omar. Carlos Carrillo, an attorney for Giro, said that his client will attend the interrogation. It should be noted that the initial investigation determined that when the statues disappeared, the locks protecting them had not been cut or broken, and the keys were in Giro's office. According to research conducted by the Panama America, the theft occurred in mid August 2008 and it was not until 11 September 2008 that the government of former President Torrijos file a complaint.
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Sandra Escorcia Resigns from ATTT in Taxi Permit Scandal

Corruption By SHELMAR VASQUEZ SWEEN for La Prensa - Sandra Escorcia resigned as general director of Panama's Ground Transit and Transportation Authority (ATTT) yesterday, through a telephone call placed to the Minister of the Presidency, Jimmy Papadimitriu. The announcement came seconds after presidential spokeswoman, Judy Meana, said in a press conference that the Executive Transportation Committee - chaired by Papadimitriu - revoked the order that had been given by Escorcia to suspend the annulment process of the 200 temporary taxi permits, that had allegedly been issued irregularly. Asked about the issue, Escorcia said she was not able to any statements on this subject, but that today she would release a statement. Meanwhile, Meana explained that the Executive Transportation Commission considered it necessary that the legal team from the Ministry of Government and Justice investigate to determine if there were any acts of corruption in the issuance of the temporary taxi permits, as denounced by Escorcia, and who yesterday fired the ATTT Sub Director Roberto Moreno, for having committed a crime when signing the approvals for the permits without being authorized to do so. In this regard, La Prensa learned that as part of the materials uncovered in the investigations is a resolution issued on 22 July 2009 signed by Sandra Escorcia, through which she left Roberto Moreno in charge of the ATTT from 27 to 29 July 2009 because she was going on a trip. These dates can be compared to the dates when the temporary permits were signed, on 27 July 2009. The spokeswoman said President Ricardo Martinelli has requested the representatives of the different transportation unions 36 hours to investigate each case and to determine the legality or potential illegality of each one. His request was accepted by the transportation unions. (See Comments)
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Investigations Started Over Taxi Permit Scandal

Corruption By Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - Panama's Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor started an official investigation into the granting of 200 temporary taxi permits signed by the Deputy Director of the Ground Transportation and Transit Authority (ATTT), Roberto Moreno. A source confirmed the investitations were started in order to establish if there was any kind of an irregular, illegal, or corrupt act in the manner in which the permits were granted to operate taxis in Arraiján and Cocle. Roberto Moreno said yesterday on the program "Encontremos Soluciones" the permits in question were granted with the knowledge of ATTT Director Sandra Escorcia, because they were talking about this subject "during the months of the transition" (after the election but before the new administration took over on 1 July 2009.) The previous administration was going to issue (the permits), but in order to avoid arousing suspicions they decided to delay and wait until the new incoming government took over. Moreno said he signed the documents because traditionally the Assistant Director of ATTT is the person who typically handles the operational aspects of the institution, as such granting permits for taxis.
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AMP Seizes Six OPC Vessels For Safety Violations

CorruptionBy RAFAEL E. BERROCAL R. for La Prensa - The Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) confirmed yesterday that they have detained six ships owned by the company Ocean Pollution Control (OPC) due to technical deficiencies and expired navigation permits. The ships are part of the equipment used by OPC to control spills of pollutants in the territorial waters of Panama, a concession awarded directly to the company in 1997 (during the administration of Ernesto Perez Balladares). AMP reports say the six detained ships are the only ones used by the company to conduct inspections of international vessels. Among the irregularities found on the vessels are a corroded oil system, oil leaks, loose deck flooring in the generator room, and a lack of firefighting equipment. La Prensa contacted the company's legal representative, Jose Maria Castillo, and its spokesman, Jose Miguel Guerra, but both refrained from commenting. This is the same company from which the Government last week seized the landfill in Colon, because they were building a terminal for maritime services without having a concession endorsed by the Comptroller.
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"Chito" Montenegro Says He Has More Corruption Cases To Report

Corruption By Denise Lara for Telemetro Reporta - The Secretary of the National Anti-Corruption Front, Enrique "Chito" Montenegro, said the ATTT corruption case, where allegedly 200 taxi permits were issued irregularly, would not be the first corruption case of the current government. "I have in my possession more than five cases of acts of corruption which will reach president Martinelli, once he returns from his European tour," he said. When speaking on the theme of the ATTT scandal, Montenegro requested today that if the irregularities are proven, then the officials involved should be dismissed and the corresponding complaints should be presented before the Public Ministry for investigation. Montenegro said on RPC Radio the Director of the ATTT, Sandra Escorcia, should "submit this very week the dismissal of the officer as well as a formal complaint before the Public Ministry in order for him to be punished for not having complied with the law." (See Comments)
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Request for Habeas Corpus for Belgis Castro to Supreme Court This Thursday

Corruption Panama America - The writ of habeas corpus filed by defense attorneys on behalf of the former Minister of Education Belgis Castro could come before the full session of Panama's Supreme Court this Thursday, said magistrate Victor Benavides. Benavides said the decision taken on the draft decision that resolves the petition for habeas corpus must be supported by a simple majority of the Supreme Court justices, and in this case the approval of five of them will suffice. The judge added that requests for habeas corpus are always given priority in the full session of the Supreme Court. Former Education Minister Belgis Castro, who was arrested for the crime of embezzlement in a scandal involving the award of contracts for the removal of fiberglass insulation form schools in the province of Colon, is awaiting the decision of the Court. (See Comments)
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Taxi Permit Scandal First for Martinelli's Administration

Corruption By RAFAEL E. BERROCAL R. for La Prensa - It seems like Panama's Ground Transit and Transportation Authority (ATTT) will be the source of the first corruption scandal to taint the brand new government of Ricardo Martinelli. La Prensa has learn that about 200 temporary permits were granted to taxis without complying with all applicable procedures during the first four weeks of the current administration. All of these temporary operating permits are dated 27 July 2009 and were signed by the Deputy Director General of the ATTT, Roberto Moreno, who is a member of Ricardo Martinelli's Cambio Democratico political party. The certificates have been found so far have been distributed in Arraiján and in the province of Cocle. Other cases are being looked for in Chame. When La Prensa contacted the Director of the ATTT, Sandra Escorcia, she confirmed that she was aware of the situation, and she explained that the permits were granted without her authorization, which is why she has ordered an investigation. According to information held by authorities, each permit was granted after a payment of $4,500 dollars. One of the pieces of proof in evidence is an audio recording which details exactly how the transactions were done. La Prensa tried to obtain Moreno's version of the story, but last week the government official said he was about to leave on a vacation. (See Comments)
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A Primer on Panama's "Fiberglass Scandal"

Corruption By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - In the past few weeks the headlines have been full of stories about the arrest, investigation, and prosecution of several former government officials who used to work for the Ministry of Education. There are at least two ongoing investigations being conducted by different prosecutors. Thus far one former Minister of Education, Belgis Castro, has been arrested and he remains in custody. I though I would take a minute to give you a little background on the whole "fiberglass insulation" scam as it applies to the Panamanian public school system. A few years ago all of a sudden parents and teachers started complaining about "fiberglass contamination" in their schools. For some unknown reason, these people were apparently under the impression that fiberglass had some kind of potentially dangerous properties, such as asbestos. There were street protests and teachers at some schools went on public strikes, refusing to return to work until the "mess was cleaned up." The administration of Martin Torrijos rushed to approve massive new funding to "remove the fiberglass from the schools" and they began to let contracts to construction companies. Of course, what most of the Panamanian public didn't know at the time, is that fiberglass insulation is not at all dangerous and that this entire thing was created as a scam to steal millions of dollars from government coffers. (more)
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Ocean Pollution Control Was Not Authorized To Build Landfills

Corruption By Jessica Tason for La Critica - The company Ocean Pollution Control acted illegally because although they had a temporary permit to occupy an area of sea bottom and sea shore area, the permit expired in April of 2009 and in addition this permit did not allow them to build any kind of landfill or to do any construction work, reiterated Roberto Linares, the Administrator of the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP). "The AMP acted responsibly and it maintains its decision to reclaim these illegal landfills as state property, because the relaxed practices of the past, with abuses of the resources owned by the people, are now over," he said. Meanwhile, Charlotte Mattos, the Legal Advisor of the AMP, said that OPC, although they knew their temporary permit expired in April 2009, continued to pay the monthly feel of $1,569.50, a payment that was received in an irregular manner by officials from the billing department of the AMP.
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Former Panama Education Minister Returned to Prison on Embezzlement Charges

CorruptionBy Jose Otero for La Prensa - The former education minister and current director of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) political party Belgis Castro was released by doctors from the Social Security hospital and returned to a jail cell in the Directorate of Judicial Investigation (DIJ). Castro was admitted to the hospital for a week, starting on 4 September 2009, by order of Supreme Court Judge Victor Benavides, as a requirement in order for him to decide on a petition of habeas corpus filed by lawyers for the former minister against the arrest warrant issued against him by the Second Anti Corruption prosecutor on 26 August 2009. The PRD leader has been formally charged with embezzlement for allegedly misusing a state fund to remove fiberglass insulation from the ceilings of ten schools in Chepo and Taboga. It was reported that after being evaluated for hypertension and diabetes by Social Security doctors, Castro was found to be in a stable health condition. Upon leaving the hospital Castro had no comment for the press. Meanwhile, Javier Carrillo, head of the National Police DIJ said Castro was returned to the institution yesterday at 2:00 pm and he was immediately taken to a solitary cell. Carrillo added Castro is receiving treatment equal to that of other detainees at the police station. Yesterday also finished the term of five days allocated by judge Benavides to the rest of the members of the Supreme Court, for them to make any remarks regarding the decision that is being circulated among the judges of the Supreme Court in the petition for habeas corpus filed on Castro's behalf. The results are as yet unknown. Meanwhile, the Eleventh Criminal Court granted the release - based on a $100,000 bail bond - to the former Ministry of Education employee Augusto Peñafiel, who was arrested on 3 September 2009 on orders from the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor, as part of an investigation for the embezzlement of $96,000 dollars that was supposed to be spent to remove fiberglass insulation from 22 schools in the province of Colon.
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Belgis Castro Released from Hospital, Sent Back to Prison

Corruption By Denise Lara for Telemetro Reporta - The former Education Minister Belgis Castro, who spent a week under detention in the Social Security Hospital at the order of Panama's Supreme Court, and who also has been charged with embezzlement of state funds, was discharged from the hospital today and returned to the Department of Judicial Investigation of the National Police. Upon his release from the hospital, Castro, who remains in police custody, avoided making any statements to the press. (See Comments)
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Panama Government Still Has Not Established Prices for Bern

Corruption By XENIA DE LEON for La Prensa - The Government still has not defined what it will charge the Miramar Development Corp. for the lands they have occupied as a concession, in various areas of the country. The Miramar Development Corp., chaired by Herman Bern, must pay for the grounds now occupied by the Hotel Miramar, which belong to the state. In addition, the government is examining the status of the concession of the land where the Gamboa Rainforest Resort hotel is located. Panama's Minister of Economy and Finance, Alberto Vallarino, said there has been a delay in the process because at first the idea was to segregate the entire globe of land on which now stands the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and Villas, to assign a selling price. However the original analysis determined it was only possible to segregate the area where the villas are located, because they thought the rest of the land belonged to the Canal Authority. However, after several studies with the authorities involved in the issue, it was determined that all of the land can be segregated, except for the area where the tennis courts are located, which is considered to be an area susceptible to flooding. Now, with the matter clarified, Vallarino estimated the legal and financial proposal could be ready for the sale. The government initiative would also include the sale of land on Balboa Avenue. The company would pay at least $50 million dollars to purchase the land where the Miramar Hotel was built, which belongs to the state, excluding the use of the sea bottom. The land covers 16,900 square meters given in concession, where today there are a tennis court, swimming pool, lobby, a heliport and parking. (See Comments)
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Prison Guards, Fired Due To Escapes, Talk To Ombudsman

CorruptionBy Kathyria Caicedo for Telemetro Reporta - On Monday, the Minister of Interior and Justice, Jose Raul Mulino, issued the order to dismiss nine prison guards, allegedly for their links to recent escape from the La Joyita penitentiary. In reaction to the move, the guards approached the Ombudsman to request mediation in this process. Félix Berry, Claudino Sandoval and Alfonso Hernández are asking for clarification of the situation, because they did not even have access to the pavilion where the escape occurred. According to Hernandez, pavilions number 11, 12, 13, and 14 are maximum security, and they do not work in those areas, which are controlled by the National Police. In this regard, Monica Isabel Perez, the Deputy Ombudsman, confirmed that an investigation be initiated to determine whether the dismissals violated due process, because apparently the dismissed prison guards have not yet been property notified. (See Comments)
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