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Wednesday, April 16 2014 @ 11:53 PM EDT

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Embezzelment of More Than $1 Million From The "Network of Opportunities"

CorruptionBy Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - The organization called the "Red de Oportunidades" (Network of Opportunities), stated under the administration of Martin Torrijos, is once again in the eye of the storm. Yesterday a criminal complaint was filed for the alleged crime of embezzlement, forgery, corruption of public officials and conspiracy to commit a crime. Social Development Minister Guillermo Ferrufino said that during a preliminary audit of only 20% of the resources managed by the program they detected irregularities of more than $1 million dollars. Irregularities were detected in the payment of travel expenses, in the payroll, checks with insufficient supporting documentation, and the repetition of the same document to justify several payments. What's more, checks were written payable to permanent staff members, who then cashed those checks and handed the money over to three officers of the Network of Opportunities, who then supposedly had the responsibility of making cash payments to other staff members who supposedly conducted the census to identify those people who could be included as beneficiaries of the Network of Opportunities program. "No supporting documentation exists to prove what the money was used for, how it was spent, nor are there any receipts or documentation to support the payment of expenses and payments made with these checks," said the criminal complaint. Meanwhile, Panama's Minister of Health Franklyn Vergara filed a complaint with the Office of the Special Anti Corruption Prosecutor for the loss of a motorboat and over "employees" who don't show up to work but who are receiving salaries. This case involves more than 10 officers of all ranks who receive salaries of up to $2,800 per month. (See Comments)
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Clash Between Martinelli and Perez Balladares

Corruption By EDUARDO MENDOZA for La Prensa - Former Panamanian President Ernesto Pérez Balladares hinted yesterday during an interview given to the Panama America newspaper that the current President Ricardo Martinelli was behind recent allegations linking him to a company dedicated to the operation of games of chance. According to Perez Balladares all of this is due to the fact that Martinelli is a shareholder of the Thunderbird company, which operates the Fiesta Casino in Panama. The allegation made by Perez Balladares provoked a reaction from Martinelli, who through his spokesperson Judy Meana said that their participation in Thunderbird Resort - which represents less than 1% ownership - is perfectly legal. "It is understandable the former president ... was trying to look after his interests, as he will no longer receive millions of dollars for shares his government took against Cirsa." Hours later, the spokesman for Perez Balladares, Catia Rojas, posted a statement in which they reiterated the former president "is not a partner in businesses such as casinos or slot machine rooms." In that communique Perez Balladares qualified the position of President Martinelli as "demagogic and false."
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"The President Cannot Put Anyone In Prison" - Ana Matilde Gomez

Corruption By Marggie Trejos for El Siglo - During the last presidential election campaign, Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli publicly promised to put in prison anyone who steals, kills, or is corrupt, and now it looks like that's easier said than done. That is exactly what Panama's Solicitor General of the Nation, Ana Matilde Gomez, said yesterday during the program "Debate Abierto" on channel 4, noting that "no president can decide and take action to put a person behind bars, because they have stolen or committed some other act of corruption as promised by Martinelli during the campaign." "The president cannot put anyone in prison, it is the judges who decide who is going to jail and who's not," said Gomez. "And everyone is innocent until proven guilty," she added. When discussing the slowness of legal proceedings, and even slower when dealing with "white collar" criminals, Gomez said cases are often delayed because these types of criminals are often more adept at doing things. "Many times the process for a person who has committed an act of corruption it takes more time to conduct the investigation, because often it is a person who has studied and who has great abilities, but likewise that person is still an offender just like any other citizen, they know exactly that they are doing, and this may take even longer if there are others involved in the case," she said. Gomez added that investigative journalism can help clarify the facts in corruption cases, as long as it is done in a responsible manner. However, according to the prosecutor, it is usually much easier to prosecute a common criminal when an object is stolen, because it is easier to investigate and it often takes less time. On the other hand, Gomez also pointed to the order given by the Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino, to shoot any prisoner attempting to escape from prison. "Perhaps this was not what Mulino really meant," she said. Gomez says the order to shoot prisoners attempting to escape "goes against the rights of prisoners, because there are laws that protect them and this is not something is not something that can be done so easily."
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Education Minister Denounces Irregularities

Corruption TVN Noticias - Panama's Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, filed a complaint before the Public Ministry over a series of irregularities in contract awards to more than 12 companies who were supposed to do construction work and infrastructure improvements at schools, but who actually did work on other types of buildings. Molinar said they found letters indicating there were promises to pay these companies but without those payments having been approved by the Comptroller of the Republic. The Minister called for an investigation into what appears to be acts of corruption on the part of the previous administration. Molinar said they have been able to find irregularities in the investigations undertaken by the various departments of the Ministry as Engineering and Purchasing, from the very first day they began their administration.
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Former Government Officials Reported for Embezzlement

CorruptionBy Yessika Valdés for the Panama America - The Executive Secretary of the National Council of Transparency Against Corruption, Fernando Núñez Fábrega, today brought a criminal complaint before the Public Ministry (MP) against the former CEO of the Caja de Ahorros, Eudoro Jaén, and the former Administrator of the Interoceanic Region Authority (ARI), Julio Ross Anguizola, for an alleged embezzlement of more than $1.5 million dollars from State funds. According to Núñez Fábrega, Jaén and Anguizola conspired to transfer lands located in the province of Colón in such a way as to not pay the proper funds to the State. He said the property is worth $1.7 billion dollars and was passed to the hands of the Colon Water Front Properties company without them paying for it or getting a mortgage on the property. The anti-corruption Czar said the company paid only 10% of the value of the land when the buy-sell contract was signed. Other crimes reported by Núñez Fábrega is abuse of authority, corruption, and official negligence. (See Comments)
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Speed Called For in CEMIS Corruption Case

CorruptionBy NEIR CARRASCO KEREKES for La Estrella - After La Estrella published the statements of Carlos Afú regarding the massive CEMIS corruption case and the ratification of the Magistrates of the Supreme Court of Panama, sectors of civil society are demanding authorities speed up the process of reopening their investigations. The Executive President of Transparency International in Panama, Angélica Maytín Justiniani, asked judicial officials to quickly prosecute those who are found to be guilty in this case. "It does not matter if it's a President, a Deputy in the National Assembly, or a Magistrate on the Supreme Court, all are equal before the law," she said. She said this case is a perfect example of why judicial independence must be maintained.

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Perez Balladares Tries To Explain Away His Links To Lucky Games

Corruption By SANTIAGO FASCETTO for La Prensa - Former Panamanian President Ernesto Perez Balladares sent an email to his friends with his version of an explanation of the connections that tie him to the business Lucky Games SA. The email was sent by Perez Balladares and has been circulating since last Monday, and was then uploaded to a website. In the email Perez Balladares acknowledged that during his administration (1994-1999) his friend Roosevelt Lito Thayer and his son in law Enrique Pretelt were given a license to operate slot machine rooms. "To say these people are close to me is not a lie, it is a lie to insinuate I did them a special favor on the margins of the law," he said. The former president Perez Balladares says he was never a shareholder of Lucky Games SA, despite the fact that this company constantly deposited sums of money into an account held by one of his companies, and also diverted funds to the companies that own his yacht and private airplane. Furthermore, the email referred to the advisability of installing gambling rooms in popular neighborhoods: "Is the social vice of gambling the same or worse than the sale of alcoholic beverages or the sale of lottery tickets in poor or middle class neighborhoods? Is it a function of the government to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages in the supermarkets of these areas," he asks? (See Comments)
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Twelve Garbage Workers Fired For Selling Recyclable Materials

Corruption Telemetro Reporta - A total of twelve employees who worked at the Municipal Direction of Urban and Household Cleanliness (DIMAUD) who were reported for selling recyclable materials during working hours, were fired. This, according to the Director of DIMAUD Harmodio Montaner. The director added that three supervisors will be suspended for three days without pay, for allowing such irregularities. Montaner said they are working on a draft of a new law which would allow for the sanctioning of companies that purchase these materials from their staff during working hours. The director made a clear warning to their employees. (See Comments)
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Stolen Social Security Medicines Found In A Private House

Corruption By VICTOR A. J. SANTOS for El Siglo - The Specialized Intellectual Property Prosecutor raided a house in Milla 8 in the area of Las Cumbres looking for counterfeit drugs but they found an even bigger surprise. There was a pharmacy operating inside of the house and they found 369 boxes of pills for the heart and blood pressure that has supposedly been stolen from the Office of Social Security (CSS). Ramiro Esquivel, the Specialized Intellectual Property Prosecutor, confiscated the pills that were supposedly stolen at the time of the search, and immediately notified the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor Yolanda Austin. In the house they found 224 boxes of "Plavix," a pill used by patients with heart problems. Each box of this product with 14 tablets is valued at over $40 dollars on the open market. In addition they found 145 boxes of "Norvasc" a medicine used by people with high blood pressure. Each box contains 30 tablets, and each pill costs $1 dollar. The also seized about 14 containers with 33 loose boxes of "Plavix." Both "Plavix" and "Norvasc" are hardly ever available in the pharmacies of the CSS. One woman was arrested during the raid and charged with theft and crimes against the collective security. The prosecutor Austin explained they would investigate to determine who was behind this alleged theft, to see if there were higher ranking CSS officers involved or if this is just the front of a larger network that illegally takes medicines from the institution. She added that an official of the CSS confirmed the drugs belonged to the institution, because the boxes of both drugs had the CSS identification markings scratched out. The pharmacy operating in the house was run by the family that resides there. Now, the Third Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office is trying to locate the husband of the woman who was arrested, so he can also answer for the alleged theft of the drugs. The pills were also sold in a pharmacy in Punta Pacifica.
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Seven Post Office Officials Fired in "Network of Opportinitites" Scandal

Corruption By Zelideth Cortez for La Critica - Seven people who were working at Panama's National Directorate of Mail and Telegraphs (COTEL) have been fired, according to the Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino, who stressed this was a "national network dedicated to crime." The seven were fired after losses totaling more than $1.4 million dollars from the program "Network of Opportunities" were discovered. Mulino said this criminal network, which has been operating since 2006, was involved in embezzling funds intended for poor people. Mulino said the program was handled with "disorder and disheveledness" by post official officials who received in their names checks of up to $60,000 dollars to later be distributed. However, there is no paper record to prove the money actually was later distributed to the intended recipients. Other officials traveled via air with millions of dollars in cash, traveling from province to province like some kind of an "official Santa Claus" to supposedly distribute the money. According to the investigations that have already been initiated, the majority of these thefts used the same "modus operandi" and already there is one person under arrest who has confessed, and there are others under investigation by the authorities. With the start of the "Network of Opportunities", an interinstitutional agreement was established assigning the job of distributing the money to the families that were supposed to receive the financial support to the post office. According to the director of this entity, Teresa de Montilla, their first indication of a problem was detected on 24 July 2009 when her office received a large quantity of checks with "exorbitant amounts" written in the names of post office employees. She immediately ordered an investigation that uncovered surprising results. Meanwhile, Vice Minister of MIDES, Susy de Varela, said the program will not be eliminated, but each payment will be made while the investigations continue. DETAILS - The senior leadership of MIDES said they are conducting internal audits in order to submit the appropriate legal denouncements before the Public Ministry. (See Comments)
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Irregularitities In The Post Office Worth $500,000

CorruptionLa Critica - Alleged irregularities in the Panamanian National Post Office for an amount of $500,000 will be denounced today by the new authorities of this entity who have called a press conference. Audits reveal the irregularities are related to funds coming from the "Network of Opportunities" that were stolen through various frauds from the Post Office where they were sent to be distributed to various parts of the country. They have also detected funds missing in several post offices around the country. (See Comments)
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Confirmation From The Public Ministry About Embassy Employees

Corruption
José Ayú Prado
José Ayú Prado
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - This afternoon after I saw the different news articles reporting on statements made by Panama's Organized Crime Prosecutor José Ayú Prado regarding the possible involvement on the part of employees of the US Embassy in Panama, and particularly the section of the US Consulate where visas are issued to Panamanians wishing to travel to the United States, I put a call into his office seeking clarificaiton. While I did not speak to Prosecutor José Ayú Prado himself, he took the questions I had through a person in the press office and they just got back to me with his clarification. They told me the articles that appeared in the El Siglo and La Critica newspapers took his statements and comments slightly out of context. He said they are indeed seeking to obtain information from the State Department and the US Embassy of the United States in Panama through the Foreign Ministry. However, he said at this point in time they are not willing to go the extra step to imply or allege that these employees are potentially involved or associated with the network of people who were creating falsified Panamanian passports and identification cards, and then using those documents to obtain visas to visit the United States and Europe to eventually traffic drugs. So, again, at this point they have simply asked for a list of names of people who work in that section of the US Consulate in Panama. Period. It's obvious they are conducting an investigation and they are following the information they have available, based on statements made by people involved in this network who are already in custody. In addition I have submitted a list of questions to the US Embassy here in Panama and I await their response.

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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Public Ministry About To Open Corruption Investigation Against Perez Balladares

Corruption
Ernesto Pérez Balladares
Ernesto Pérez Balladares
By Santiago Fascetto for La Prensa - Panama's Public Ministry is considering opening an investigation into the alleged involvement of former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares in the gambling industry and the money trail in the local financial system. "The Anti Corruption Prosecutor is in this monents considering whether it is necessary to open an investigation," said a high ranking source within the Public Ministry to La Prensa. Perez Balladares granted a direct concession to the Lucky Games company to operate nine slot machine rooms. According to a report that appeared in La Prensa, money from this company ended up in bank accounts belonging to people within the inner circle of Perez Balladares.
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Investigations Into "Bobby" Velasquez Campaign Donations Continues

Corruption TVN Noticias - Investigations in the case of political campaign donations allegedly made by the David Murcia Guzmán to the campaign of former Mayoral candidate Roberto "Bobby" Velasquez are ongoing. Prosecutor Jose Ayu Prado said they are still waiting for the official report from the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), and added Roberto Velásquez Arango and Roberto "Bobby" Velasquez have made sworn statements in the case. Ayu Prado said "Bobby" Velasquez explained in a clear manner all of the donations that were made to his campaign, however he said they have to follow procedure and they will continue the investigation with the results of the report of financial analysis. The prosecutor added that so far no one has been charged with a crime in this case. The scandal of alleged donations to the PRD campaign erupted when Colombian David Murcia Guzmán told TVN News exclusively that he gave $6 million dollars to Roberto Velasquez Arango, and that supposedly half of the money would be for his son, former candidate Roberto "Bobby" Velasquez and the other half was for the former presidential candidate Balbina Herrera. (See Comments)
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Panama's Housing Minister Denounces Irregularities

CorruptionBy Yessika Valdés for the Panama America - Panamas Minister of Housing (MIVI), Carlos Duhau, reported today that more than 90 housing projects were not completed in the last three years, initiated by the previous administration. "During an audit we realized that within MIVI there are are many irregularities in housing projects nationwide," said Duhau. The Housing Minister said the projects only have been advanced 38%. "We are evaluating quick and direct solution for the citizens of the provinces of Cocle, Darien and Los Santos" among others. He added they are studying the various sanctions which will be applied to the building contractors who have not completed the contracts. These housing projects have a total value of more than $17 million dollars. (See Comments)
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Investigations Continue Into the "Compita" Case

Corruption La Prensa - The Director of the Institute of Agricultural Marketing (IMA), José Pablo Ramos, said today the investigation to determine who is responsible for the loss of the products of the "Compita" program are still ongoing. In early July authorities discovered food items belonging to the "Compita" program - piles of onions, hundreds of bags of rice, nutritive creams, and beans - in a state of total abandonment in the IMA installations in Coclé. In total an inventory of the rotting food indicated there were ten thousand five hundred 50-pound bags of onions, two thousand 125-pound bags of rice, and a pallet of beans and nutritive creams. Investigations being conducted by the Public Ministry continue, said Ramos on RPC Radio. The IMA also ordered a complete audit of the "Compita" program to determine the amount of money invested into the program and if there were any irregularities in the way contracts were handled. (See Comments)
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"The Reopening Of The CEMIS Case Won't Amount To Anything" - Jerry Wilson

Corruption
Jerry Wilson
Jerry Wilson
Panama America - Former PRD National Assembly Deputy Jerry Wilson believes the reopening of the CEMIS corruption case will end up with the same outcome as the investigations conducted during previous administrations. "My personal opinion is that they are not going to arrive at anything," said the former President of the National Assembly, the institution splashed by the scandalous corruption case. Wilson said on TVN Noticias that the declarations being used today to reopen the investigations are the same that were investigated at the time. For Wilson, the investigations could end up causing further frustration for the Panamanian people who thing that the CEMIS case holds some kind of "impenetrable mystery". (See Comments)
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CEMIS Investigator Now Rodin's Lawyer

Corruption By ISIDRO RODRIGUEZ for La Estrella - It has been seven and a half years since the CEMIS scandal exploded. Since then many things have changed. For example Panama's Supreme Court of Justice has changed its mind and has now decided to resume the investigation into the scandal. There are people who were Deputies in the National Assembly at that time who are now no longer engaged in public service, and lawyers who worked in senior positions within the Public Ministry who are now in private practice. That is the case of José María Castillo, who in 2002 was the General Secretary for Panama's Solicitor General José Antonio Sossa. Today, Castillo is in a peculiar situation. He is now defending the person who he was investigating before. He is the lawyer for Martin Rodin, the businessman accused of paying off PRD lawmakers in exchange for their votes to approve the CEMIS law. This case, in which Castillo participated, was ordered to be filed by the Supreme Court twice, saying prosecutors violated due process. Castillo did not want to discuss the matter, and for him everything is a question of professional services. "Sir, many years have passed, and I'm a lawyer," was the only response he was willing to make on the matter. Now it remains to be seen what will happen to his status as Rodin's lawyer, if in the new investigations he is called as a witness.
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Laurentino Cortizo Tries To Distance Himself From The CEMIS Scandal

Corruption
Laurentino Cortizo
Laurentino Cortizo
By ISIDRO RODRÍGUEZ/N.CARRASCO for La Estrella - Laurentino Cortizo was a PRD lawmaker in December 2001. At that time he chaired the Commerce Committee, responsible for reviewing the CEMIS contract. With new versions of the scandal emerging, Cortizo is trying to clarify his position: "If there was any bribery it was in the first proposal," he said, in reference to the project sent to the National Assembly three months earlier, in September 2001, by the government of Mireya Moscoso. In an interview with La Estrella, Cortizo confirmed that the day the CEMIS proposal passed in the first debate, and before the traveled to Colon to approve the project, he met with Manuel De La Hoz, who at that time was also a PRD lawmaker and the President of the Subcommission that analyzed the contract. Cortizon agreed with the version of events revealed by De La Hoz last week, in that the next day, on 29 December, there was a meeting of all of the PRD lawmakers. "De La Hoz seemed restless," says Cortizo, but can not remember having heard him say: "mamey". That afternoon the CEMIS project passed in the second debate and according to De La Hoz and Carlos Afú, who reported the bribes eight years ago, envelopes containing money were also distributed. Cortizo said he does not know anything about that, but he did not rule out the possibility. "I will not put my hand into the fire for anyone," he said. (See Comments)
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78 Cases of Corruption Being Investigated

Corruption RAFAEL E. R. BERROCAL R. for La Prensa - Panama's Comptroller of the Republic sent 78 cases to the newly created Court of Auditors, alleging corruption in the government where the total damage to the State could amount to more than $4.1 million dollars. All of the files submitted between February and July of this year are linked to actions taken by members of the administraion of Martin Torrijos. Among the new cases under investigation by the Court Auditors is a report on the management of the consulate in Rotterdam by Luis Ramirez, fresh evidence of the disappearance of sculptures from Parque Omar, and cases related to the scandal over the removal of fiberglass insulation from schools. In this last case several companies and a group of employees from the Ministry of Education (MEDUCA) are being investigated, according to the official report obtained by La Prensa. However, the Court refrained from providing any further details with regards to these corruption cases, to keep from damaging the investigations. Ramirez, who is still the consul in Rotterdam, said he has not been notified of the investigation being conducted by the Court of Audits, but said he has paid all of accounts with the State and they are up to date. In contrast, a report from the Panama Maritime Authority says Ramirez has an outstanding, unpaid, and unreported balance of $240,000 as of 27 July 2009. (See Comments)
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Panama's Solicitor General Should Investigate CEMIS Case

CorruptionBy Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - Luis H. Moreno, of the Panamanian Foundation of Ethics and Civics, thinks Panama's Solicitor General should be the person charged with investigating the CEMIS corruption scandal, the case that was reopened last week by the Panama's Supreme Court of Justice. Moreno, who met yesterday with the primary magistrate responsible for the administration of the CEMIS case, Oydén Ortega, and Panama's Solicitor General Ana Matilde Gomez, contends that the bribery investigation should be conducted separately from that being carried out into the naming of judges mentioned in the case. He said this case is "disgraceful" and it is necessary to punish those responsible. According to Moreno, in the meeting with Judge Ortega he was told that very soon they would release the details of the decision ordering the reopening of the CEMIS case, which will decide the jurisdiction of investigation. He also thinks that with the reopening of the CEMIS case, this is a start of the healing of the justice system being called for by the Panamanian people. (See Comments)
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The "Toro Video" Checkmate

CorruptionCarlos Estrada Aguilar for La Critica - Former President of Panama Ernesto Pérez Balladares denied the video and audio tapes, which allegedly confirm the payment of bribes in return for the approval of the CEMIS project by Panama's National Assembly, were spying, and said they are recordings that he has had for seven years, and he was waiting for the right situation in the Supreme Court of Justice in order to be able to turn them over to authorities. According to Perez Balladares the impunity has come to an end and those committing illegal acts "have to pay." Hopefully we can get to the end of an investigation and that those who are guilty will be punished not for revenge, but because we have do safeguard the country's democratic institutions, he added. Should those members of the National Executive Committee (CEN) of the PRD, who are implicated in the CEMIS scandal, be separated from their positions? (Balladares said) they should not have waited until the CEMIS case was reopened, they should have resigned after 3 May 2009 when we lost the election in a landslide, he added. (See Comments)
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Panama's Supreme Court Reopens CEMIS Corruption Case

Corruption
Carlos ‘Tito’ Afú In The Middle Of The CEMIS Corruption Case
Carlos ‘Tito’ Afú In The Middle Of The CEMIS Corruption Case
By JOSE OTERO for La Prensa - Almost six years after the Supreme Court issued a decision closing the scandalous CEMIS bribery case that touched all three branches of the Panamanian government, yesterday the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice decided unanimously to reopen the case. This decision was adopted by the full cession of the Court and was signed by Delia Carrizo, (for Harley Mitchell), Virgilio Trujillo (for Alberto Cigarruista), Jacinto Cárdenas (for Winston Spadafora), Hipólito Gil (for Adán Arnulfo Arjona), Luis Mario Carrasco (for Jerónimo Mejía), as well as the magistrates Víctor Benavides, Esmeralda de Troitiño, Oydén Ortega and Aníbal Salas. Initially, the court discussed a draft of a decision, prepared by Jacinto Cárdenas, in favor of keeping the case closed. The proposal was rejected. The court also designated Oydén Ortega as the lead magistrate in the case, to develop and present a legal opinion that would be forwarded to the Public Ministry. The investigation began in January 2002 but 20 months later, by order of six of the nine judges of the Supreme Court, the case was closed. Then there was a prosecutor's opinion calling Carlos Afú, Stephen Jones and Martín Rodin to trial. In January 2005 the Solicitor General, Ana Matilde Gómez, formally asked for the case to be reopened. (more)
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Gonzalez: "Cartels and Mafias" in Immigration

Corruption
María Cristina González - Director of National Immigration Service
María Cristina González - Director of National Immigration Service
By Grisel Bethancourt for La Critica - The corruption enveloping the National Immigration Service over the issuance of controlled visas for restricted nationalities has touched officials from the previous administration, who are supposedly linked to law firms and Deputies of the National Assembly, said the Director of his entity, María Cristina González. According to Gonzalez they have been able to detect "cartels or mafias" inside of the institution. The Council of State Security received 15 visas for Asians who did not have the proper authorization from the Chief of the National Immigration Service. There are currently ten officers of the Department of Controlled Visas who have been identified, one of them confessed and accepted being a Panameñista activist. Gonzalez said the authorizations for all visas granted in the last few weeks are being investigated by the current administration, yet officials have disobeyed the orders of the Office of Immigration and the High Council of State Security.
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Ricardo Martinelli Will Review New (Bogus) "Decentralization" Law

Corruption By SANDRA ALICIA RIVERA for La Prensa - President-elect Ricardo Martinelli said he would review the new "decentralization" law because the money earned by the Panama Canal can not go straight into the hands of the municipalities without any kind of oversight. The law, approved last Saturday by the National Assembly, establishes that the money from the Program of Communitarian Development (Prodec) will pass without any kind of restriction or limitation to the provincial councils, which - in the government that takes effects starting on 1 July 2009 - will be dominated by the Partido Revolucionario Democrático. “This is not the way the Prodec was structured, which should be respected, so that they can not steal the money generated by the Panama Canal; what's more, there are serious problems in education and health that can not be fixed at the level of the municipalities," he said. He added that they will review the new law in order for it to be adapted into a true form of decentralization. It should not be something used to poorly spend "the funds generated from the Panama Canal, because what we do not want is for them to steal the money," he said. President-elect Martinelli made his statements in an event where he was handing over scholarships to 2,020 primary, secondary, and university students in the province of Chiriquí and the Ngäbe Buglé region. Martinelli came to Chiriquí accompanied by the Minister of Education (designate) Lucy Molinar; the Minister of Social Development (designate) Guillermo Ferrufino, and the future First Lady of Panama Marta de Martinelli. (See Comments)
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Panama's Consul in Rotterdam Owes Almost $700,000

Corruption
Fernando Solórzano
Fernando Solórzano
By Ereida Prieto-Barreiro for the Panama America - Fernando Solórzano said the application of sanctions would fall to the Comptroller. Although the director of the Maritime Authority of Panama (AMP), Fernando Solórzano, confirmed that Luis Ramírez, the Panamanian consul in Rotterdam, Holland, owes $696,075 dollars to his organization, sanctions called for in the Fiscal Code have not yet been applied. Just a few days before the end of the current administration of Martin Torrijos, Solórzano said it "falls to the Comptroller Carlos Vallarino to execute the pertinent sanctions" as established in articles 22 and 23 of the Fiscal Code. Sanctions can be fines as high as $500 dollars as well as the destitution of the violator if necessary. "I do not want anyone to say the AMP is not doing its job, because we have the actual numbers and we have exchanged information with the auditors of the Comptroller," he said. He went on to say the only thing his organization can do is to retain the certification of good standing from the consulates, until they pay the money owed into the account of the Authority. If they do not pay, Solórzano said the cases will be sent to a judge responsible for AMP cases in order to collect the money owed. The Panama América tried to interview Carlos Vallarino, the Comptroller, but was told that his busy schedule that would prevent him from commenting. Irregularities - The Rotterdam consulate is not the only one that has not made required payments - there is a total debt of $1.3 million dollars outstanding from the various consuls that have to be paid to the AMP. Nevertheless, the details of which consuls owe money was not provided and it was pointed out that "this is not the first time" that outgoing consuls have not paid the money they owe to the government. There are former consuls who owe a total of $1.2 million dollars that the judge executor is trying to collect, he added. Faced with this situation, Solórzano said on Friday of last week he sent a note to Ramirez asking him to pay the money owed. He said Ramirez has until the last day of his term in office to pay the money owed, because the Comptroller send an audit report to the Anti Corruption Prosecutor to determine if there has been an irregular handling of the information coming out of the consulate during his term. He said that not only the Comptroller's auditors found irregularities in the information forwarded by Ramirez, but also those of the AMP, because they receive the first reports in detail from the consulates. Debt - Information of the AMP reveals the National Bank of Panama “has not received” transfers due in December 2008, nor those due from January through May of 2009 from Ramirez. In addition the Department of Consular Financial Control said it has not yet reported on April and May of 2009. (See Comments)
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Solicitor General and Comptroller Make Peace - Will Work Together Against Corruption

Corruption By Eduardo Mendoza for El Siglo - Both the Solicitor General of the Nation, Ana Matilde Gómez, and the Comptroller of the Republic, Carlos Vallarino, agreed to stop their disagreements and promised yesterday, in a face-to-face meeting, to improve the coordination of the work being done by both entities. They met yesterday morning in the facilities of the offices of the Public Ministry and decided to work together, cooperate, establish teams to work together, and to maintain better communications. The bone of contention are audit reports that do not arrive in the time required by the prosecutors in order to send more complete reports and case files to the courts. "We are going to work together to ensure the reports arrive quickly to the case files," explained the First Anti Corruption Prosecutor Mercedes de León, in making reference to the time limitations placed on prosecutors in order to be able to present their cases before the courts. The prosecutor said they have a set period of time available to investigate a case. "More than questioning, it is necessary to see it from a constructive point of view," said the Comptroller Carlos Vallarino, who said the agreement to collaborate between the two institutions was done while respecting their respective independence, without one being over the other. (See Comments)
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Solicitor General And Comptroller Trading Barbs in Public

Corruption
Panama's Solicitor General Ana Matilde Gómez
Panama's Solicitor General Ana Matilde Gómez
By Carlos Estrada Aguilar for La Critica - Panama's Solicitor General Ana Matilde Gómez said that when the former Comptroller Dany Kuzniecky left the position in 2006 that she lost a "strategic and fundamental ally" in the fight against corruption, leaving one to assume that his successor, Carlos Vallarino, has not given the same collaboration. The statements made by Gómez on the television program "Debate Abierto Dominical" (Sunday Open Debate) received an immediate response from Vallarino, who said that in the past two years as the Nation's Comptroller he has sent approximately 450 files to the Public Ministry representing a potential theft of governmental funds of $36.3 million dollars, but that no one has been arrested. Vallarino described the statements of the Solicitor General as an "aggression" against the institution and in its place he asked her to provide a report on the 450 cases that he has sent to her office and for her to catch and punish those who are responsible for the corruption. The Comptroller invited Gomez to meet in order to correct the differences to allow for the development of more effective controls. During the interview Gomez said in recent weeks the Comptroller Vallarino has appeared in the press to reveal the details of some corruption investigations in the educative sector (the Ministry of Education) that to not appear in the files or reports of the auditors of the Comptroller, specifically regarding the investigations into possible corruption in the projects to remove fiberglass, and in the cases of projects to improve primitive schools, where he revealed that there were cost overruns to the detriment of the State. Gomez said her prosecutors are investigating cases in which the damage to the state could reach $9 million dollars, but that in the majority of the cases responsibility cannot be defined from the crime to the person because the audit report is incomplete and it is not possible to determine where the money was lost. Gomez said one thing is what the Comptroller says in public, and another the evidence that exists in the file. She said the lack of collaboration comes not only from the Comptroller, but also from the institutions charged with providing the Public Ministry with financial resources, a situation that has been corrected thanks to donations made by allies such as the Embassy of the United States and UNICEF. The Solicitor General Will Remain - Without specifying details, Solicitor Gomez said in the past weeks they have tried to move her chair to make her fall, to the point where there has been a rumor circulating that she will be named as the new Ambassador to Spain, a rumor she forcefully denied. "I deny that anyone has offered me an embassy - I will only leave from the office of the Solicitor General either dead or because I have committed a crime - and I'm not going to do that," she said. Gomez said she is not the type of person to jump from one position to another. She insinuated there are people who are against her because she is a woman, because they did not want to break the break the paradigm that the Public Ministry was a position only for men. She declared that in spite of receiving the endorsement of president Martin Torrijos, she recognizes that the political surroundings of the president (the establishment of the PRD political party) never validated her designation. Gomez said that so far she has received the unconditional endorsement of both President Torrijos and President-elect Ricardo Martinelli. (See Comments)
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Comptroller Calls Ministry of Education a "Center of Corruption"

Corruption
Carlos Vallarino
Carlos Vallarino
By Meredith Serracín for the Panama America - The Comptroller of the Republic, Carlos Vallarino, said he did not want to enter into a direct controversy with the Ministry of Education, but rather he wanted to offer up some healthy advice. He said again today that a contract for $2.4 million dollars for repairs to 18 schools will not be approved because it contains several irregularities, among them cost overruns of $900,000 dollars. Vallarino said on this morning's TVN Channel 2 news broadcast the Ministry of Education is a "center of corruption" - a charge refuted by Minister of Education Salvador Rodriguez. The comptroller repeated that among the documents associated with this contract there is no evidence that a public bidding process was ever held in order to grant the contract. Nevertheless, Education Minister Rodriguez insisted they did try to hold the public bid, but that no contractors wanted to bid on the project and therefore they granted the contract directly. Comptroller Vallarino said the solution to the problem could be found by talking to the contractor and reviewing the costs, and what's more he invited the Minister of Education and his team to arrive at a consensus with regards to the prices, an invitation that he also extended to the designated Minister Lucy Molinar. Vallarino clarified the function of the Comptroller is covered because they have complied with the law, and that it's the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and their inspectors to verify that contracts are executed correctly.
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Six Police Officers Charged With Homicide, Attempted Homicide, and Planting Evidence

Corruption By Magda Maxwell for TVN Noticias - Amid the investigation being carried out by the office of the Auxiliary Prosecutor into the case of the two fishermen who were shot and killed by police officers, contradictions arise, in that a report leaked to the press by the National Police reveals that traces of cocaine were found on the boat "Niña Evi", and that there was gunpowder residue found on one of the hands of one of the victims. The Auxiliary Prosecutor Luis Martinez pressed charges against the six police officers because he has evidence that the fishermen in fact did not have any weapons and that in fact the fishermen did not shoot at the police officers. Martinez adds that someone planted a weapon during the second inspection realized on the fishing vessel where there mysteriously appeared a high caliber weapon, and in addition the trajectory of the bullets indicate there was no confrontation or resistance from the fishermen. Charges of homicide, attempted homicide, planting of evidence, and illegal possession of firearms were pressed by the prosecutor against the six officers; Sergeant Héctor López, Sergeant Augusto Reyna, Sergeant Rafael Caicedo, Corporal Ron Rodríguez, Corporal Rodolfo Bwigoen and Corporal Díaz. The six officers are not under arrest but have been assigned to administrative duties in the police headquarters in Ancon, as dictated by the law governing the National Police, but they cannot leave that facility. Domingo Ábrego, one of the fishermen who was shot and wounded during the confrontation, was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday after having been in the Santo Tomas hospital for several weeks. The fishermen were gunned down by the police officers as they were fishing aboard the "Niña Evi". (See Comments)
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