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Friday, August 22 2014 @ 07:48 AM EDT

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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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Panama Government Takes Over Ocean Pollucion Control in Colon

Corruption By Elizabeth Garrido A. for La Prensa - "The landfill is illegal. There is a terminal for maritime services here that is illegal, and for that we must seize it." With these words, Panama's Minister of the Presidency, Jimmy Papadimitriu, explained his presence at the landfill created by the Ocean Pollution Control (OPC) company in Colon for a maritime services terminal. Papadimitriu arrived at the scene this morning, accompanied by Panama's Minister of Economy and Finance, Alberto Vallarino, and the Minister of Government and Justice, Jose Raul Mulino. He said the government decided to seize the reclaimed lands, acting on the orders of Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli. Then the minister began a tour of the area with the delegation accompanying him. There were staff members from the Presidency there, as well as other government officials. In the landfill area they installed a sign that says "Property of the State" as well as the Panamanian flag indicating the government intervention, as they have done previously in two other locations on the Amador Causeway. Government officials told reporters that the landfill created by OPC does not have a property granted concession, nor was it approved by the Comptroller General. OPC Defends Itself - While waiting for the government delegation, OPC representatives complained to television news reporters about what was happening in Colon. Jose Maria Castillo, the legal representative of the company, said on TVN News that OPC did everything based on established standards. In fact, the company pays a monthly fee of $1,500 dollars, said Jan Villarreal on Telemetro Reporta. (See Comments)
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Corruption in Panama Is An Obstacle To Doing Business

CorruptionBy ROBERTO GONZALEZ JIMENEZ for La Prensa - Corruption is the most problematic factor for doing business in Panama, according to Global Competitiveness Index published by the World Economic Forum. In presenting the report, the director of the National Competitiveness Center, Nicolas Ardito Barletta, said the effort to reduce or eliminate corruption must be a priority. On parameters such as "independence of the judiciary" or "reliability of police services," Panama drops to lowest scores allowed in the index, which evaluates 133 countries worldwide. Inefficient government bureaucracy, restrictive labor laws, inadequate education of the workforce and criminality are, according to the report, some of the major obstacles to doing business in the country.
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Panama's Corruption Czar Files An Ethics Complaint Against TVN News

Corruption TVN Noticias - Panama's Anti Corruption Czar filed a complaint against TVN News before the Ethics Committee, because he was annoyed that they have reported he is the cousin of the President. When he was appointed to the post, Fernando Nuñez Fabrega told TVN investigators that his condition as the cousin of the President would not prevent him from doing a good job as an anticorruption crusader. However, less than two months later, Nuñez Fabrega considered it "derogatory" to identify him as the cousin of the President, and thus filed a complaint against TVN News in the Ethics Committee of journalism. The Ombudsman said the role of the media is necessary to identify such relationships. Nuñez Fabrega also said it was immoral that part of his interview from this morning has been repeated by other news outlets. Publicizing the family relationships of public officials and following up on the statements they make in the different news media outlets is and example of the exercise of sound ethical principles. (See Comments)
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Panama's Anti Corruption Czar Calls For Halt To PARLACEN Tax Exonerations

Corruption La Prensa - Panama's Anti Corruption Czar, Fernando Nunez Fabrega, today asked for the immediate suspension of all procedures for the exemptions of import taxes for cars enjoyed by the Panamanian deputies to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN). Nunez Fabrega said this request applies to all requests currently being processed, as well as any that might be submitted in the future. The anti-corruption czar also ordered an investigation into the allegations he submitted today to the media, and further requested that the amount of damage done to the Panamanian state thanks to the privilege enjoyed by members of Parlacen be quantified. Nunez Fabrega justified this measure, based on a legal misinterpretation that was made in order to give this benefit to the Panamanians who are members of the PARLACEN. His remarks came at a news conference he called at the offices of the Secretariat of Transparency, located in Ancon.
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Ernesto Perez Balladares Controlled The Checkbook For Shelf Holding Inc.

Corruption By Santiago Fascetto for La Prensa - Although former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares said yesterday he is not the owner of Shelf Holding Inc., the corporation that consistently received sums of money from Lucky Games Ltd., bank records show exactly the opposite: the former head of state was the one who managed the millions of dollars in the bank account Shelf Holding Inc. opened in the Banco Panameño de la Vivienda (Banvivienda). He dispatched checks from his office, written with his own hand, to a wide range of collaborators, politicians, family members, and companies. This account was even used to make political donations to the presidential campaign of Juan Carlos Navarro during the primary campaign for the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD). There is also another check for "political support" written to another leader of that organization, Aldo López Tirone. "The fact that you sign checks from the checking account of a corporation does not automatically make you the owner of that corporation," said Perez Balladares in his defense. "I am not the owner of Shelf Holding," he added. "Now, why Shelf Holding received [the money] is an internal affair of my family that I need not disclose", he said yesterday in an interview with Channel 4. La Prensa had access to these banking documents - provided by exceptionally credible sources - that seem to contradict the statements of Ernesto Perez Balladares.
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Prosecutor Asks For Information From U.S. Consulate (Again)

CorruptionBy Jose Otero for La Prensa - The office of Panama's Special Organized Crime Prosecutor is waiting for the Consulate of the Embassy of the United States in Panama to deliver a list of the people who are working as staff members of this office, as part of an investigation being conducted into an international criminal network who falsified Panamanian identity documents to illegally enter the United States. Sources connected to this case report the request has been made on two occasions through official diplomatic channels, but thus far not response has been forthcoming from the US Consulate. The investigations have revealed this criminal group falsified identification cards and Panamanian passports using the identities of Panamanian officials who work for the Panama Canal Authority, and these documents where then used to fraudulently obtain visas to illegally enter into the United States. In this case there are nineteen defendants, including former employees from several governmental agencies in Panama.
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Comptroller Stopped Payment On Check To Bosco's Wife

CorruptionBy Carlos Anel Cordero y Ereida Prieto-Barreiro for the Panama America - The check written to the wife of Panama City Mayor Bosco Vallarino issued by the Municipality of Panama was rejected by the Comptroller and was not annulled by the Mayor, when he supposedly discovered that he had made a "mistake." Of the three different versions given by Mayor Vallarino on Thursday to explain the $4,000 dollar check written to Annabel de Vallarino for a trip to Taiwan, yesterday was added the version of the Comptroller, who said the check was not approved because the beneficiary is not a public official. This version contrasts with a press release issued by the Mayor on Thursday, which said the check was written due to an "administrative mistake", and "the error was substanciated and the officials were sanctioned." However, Fabio Pino, director of Information for the Comptroller, said the Office of Internal Audits (OIA), assigned to the Mayor's Office, "returned" check number 50132 without endorsement upon confirming that Annabel de Vallarino is not a public official. He confirmed that the check complied with all required procedures, but once it was returned by the comptroller it lost all value. Current laws dictate that government institutions cannot pay travel expenses of people who do not work in the public sector. (more)
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Panama Supreme Court Judge Orders Former Minister Hospitalized

Corruption By Jose Otero for La Prensa - Because the health complications he faces, former Education Minister Belgis Castro was hospitalized yesterday on orders of Supreme Court Judge Victor Benavides. A press release from the Gil Ponce Palace of Justice said this decision was based on the recommendations of the doctors in the Office of Social Security hospital who evaluated Castro on 2 September 2009. The doctors recommended Castro be hospitalized to "offset diabetes and correct hypertriglyceridemia for the risk of acute pancreatitis" from which Castro suffers. Put another way, the former minister seems to be suffering from a diabetes crisis and has high levels of blood fat. Castro will remain hospitalized seven days, during which time he will be guarded by the Judicial Investigation Department (DIJ). This decision does not constitute a finding of habeas corpus that was brought by Castro's lawyers against the order for his arrest issued by the Second Anti Corruption Prosecutor. (Editor's Comment: Hospitalizing Castro under strict supervision for seven days will allow the CSS doctors to monitor his food intake and repeat blood tests when they know he has not done anything that could possibly alter the results. Everyone knows he's trying to play the healthcare card in order to avoid being hospitalized, so it's just a matter of cleaning him out and running the tests again.)
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Two More Arrested in Growing Corruption Scandal

Corruption By Víctor A. Santos J. for El Siglo - More people are now involved in the fiberglass scandal. Two former Ministry of Education officials, after being interrogated by the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor, where arrested on Wednesday after being indicted for the alleged crime of embezzlement in the scandal over the removal of fiberglass from schools. Cesar Cordero, the former National Director of Architecture and Engineering during the administration of Belgis Castro, was the first to be interrogated, but he did not meet the same fate as former Education Minister Salvador Rodriguez, who managed to avoid being arrested. The other person involved, Augusto Penafiel, served as the Director of Inspection at the Regional Directorate of the MEDUCA in Colon. Upon completing his statement, he was notified by the Prosecutor, Yolanda Austin, that he would be arrested and he was taken to the jail cells of the DIJ. The two men were detained overnight, but they were not held in an office like their former boss Belgis Castro, but rather they shared the cell with the rest of the detainees. The two former education officials explained to Austin, the irregularities found in 22 schools in the province, where reality does not correlate to the work that was supposedly done, causing damages to the sate for $96,000 dollars. This investigation has been going on for only one week, but so far five people have been identified between government officials and private individuals. It has been learned that the modus operandi of the former officials has been repeated in the six investigations being carried out by the Anti Corruption Prosecutor, also with the companies that won the public bids that were convened at the time by MEDUCA. In the coming days Glenis Garcia is also expected to appear, who also faces charges of embezzlement. FIBERGLASS - Involved - Tow former ministers, former MEDUCA officials and private individuals. Damages to the state in the regions of Colon and the Eastern part of the Province of Panama are more than $230 million dollars, without including the provinces of Chiriquí, Coclé, Panamá Oeste y San Miguelito.
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Sixteen Customs Officials Fired From Tocumen Airport

Corruption By: Kathyria Caicedo for Telemetro Reporta - The officials all work in the customs department of the International Airport. As planned, on Friday afternoon more than a dozen customs officials who used to work at the Tocumen International Airport were fired. Several days ago the Director of Customs, Gloria Moreno de Lopez, said on the morning edition of Telemetro Reporta that they had already identified several customs officers who had participated in acts of corruption. In total, sixteen customs officials will be replaced, said Lopez Moreno upon her arrival at the airport terminal. (Editor's Comment - The house cleaning continues...)
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Martinelli Evaluates Asking For Vice Minister's Resignation

CorruptionBy EDUARDO MENDOZA for La Prensa - Panama's Vice Minister of Government and Justice, Alejandro Garuz, is under the scrutiny of President Ricardo Martinelli. Martinelli confirmed this yesterday after a series of reports published in La Prensa revealed Garuz received payments from a slot machine business through a company called Horamar Finances Corp. Faced with questions from journalists about the the possibilities of Garuz staying in office, Martinelli said, "If Mr. Garuz, is involved, one way or the other, we'll have to ask for his resignation." The voice mail box on Garuz's cell phone was full and he could not be reached for comment. However, following the publication of reports, Garuz claimed to have received money from Horamar for consultation services. He also claimed that he resigned from that position on 14 June 2009, two weeks before assuming the position of Vice Minister of Government and Justice. Panama's Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino had no comment.
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Belgis Castro Says He's A "Political Prisoner"

Corruption TVN Noticias - Former Education Minister Belgis Castro took advantage of the opportunity while he was being transferred to the Social Security hospital to say he was being held as a "political prisoner" with regards to the investigations being conducted against him. Castro, who claims to have health problems, was taken to the medical facilities to undergo several tests, but despite the fact that he was being guarded by two police officers managed to make his "political prisoner" claims heard. The former Education Minister is being held under arrest after the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor, Yolanda Austin, interrogated him last week, and how he is waiting for the decision of Supreme Court magistrate Victor Benavides, who has to decide a request for habeas corpus filed by his lawyers on his behalf. Castro will remain in custody until judge Benavides makes his decision.
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Labor Minister Files Corruption Complaint With Public Ministry

CorruptionPanama America - Panama's Labor Minister, Alma Cortes, presented on Wednesday before the Public Prosecutor a complaint for crimes against the administration and public faith, which involves officials from the past administration of Martin Torrijos. Cortes said that during an evaluation they discovered that software contracted for the information system to create a job bank, for which the Ministry paid $156,000 dollars, was never installed. "The most worrying thing is that the service contracted in October 2008 was paid for through a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)," she said. What's more, the contract was given to two different companies to perform the same work, and according to Cortes, was signed by the former Minister of Labor Edwin Salamin, the former Director of Planning, and the former Director of Information Ramon Nieto. (Editor's Comment: Does anyone else need a scorecard to keep track of all of these corruption complaints?)
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Anti Corruption Prosecutor Opens Investigation Into Colon Free Zone Bribes Scandal

CorruptionLa Critica - A source confirmed the First Anti Corruption Prosecutor's Office launched an official investigation into the denunciation of alleged payments of bribes in the Colon Free Zone, made by the President, Ricardo Martinelli. The prosecution does not rule out requesting the video where the president made the claim in a television program, nor taking an official statement from the President through a legal certification. With the investigations he seeks to clarify whether or not bribes were paid in the Colon Free Zone.
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Rodriguez Departs Interrogation With A Smile On His Face

CorruptionPanama America - Former Education Minister Salvador Rodríguez, left with a smile on his face, after five hours of questioning in the offices of the Third Anti-Corruption Prosecution for the crime of embezzlement. Rodriguez said during the questioning he explained everything about his tenure at the Ministry of Education and he reiterated that he had the reports from the Comptroller and the Department of Inspection that certified he complied with the law. Unlike Belgis Castro, who was arrested, Rodriguez left the Public Ministry without any kind of arrest order or any measure that would prevent him from leaving the country. The investigation against Rodriguez and Castro stem from the alleged irregular allocation of contracts to three companies for the removal of fiberglass in eight schools in the province of Colon for about $90,000 dollars.
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Panama's Public Ministry Formally Charges Former Education Minister Salvador Rodríguez In Corruption Scandal

Corruption By Elizabeth Garrido A. for La Prensa - The Public Ministry of Panama today formally press charges against former Education Minister Salvador Rodriguez for being allegedly involved in an embezzlement case against the state. Rodriguez arrived this morning at the offices of the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor to be interrogated Yolanda Austin, accompanied by his defense attorney. The former minister is accused of alleged misuse of about $90,000 that was disbursed during the previous administration to remove fiberglass insulation from 22 schools in Colon. Rodriguez took over the position of Minister of Education from Belgis Castro, who has been held under arrest since 26 August 2009 by order of the office of the Second Anti Corruption Prosecutor, as part of a different embezzlement case worth $136,000 dollars, also involving the removal of fiberglass insulation from schools. (With information from Jose Otero.)
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Rodriguez Is Confident He Won't Be The Next Former Minister To Land In Prison

CorruptionBy Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - Salvador Rodriguez, the last Minister of Education of the previous administration, said he felt secure in his position as a suspect under investigation in the alleged embezzlement scandal involving irregularities in contracts for the removal of fiberglass in schools in Colon. Rodriguez said there is nothing that involves graft in the contracts. "There were matters of procedure and endorsements were made by the Comptroller General of the Republic," said former minister Rodriguez in an interview with La Critica. Rodriguez, who said he was prepared to appear tomorrow, Tuesday in the offices of the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor who is handling the investigation into the crimes of embezzlement, after the signing of an addenda to a contract worth $119,496 - said that if there were anything irregular in the contract, the Comptroller would have sent it back. Rodriguez said that when he took office in May 2008, the Comptroller of the Republic returned the addenda that had been originally signed by his predecessor Belgis Castro for endorsement, which he signed. La Critica had access to the Audit Report from the Comptroller General of the Republic, and found on page 101 of the audit report that former minister Belgis Castro sent a not to the former Minister of Economy and Finance, Hector Alexander, to do the addenda. On page 114 of that same report there appears a document substanciating that the work had been completed and delivered, which are stamped and signed by the oversight office and inspector of the Comptroller's office of Colon, Francisco De La Cruz; the representative of the contractor CODEISA, Luis Sempero; the Regional Director of Engineering and Architecture of Colon, Augusto Peñafiel Herrera; of the Chief of the Office of National Inspection of Engineering and Architecture of the Ministry of Education, Glenis García; and of the Regional Director of Education of Colon, Cecilio Victor Cobham. They signed a document attesting that the work of removing fiberglass had been done, but they established that the scope of the work amounted to $119,496 and confirmed the work performed included an additional 4,979 square meters and not the 90 meters as established in the original contract. In this regard, Rodriguez explained that he signed the addendum involved in this investigation, that the document had the signatures of all of the officials who had approved the addendum during the period of his predecessor Belgis Castro, and that it went to the Comptroller subsequently endorsed the addenda. Rodríguez said that "what is happening is that they have to catch and divert the attention of the Panamanian due to the promises they made." The Third Anti-Corruption Prosecutor in this case ordered the interrogation of the two former ministers, Castro and Rodriguez, as well as Augusto Peñafiel Herrera (the former inspector of works of the Regional Direction of Education in Colon), César Cordero (the former National Director of Engineering and Architecture of MEDUCA), and Glenis García (Chief of Inspection.) Among the schools where the anomalies have been detected are; Escuela Desmont Bryant, Escuela Felipe Salas Barría, Escuela Jiménez, Escuela Marcos Vásquez and the Escuela Las Cruces.
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Mireya Moscoso Also Involved in Slot Machine Scandal

Corruption By SANTIAGO Fascetto for La Prensa - The government changed. The political party in power also changed. However, history repeated itself. And there was no room for chance. Former Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso (1999-2004) awarded a direct concession to operate seven slot machine rooms and five sports betting agencies to a company called Silver Cup Gaming Inc. For this contract, approved by the Executive Cabinet on 20 February 2002, the company did not pay a single penny to the state, according to information obtained from the Gaming Control Board by La Prensa through a request for information made in accordance with the Transparency Law. Silver Cup Gaming requested a license to operate on 6 November 2000 through the local offices of the multinational company CIRSA. The company claimed to have 100% of the shares of the company at the time the concession was requested. But on 12 June 2003, just over a year after the concession was approved by the Executive, CIRCA Panama broke away 50% of Silver Cup Gaming which they sold to five Panamanian companies. Each of these five companies ended up with a 10% stake in the company, for which they paid just $2,000 dollars. So who were the beneficiaries of this "gift"? The current Vice Minister of Government and Justice has been linked. The Vice Minister of Government and Justice, Alejandro Garuz, received money from one of the companies that owns Silver Cup Gaming. Garuz, who was also formerly the Director of the Institutional Protection Service (SPI) under the administration of Mireya Moscoso, received funds from the company Horamar Finances Corp. According to the documents obtained from the Gaming Control Board, the only "shareholder" of that company, which has a 10% stake in Silver Cup Gaming - is Luis Chow Kai, a person who has no connection to the gaming industry. Garuz said the knows Chow Kai, but denied owning stock in Horam Finance Corp. "I have no connection with that company, only I was hired to advise the company in administration. It was just a professional relationship, given my experience in National Casinos, "said the official. Garuz said he resigned from the company on 14 June 2009, just two weeks before taking office. (See Comments)
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Torrijos Has Protection, With Or Without The PARLACEN

CorruptionBy MONICA PALM for La Prensa - Panama's Vice President and Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela said yesterday that former President Martín Torrijos will lose his newly acquired "immunity" as a member of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) once Panama formalizes its departure from this organization. "They [Torrijos and Samuel Lewis] are within their rights, but once our country is no longer a member of the PARLACEN, they will lose their immunity, because that makes no sense," said Varela. But the Parlacen is not the only jurisdiction that protects Torrijos and keeps him out of the reach of justice. It happens that, as the current Secretary General of the PRD Torrijos still enjoys electoral protection because, although the general elections were four months ago, the process still has not yet been formally closed. In fact, in late September, the Electoral Tribunal (TE) is organizing a an election that will be held in Veraguas. Thus, although Torrijos will no longer have immunity through the PARLACEN, if anyone wanted to investigate him they would first have to send a request to the justices of the Electoral Tribunal which they would either authorize or not. That same election protection covers Balbina Herrera as a former presidential candidate and President of the PRD. The question is a valid one, because both Torrijos and Herrera are being questioned for their involvement in the CEMIS bribes and corruption scandal, and the approval and ratification of the Supreme Court Judges Winston Spadafora y Alberto Cigarruista. The case was reopened by the Supreme Court, which now must decide under what conditions the investigation will continue.
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Martinelli Responds to PRD Accusations

Corruption By ISIDRO RODRIGUEZ for La Estrella - While Belgis Castro, the former Minster of Education spends his weekend under arrest and in jail, the bickering between Ricardo Martinelli, the President of Panama, and the members of the Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) intensified. "He who does not owe has nothing to fear." With this tone President Ricardo Martinelli responded to the harsh accusations coming from the PRD regarding the arrest of former Education Minister Belgis Castro, which they say was "not justified and which responds to a political persecution."

"They didn't steal the Herons (from the Presidential mansion) because they make noise, they are shrill, and they scream." With these words, given on the television program Debate Abierto, Martinelli described what he has been able to see of the former administrtaion of President Martin Torrijos. Martinelli insisted that the authorities to "not be compromised by a number of scoundrels who have done nothing less than steal the illusion and hope of the Panamanian people, and now they want to hide behind the shield of politics." He said "due process will follow each and every one of them, and they will be allowed to make their disclaimers and defenses, but he who stole something real from the Panamanian people should go to jail." He warned that "a lot of people who were poor but who now have become millionaires will be in prison through the judiciary." The PRD maintains its position. Its leaders demand that the constitutional guarantees of former Education Minister Belgis Castro be respected. (See Comments)

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Varela Calls Torrijos PARLACEN Oath Taking an "Error"

Corruption Panama America - Panama's Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela, criticized former President Martín Torrijos and former Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro for the "mistake" of having being sworn in as Members of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen), despite the decision of the new Panamanian government to get out of this forum. "I feel they have made a mistake (because) we are one country, and they should follow the mandate of the president, Ricardo Martinelli, and the will and the decision he has taken to withdrawal Panama from the Central American Parliament," said Varela, who is also Panama's Foreign Minister. Varela said, in this sense that "if the country were in agreement that Panama should remain in the Parlacen then the people would have chosen a different President and not Ricardo Martinelli" in the elections last May. "I do not agree (that Torrijos and Lewis took possession), it was their decision and I respect it, but Panama will be leaving this organization within the next 90 days," said Varela. Torrijos and Lewis were sworn in on Thursday in Santo Domingo as Members of Parliament (Parlacen) during a general meeting of that regional organization. At the time of his swearing in, Lewis said the Central American Parliament "is a significant part of the institutionalization that Central America has decided to create for the purposes of approach and cooperation" towards the end of contributing to the overall welfare of the peoples of the region. The Government of Panama last week officially announced their intent to depart from the PARLACEN to the members of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and that decision must be either ratified or rejected by the leaders of the region within 90 days. The withdrawal of Parlacen was one of the campaign promises of the current president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, who believes this forum is not useful, it is "inoperative" and "a cave of immunities."
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MP Secretary General Denies Pressure from Martinelli

CorruptionBy Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - The Secretary General of the Attorney'g General's office, Rigoberto González, denied they are acting under pressure from the Executive branch of government or Ricardo Martinelli in the arrest by the Second Anti Corruption Prosecutor of former Education Minister Belgis Castro for irregularities regarding a contract worth $136,000 for the removal of fiberglass insulation from ten schools in the eastern part of the province of Panama. Castro remains under arrest, and is at the hands of the Supreme Court of Justice, which must decide, under the presentation of Judge Victor Benavides, a request for habeas corpus filed by attorney Carlos Carrillo. According to Rigoberto Gonzalez, is untrue that the prosecution acted under pressure and he said the decision to arrest Castro was taken after he was interrogated, not because someone asked to have him arrested. Gonzalez said the investigation has been ongoing since March of this year, following an audit report by the Nation's Comptroller. He also denied there are pressures from the executive against Panama's Solicitor General Ana Matilde Gomez. Defense lawyers for the former Minister of Education claim the crimes attributed to Castro, according to the applicable Penal Code, allow for preventative measures other than detention. Belgis Castro remains under arrest in a special room at the Direction of Judicial Investigation, where yesterday he was visited by prominent PRD party members, such as Benjamin Colamarco, Hector Aleman, and the former First Lady Vivian de Torrijos. Meanwhile, the former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro said the authorities must ensure Belgis Castro is provided due process, and that he should be permitted all legal defense as allowed under the law. "Everyone who is called before the justice system to respond should do so for their own good and for the good of the Panamanian justice system, regardless of position or party affiliation," said the PRD leader, although he noted that his attention was called to the particularly agile manner in which the prosecutor acted in this case. Navarro said his party would not be an obstacle to such investigations, but said that the PRD will be vigilant to ensure due process is not violated for anyone.
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The "Political Pressure" Behind the Belgis Castro Corruption Case

Corruption By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Yesterday Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, the former PRD Deputy to Panama's National Assembly who is wanted by the United States in the terrorist assassination of Army Sergeant Zak Hernandez, came out in a press conference to denounce the "political pressure" being applied by the administration of Ricardo Martinelli in the Belgis Castro case. Castro, who was the Minister of Education for only about eight months, was arrested yesterday on criminal corruption and embezzlement charges related to the mishandling of funds destined for school repairs. Gonzalez came out in Castro's defense because they are both currently members of the National Executive Committee (CEN) of the Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD). In fact, Gonzalez is right - there is a coordinated effort on the part of the administration of Ricardo Martinelli to smoke out the corrupt former officials of the administration of Martin Torrijos. My question to Gonzalez would be - so what? Followed shortly thereafter by "who cares?" What matters in these cases is that those people who were placed in positions of trust within the government, and who later violated those positions to embezzle public funds, should be investigated, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced. And, the PRD should not be surprised at all by what Martinelli is doing, he paid for hundreds of hours of advertising that said "anyone who steals from the government will go to jail", a campaign promise he is now fulfilling. All of the former ministers are now literally squirming (because not one of them is "clean"), wondering where the ax will fall next. And the fact that a guy like Pedro Miguel Gonzalez still thinks he carries any weight at all with the public, by going out on a press conference to complain, is a prefect demonstration of just how out of touch from reality the core of the PRD remains. Guys like Gonzalez still "don't get it." The people summarily fired him from this position, and his own party the PRD is about to toss his ass out of the CEN as well. His complaining is kinda like the sounds a bug makes as it's being squashed - snap, crackle, pop, squish...

Copyright 2009 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Torrijos Asks for Rights To Be Guaranteed for Former Minister Accused of Corruption

Corruption Panama America - Former Panamanian President Martín Torrijos on Wednesday urged the judicial authorities of that country to guarantee the rights to a legal defense, for one of his former Ministers of Eduction, Belgis Castro, who was arrested yesterday for alleged acts of corruption in the management of a multi million dollar fund for school repairs. Torrijos, who made these comments in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic after attending a conference, said he does not oppose the investigation of the former cabinet minister, but his country should ensure Castro has access to "all" of the guarantees established by law so that he can defend himself against the accusations that have been made against him. The former education minister was arrested yesterday for alleged corruption in the handling of multi million dollar fund for school repairs, in the first trial against a former senior official of the government of Martín Torrijos (2004-2009). Castro, who will remain under arrest at the Judicial Investigation Department of the National Police, is linked to irregularities in tenders for companies to remove fiberglass roofs of schools in the province of Colon and the eastern sector of the capital, according to research.
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