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Saturday, August 24 2019 @ 09:19 am EDT

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Former DEA Regional Director Confirms Evidence Exists Against Varela

CorruptionConfirmation that it was Michelle Lasso who paid the initial down payment in 2011 for the luxury yacht being purchased by the presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela, while she was, at that time an important part of a money laundering network for $150 million of the illegal proceeds of Internet gambling in the United States, could be enough of a reason for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other justice organizations to open a new investigation, that could involve the Vice President of Panama.

The former director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for Mexico and Central America, Larry Holifield, said yesterday the documents that have been presented in the news media are sufficient grounds for the United States to start an investigation into the case that links Varela to a money laundering network, and a foundation that received money from two consulates that could be, supposedly, acts of corruption.

On 14 April, the Miami based U.S. newspaper Diario Las Americas launched a journalistic investigation in several series, in which they linked Varela with the Don James Foundation, which was financially managed by Michelle Lasso between 2009 and 2011, the period of time during which she was under investigation by the FBI for her involvement in a network of illegal gambling led by Phillip Gurian.

The Don James Foundation and the Lasso family moved nearly 30 million dollars, including deposits of large sums from the Panamanian Consuls Jaime Lasso in South Korea, and Alberto Arosemena in Kobe, Japan.

The Diario Las Americas said in their investigation the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and the funds diverted from the Consulates Varela controlled during the early years of the Martinelli administration could have been mixed with the money managed by Michelle Lasso from the illegal Internet gambling activities in the United States.

One indication of this is that Lasso paid the initial payment of $175,000 from her personal bank account at the Bank of America for the purchase of Varela's luxury yacht from the Bertram Yacht Corporation.

This bank account could be one of Lasso's bank accounts seized in the United States after she pleaded guilty to the offense of money laundering, where she was convicted and sentenced by a federal court.

"I imagine, and I bet that in this case there are already people interested in the FBI, the Treasury of the United States (IRS), the Justice Department, and the Attorney General of Panama. The U.S. Embassy in Panama should also be interested in this case, because in my experience I've never seen as much documentation such as in this case, and the linking of a person of such importance in a country," said Holifield, who was also the Deputy Director of the DEA in Bogotá between 2002 and 2006.

He said the opening of an investigation should clarify where the money came from, and why it was sent to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, and why Vice President Varela is receiving amounts of money from this foundation.

Holifield said in the cases he has had to investigate, he had to deal with many rumors, and there are people who will say anything, but in this case there is a lot of documentation that directly link the people involved.

"There are documents in this case which say a lot, there is a lot of activity that looks like money laundering, and we have Michelle Lasso admitting to having been involved in money laundering. The thing missing are the witnesses which could complete the investigation. With a witness they could have an important case," said Holifield.

The former Regional Director of the DEA also said there would be no problem with Michelle Lasso being a part of any new investigation, even though she has already been convicted of money laundering.

"She lived in Florida during this activity, and what's more they have had recordings as evidence in the gambling case. They already have recordings and who knows what else they have. Another investigation can be opened in the United States against Michelle Michelle because these are different criminal acts," said Holifield .

Despite the documentary evidence, on Wednesday Varela denied having received money from Michelle Lasso, but admitted having received payments from the Don James Foundation, supposedly justified as donations to his campaign and family investments. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Well, I really don't see how a new investigation can be opened up against Michelle Lasso, because she has already been investigated and convicted of money laundering. Holified says this is a different criminal act, but where? I don't get it. Maybe I'm missing something. to me it seems like the same activity of money laundering.

However, he does make a great point in that the FBI and Justice Department already have thousands of hours of telephone call recordings of Michelle Lasso. They can certainly look at the $175,000 supposedly spent as the initial down payment for Varela's luxury yacht, and if that money came from the illegal Internet gambling operation, then it most certainly could also be seized. If it's still in Miami, that is. And of course, if her father Jaime Lasso and the Don James Foundation were involved in the money laundering operation, then of course they could also seize all of those funds as well.

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Convicted Money Launderer Michelle Lasso Made First Payment on Varela's Luxury Yacht

CorruptionIn March 2011, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration already had Phillip Gurian and the Panamanian Michelle Lasso under surveillance, for being behind an international network of money laundering from illegal Internet gambling.

The network operated 54 illegal gambling centers in the United States, London, and Russia, and they moved more than $150 million between multiple bank accounts, mainly in Panama, the United States, and the Bahamas.

While Michelle Lasso handled the financial part of Gurian's money laundering network, she also took care of the personal affairs of Panama's Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela, who today is the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, according to bank documents and official records.

The documentation reveals on March 14, 2011 Lasso contacted the headquarters of the yacht manufacturer Bertram Yacht Corporation in Florida in order to make the first payment for the yacht Varela was buying.

Lasso paid $175,000 with check number f011730055101 from one of her banking accounts at the Bank of America NA NY.

Precisely and according to the FBI investigations, several of Lasso's accounts seized by the US Department of Justice, because of their links to money laundering, were in the Bank of America.

Receipt No. 3615 also specifies the payment was directed towards a yacht, model 630, with hull number 5051, data matching the yacht "Centuria" acquired by Varela, in partnership with his brother the National Assembly Deputy Jose Luis Varela.

This payment reveals Varela was not only linked to Lasso through the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, but also by direct payments from bank account linked to Gurian's illegal gambling network.

Earlier this year both Lasso and Gurian were sentenced in Federal Court in New York after being convicted of money laundering.

Lasso, after having cooperated with the investigation, received as a sentence of two years probation and was deported from the United States.

US federal authorities also seized Lasso's bank accounts containing more than 8 million dollars.

In August 2012, the Panama American newspaper was the first to publish an article about the yacht Varela purchased for $2.5 million, which he tried to hide through a company in the British Virgin Islands called Scorley Assets LTD.

But the records of a mortgage on the vessel with Tower Bank confirmed Varela and his brothers are the owners of the yacht "Centuria", which bears the same name as one of the rums produced by their company, Varela Hermanos S.A..

Documents Extracted

Jaime Lasso, the President of the Don James Foundation, tried to erase all evidence in 2012 that it was his daughter who made ​​the first payment for Varela's yacht.

On this date, Lasso went to the offices of Evermarine, the representative of Bertram in Panama, to request the file documenting the purchase of the "Centuria" but the documents were located in the files of the company's lawyers.

After that, Lasso managed to convince an Evermarine employee to get the file for the purchase of the yacht from the law firm, claiming he needed a copy.

The file was returned with only three pages.

This caused the administrators or Evermarine to fire the employee who helped Lasso extract the documents from the file on Varela's yacht, confirmed sources related to the topic.

Panama America requested an interview with the representatives of Evermarine, but they did not heed the request as the the deadline for this edition.

However, Lasso and Varela did not anticipate the receipt proving Michelle Lasso did in fact make the first payment for the luxury yacht would appear, while she was involved in money laundering.

The yacht is 67 feet (20.40 meters) long, 5.52 meters wide, weighing 45 tons and is built with a fiberglass hull. It has a market value of $2.5 million, according to records of the ship.

On August 9, 2011 just days before the breakup of the alliance between the Panameñista and Cambio Democratico political parties, Varela registered the contract for the purchase of the yacht in the Panama Public Registry, using a foreign company as a front.

The law firm Icaza, González-Ruiz y Alemán registered the yacht in Panama.

One of the law firm's directors, Álvaro Alemán, served as the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs while Varela was the Minister.

The notarized document revealed the company Evermarine Corp. of Belize sold the yacht named "Centuria" to a British Virgin Islands company named Scorley Assets LTD for one dollar, and "other considerations of value" that are not identified in the document.

The "Centuria" received its navigation permits on July 29, 2011 as a private pleasure yacht under the Panamanian flag, but under the classification of foreign service on behalf of the BVI company Scorley Assets LTD.


This week, we also learned Alberto Arosemena, while he was the Panamanian Consul in Kobe, Japan diverted money to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and he identified at least three transfers to go towards payments identified as "boat" or "yacht."

Arosemena had transferred more than $150,000 to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, according to records found so far.

After that, it is possible the purchase of the "Centuria" also was done with money from the foundation chaired by Michelle Lasso's father, the gynecologist Jaime Lasso. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: The daily dribble of new information continues. Today we learn the first payment for Varela's yacht the "Centuria" was made by Michelle Lasso, possibly using funds generated by the illegal gambling activity in the United States. If that's the case, then the US Justice Department will almost certainly seize that yacht. Now, won't that be an interesting headline.

It's clear to me Martinelli put pressure on Evermarine in Panama, and that's how they got the documents they reveal in this article. And that means the US Justice Department was probably completely unaware that Michelle Lasso wrote a check for $175,000 from her Bank of America account to make the first payment for Varela's new yacht. That explains why the US authorities didn't seize the "Centuria" when they were seizing everything else. They didn't seize it, because they didn't know about it.

Well, guess what. They know now...

Stay tuned for the next installment of "How The Corrupt Third World Country Spins Thanks To Politicians Manipulating The Media." Wouldn't it be a hoot if the FBI seizes the "Centuria" tonight, before Varela can move it out of Miami? Because, after the publication of this article, they are probably gassing up the tanks and filling up the coolers on the boat with ice right now...

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Michelle Lasso - Convicted And Deported From The United States

Corruption The Presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela has tried to minimize the involvement of Michelle Lasso in a case of money laundering in the United States, because she was the key figure in the financial part of the controversial Don James Foundation in Panama.

The Lasso family would have moved $27 million.

The Public Ministry might start an investigation.

Panama's Minister of Trade and Industry, Ricardo Quijano, said yesterday the Public Ministry should eventually launch an investigation into the alleged crimes against the public administration, and for having received funds from money laundering in the case aired by the Miami based Diario Las Americas against the Vice President and presidential candidate from the Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela.

"The Public Ministry should conduct an investigation to see where the money came from, and to ask the Diario Las Americas where it got the information," said Quijano.

But the lawyer Ernesto Cedeño said while the Public Ministry received a criminal complaint on Monday in this case, they can only investigate in the first instance the former government officials who allegedly collaborated with the offense, while Varela should be investigated by the National Assembly, as established in Article 467 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Panama's Attorney General Ana Belfon also spoke about this case yesterday, and she said the Public Ministry does not have the power to investigate either the President or the Vice President, and she also confirmed they received a report from the Financial Analysis Unit.

The Miami based newspaper Diario Las Américas has reported the Don James Foundation was the head of a structure that allowed Varela to divert funds from two consulates he controlled while he was a part of the ruling alliance, in Kobe, Japan and in South Korea.

These funds also would have allowed him to finance part of his presidential campaign.

However, Varela did not anticipate that the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation would be mixed with money from an illegal activity in the United States.

For Varela the case does not merit importance because Lasso collaborated with the American justice system, ignoring the fact that she pleaded guilty to money laundering and that 8 million dollars was frozen in the bank accounts.

In the United States the case is being treated as as one of the strongest illegal Internet gambling organizations disrupted by the FBI in conjunction with the DEA.

Lasso pleased guilty in April, together with the leader of the network Phillip Gurian, before District Court Judge Mae D' Agostino, during the hearing.

According to the Times Union union newspaper, during the hearing where Lasso was ordered to be deported and sentenced to two years probation, Judge D' Agostino scoffed at the statement made by Lasso in which she claimed she was unaware of the severity of her crimes, saying she comes from a country where gambling is legal.

"You speak as someone who was naive and who really did not know what was going on, but I read the wiretaps. I have had the benefit of listening to you, when you did not know the police were listening. You telling me you did not understand what was happening, in my opinion, is just amazing," said D' Agostino.

During the legal process Lasso spent more than 12 months in prison in the United States along with 34 other people who were arrested for being part of this network of money laundering from illegal gambling.

According to the investigations, Lasso managed the bank accounts, credit cards, and made wire transfers for a global sports betting network operated by Phillip Gurian, 52, of Boca Raton, Florida, who pleaded guilty to money laundering.

Lasso, according to the Times Union, also known as Michelle Marie Lasso-Barraza, transferred money to Panama, Andorra, and the Cayman Islands, and created two fictional entities known as Nigel Holdings Inc. and Nigel Holdings S.A..

Hundreds of hours of telephone recordings were made, including conversations via Skype. In one of these conversations with Gurian, Lasso tried to move $4 million generated by a gambling website to a Panamanian bank. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: It's true that statements being made by Varela, Jaime Lasso, and others who are trying to defend the Panameñista candidate have adopted the line, saying "Michelle Lasso cooperated with the authorities, and the case is closed." End of story - and they don't want to say (or hear) another word about it.

However it seems clear that the Panamanian authorities are going to be investigating the money laundering activities of Michelle Lasso, as well as the money her father Jaime Lasso reportedly diverted from the Panamanian Consulate in South Korea - through the bank account of the Don James Foundation - money eventually used by the presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela for this campaign and personal expenses.

I'd like to point out how incredibly stupid it was for Michelle Lasso to "mix" the two illegal activities. Of course we all know there is no judicial security in Panama. At the time when Varela was on top of the world as the newly elected Vice President and Foreign Minister, he probably felt untouchable. It's obvious they expected the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation to the the final resting place for the diverted and laundered money. And, they probably thought that no one would be investigating anything, ever. Times were good.

But a funny thing happened on the way to court. The FBI was listening to the telephone conversations of Michelle Lasso, as she coordinated the details of her illegal money laundering activities. Her statements in court - in which she said she supposedly didn't understand that what she was doing was illegal because she comes from a country where gambling is legal - are typical of the Panamanian elite. The US judge gave her a verbal bitch slap, probation, had her deported, and seized all of the money. So no, nobody bought the "I didn't know..." defense. Stupid.

Using the same bank account from the Don James Foundation to launder the illegal money from Internet gambling that was being used to divert money from the Consulates was also incredibly stupid. Now the Panamanian Attorney General, armed with the official reports from the Financial Analysis Unit, will be ripping through those accounts and banking activities with a vengeance. Lasso has said in public statements that all of those transactions were legitimate, none of the money was pubic funds, and that he did nothing wrong. I suspect he will have ample opportunities to repeat those statements to the detectives, investigators, and prosecutors as the investigation advances.

Varela himself is relatively protected, for now. As I mentioned in previous comments, he enjoys at least two different levels of protection. The National Assembly can open an official investigation into his activities, as the Vice President. As a presidential candidate he's protected by the Electoral Tribunal. But of course all of that changes after 1 July 2014 when Jose Domingo Arias is sworn in as the newly elected President of Panama. Ricardo Martinelli's wife Marta will be replacing Varela as the Vice President (won't that be an awkward photo op) and all of Varela's protections will evaporate in the hot Panamanian sun.

You can expect to see a lot more on this over the next ten or eleven days leading up to the election. The CD and the Panama America will be beating this drum as hard as they can.

Also, don't be at all surprised if the US Justice System eventually makes some kind of a move against the money that ended up in Panama from the illegal gambling activities. In the US, what they care most about is the money. If the Panamanian Financial Analysis Unit can demonstrate to the US authorities where the money actually went and how - then the US authorities might act on that information. What they care about is the money, and demonstrating to those who are involved in these sorts of activities that all of the proceeds - money, cars, houses, boats, planes, or what have you - will be seized. They have already seized businesses and properties in Panama related to this bust, like my favorite place to eat chicken wings and watch football the (former) VIP Sportsbook. Remember when "Big Mike" and "Wild Bill" got busted last year? This is basically the same bust.

Funny, I used to hang out there and bullshit with the President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez, and the campaign manager for the Jose Domingo Arias campaign Jose Muñoz. Want to know what we talked about?

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The Island Buyer And His Thorny Connections

CorruptionThe City Council of Taboga issued decision number 6, of March 14, 2014, which repealed agreements number 81, 82, and 83 of 2013, through which more than 78 hectares of land were sold to the businessman Ernesto Bósquez Ditrani, who has been linked to land speculators.

The repeal, a product of the demands being made by the residents of Taboga, takes effect as soon as it was adopted, but these lands are the property of the municipality and the council is empowered to dispose of them thanks to a resolution adopted by the National Authority of Land Management (ANATI), except for Tortolita island, because it is an inalienable property of the Panama Canal Authority.


The ANATI transferred the lands on the islands of Taboga, Taboguilla, Tortola, Tortolita and others to the Municipality of Taboga, after the Council "urgently" requested to expand their community land, in August of 2012.

They claimed "Taboga and Otoque will have population and housing growth demanding urgent action for land use planning..." according to Agreement 114.

However in practice, they were actually requesting the land in order to sell it to the businessman Ernesto Bósquez Ditrani.

José Chirú, the Mayor of Taboga, and Azael Ortiz, the President of the Municipal Council of Taboga, decided the fate of the land on the islands a month before it was handed over to them by the ANATI, without having the official appraisal in their hands.

According to the ANATI, they granted 418 land titles on the islands of Taboga and Otoque, however, after the transfer of the land, they have not issued title on any of the lands that were to be sold to Bósquez Ditrani, as provided in Agreement 114.

Bósquez Ditrani says he acted "lawfully" and the only thing he did was to ask for the lands and he proposed to the Councilmen the "idea" of an investment in tourism, something that was not even a project, as described by the Mayor to the people of Taboga.

The businessman said they did not give him a price, none was paid, and there is nothing in his name.

"They (the Councilmen) decided to write it that way. Excuse me, but I was not in agreement. I did not participate. I only made the request," he said.

In order to request land "you only say 'I'm interested in this piece here, more or less of this size. Period. There is nothing more," he said.

And when he was asked if any person presents an idea (to the Municipality) then they can give them one of the country's islands, he responded "Listen, maybe so. Why not?"

Lucky Circle

Bósquez Ditrani , a 42 year old developer, would have gone unnoticed if he had not directly obtained a part of four islands, simply by presenting an idea of what to do with them.

Bósquez Ditrani manages a circle of companies that are or were linked to a lawyer who created companies whose operations of land sales operations are being investigated by the Public Ministry.

It is the lawyer Evisilda Martinez.

Her office did operations of land sales - supposedly illegally - in inadjudicable wetlands inside of the Ngäbe - Buglé Comarca near the border with Costa Rica, which is now being investigated by the Public Ministry.

The company Semper Fidelis Development S.A. links Bósquez Ditrani with Evisilsa Martinez.

The first was the Treasurer of the company and the second, its founder.

Currently the company is chaired by William Bongiorno.

Martinez was also the legal representative, treasurer, and president of this company, along with her husband, the attorney Francisco Antonio Castillo (secretary), and both belong to the Martinez Law Firm, which she represents.

Besides Martinez and her husband, the lawyers José Rafael Reyes y Luis Martínez Pérez also worked as the lawyers for the company Semper Fidelis Development S.A..

Martínez Pérez is the resident agent of the company Goodfella's Panama S.A., the company name of a restaurant on whose board Bósquez Ditrani presides, with his friend Bongiorno as treasurer.

José Rafael Reyes is the attorney for the company Pan American Real Estate Group, S.A., which announced the sale of 31 hectares of land on Taboga for $8.1 million on its website.

Jason Meyers Harris - the former treasurer of this company - is listed on the website as one of the company's contacts to handle the sale of the land.

Meyers Harris was the treasurer of the company with which Martinez Evisilda processed the irregular sale of land in Ngäbe Bugle.

This newspaper (La Prensa) contacted the Pan American Real Estate Group, SA and asked for contacts for the sale of land in Taboga (including Meyers Harris) that appeared on the website, but the secretary said they had nothing to do with Pan American Real Estate Group, and that they had left on a trip.

On another occasion we again asked for the managers of the company.

Jorge Gonzalez Martínez - who identified himself as the company's secretary - replied in disgust: "We are not authorized to give you information about anything. You can write whatever you want."

We contacted Meyers Harris via email. Shortly after we sent him a questionnaire, the announcement of the sale of land in Taboga was removed from the website.

Luis Morales - who answered emails on behalf of Meyers Harris, acting as partner of the firm - said the contract for the sale of 31 hectares of land on Taboga for $8 million was being handled by another partner, but he had withdrawn from the company.

This newspaper contacted that partner and he said the land for sale in Taboga was not his, nor did he have anything to do with it.

Morales also denied a "direct " relationship between Meyers Harris and Bósquez Ditrani, but added any relationship he might have had with him or anyone else "is strictly business."

"About the possible link or connection between Meyers Harris and Bósquez Ditrani by the simple fact that the lawyer Evisilda Martínez has created companies for Mr. Meyers, does not give rise to a connection between them," said the spokesman for Meyers.

Although Bósquez Ditrani was the treasurer of the company Semper Fidelis Development, S.A. - founded by Evisilda Martínez - he kept his distance from her.

"I have no company with her, she is not my lawyer is not all. I know who she is, I have heard her name. But I don't have any relationship with this lady," he said, although he admitted that he knows her, as well as "many lawyers."

When asked about his involvement in Semper Fidelis Development he said "I'm on that Board (but) that does not mean that I own anything."

But Evisilda Martínez founded (the company) and served as its legal representative.

"As she has founded other (companies) for the group for which I work. I work for a group. I can be on many Board of Directors. But that does not mean I have a relationship with people at all. What's more, she founded these companies in 2007 and I started to be a part of this circle in 2010. We do not have any relationship with Evisilda and we do not want to work with her," he said.

In May 2011 Bósquez Ditrani replaced Alejandrina Arrocha Arcia as the Treasurer, when Esther De Frias was the President of Semper Fidelis Development.

Arrocha is the current treasurer of the Pan American Real Estate Group, and she was also a Director of other companies founded by Martinez Evisilda while the lawyer De Frias was a partner in the Martinez Law Firm.

Two weeks after talking to this newspaper, Bósquez Ditrani resigned from his position as the Treasurer and Director of Semper Fidelis Development, S.A., in which Evisilda Martínez - as has already said - was the founder, legal representative, treasurer, and president.

The lawyer Martinez and her husband Francisco Castillo also distanced themselves from Bósquez Ditrani, when they said they did not have and relationship with the businessman, nor any commercial interest in the lands of Taboga.

Since the Directors changed, "we stopped having any sort of relationship with these companies," said Castillo, while at the same time, he denied that the Martinez Law Firm processed the purchase of the land on Taboga for the Pan American Real Estate Group.

"Mr. Jason Harris is a Director of that company, but he has a law firm who attends to those cases," said Castillo.

Another controversial link of Bósquez Ditrani is with the American Brett Ragghianti, who has been reported before the National Council of Transparency against Corruption for allegedly having titled land in a dishonest manner.

Bósquez Ditrani and Ragghianti share the Director's position on the company Panama Land Futures Corp, S.A..

"I have not seen this man (Ragghianti) in eight years. I do not know where he is, and I do not have any business relationship with this man," said Bósquez Ditrani.

Although for the moment Bósquez Ditrani cannot buy the lands on the islands of Taboga, Taboguilla, Tórtola and Tortolita after the repeal of those agreements, the Councilors could process another sale to him or to other businessmen, because the ANATI generously answered their request for land on seven islands. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: OK, I know all of this is really hard to understand. And there's a reason for that. They want to try to make all of this as confusing as possible. You practically need a program to keep track of "who's who" in this whole thing.

But to me this case of characters reads like a list of "old home week." The really funny part about all if this, is that the power behind many of the land grabs - in Bocas del Toro anyway - is Martinelli's former Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu. Martinelli fired Jimmy Papadimitriu when he got caught (in a very public manner) trying to use the ANATI to steal public land in El Hombron and Paitilla. Big scandal, and as a result Jimmy got fired. You don't get to make the Boss look bad.

And I know Jimmy Papadimitriu was also behind the ANATI land snatch in both Chame and in Bocas del Toro.

So here's the really hilarious part. Jimmy Papadimitriu - after he was fired by Martinelli - is now working for the campaign of Juan Carlos Varela.

Juan Carlos Varela - the candidate of the Panameñista political party - is strongly supported by I. Roberto Eisenmann and the La Prensa newspaper, who literally hates Martinelli's guts.

La Prensa newspaper is barking up this tree, thinking they've got something on Martinelli, through the ANATI, somehow.

However, in fact if you chase this rabbit all the way down, kill it, and examine it's guts, La Prensa will finally figure out that they are - in fact - going after their own guy with this one. At this point they apparently have not got that fact figured out yet.

So therefore, you can expect La Prensa will drop this line of investigation like a hot rock, as soon as they figure it out. The ANATI is as corrupt as hell, no doubt about it. They've been handing out land like candy canes all over the place. These guys tried to make a snatch on Taboga, got caught, and pushed back. Oh well, on to bigger and better fish...

And for me, it's funny how the same old crew keeps coming back up like a bad burrito...

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Formal Complaint Filed Against Varela And Crew - Alleging Money Laundering And Diversion Of State Funds

CorruptionA complaint for crimes against the state was filed yesterday in the Public Ministry, following the scandal linking the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela to money laundering and the diversion of funds.

The criminal complaint refers to the diversion of funds from the consulates of Kobe, Japan and South Korea, the payments to the presidential candidate Varela, and the alleged links to a money laundering network in the United States.

The complainant asked the Public Ministry to open a criminal investigation, to include all persons who appear as beneficiaries or representatives of the 26 bank accounts and companies receiving payments and deposits from the Don James Foundation.

Eduardo Pinnock , who filed the complaint, said the process should clarify whether these accounts received funds from two activities that appear to be illegal: laundering money from illegal gambling in the United States, and the triangulation of public funds from the consulates in Kobe, Japan and South Korea.

"The investigation should include, in addition determining the authors and accomplices, the accessories after the fact who refute this criminal news as a smokescreen, or who try to hide with sophistry and lies about the alleged offenses of money laundering," says the complaint.

Meanwhile, the Miami based newspaper Diario Las Americas has reiterated they possess documents proving money from illegal gambling in the United States was laundered through financial institutions in Panama, and then were used for the Varela campaign.

All of these funds went through the controversial Don James Foundation.

"Michelle Lasso and Philipe Gurain, engaged in the laundering of money obtained from illegal gambling, were prosecuted by U.S. courts. These people transferred money to accounts in Panama, destined not only to the candidate Varela, but also to people who are very close to him: Jaime Lasso del Castillo (the former Consul in South Korea) and Alberto Arosemena Aristides Medina (the former Consul in Kobe, Japan)," reported the Diario Las Americas on Sunday.

The report also stated that some of the funds deposited into the accounts held by the Lasso family were paid in several checks to Juan Carlos Varela.

"As we demonstrated in documents published throughout the week," said Diario Las Americas.

There are three audited accounts where there are checks that would link to Juan Carlos Varela and his campaign.

The Diario Las Americas indicated the checks were written from 2009 to 2013, "the year during which the accounts controlled by Michelle Lasso were closed, because they appear in different lists of compliance due to their association with Gurian to launder money."

The newspaper said they have the registers and documents proving that Varela, his family members, companies, and service providers (to his campaign) received $706,533 from one of the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

"It draws the attention of the investigators that all of the checks issued were written for round numbers, a practice in the world of international finance which has always been a point of suspicion, because the product of dividends, services, or other practices normally are composite figures. This is a Red Alert that generates immediate investigations," the paper said.

The report details some of the payments made from account number 1100000231 of the Don James Foundation in Bnaco Panama to Varela and his family, among them checks: 00008 for $ 25.000 (27-04-2009), 00009 for $70,000 (04 -05 to 2009), 00010 for $25.000 (04-05-2009), and 00012 for $ 50,000.

It is speculated that the Don James Foundation, according to the publication in the Diario Las Americas, was the head of the financial structure Juan Carlos Varela used to triangulate the money produced by two major consulates he controlled while he was the Foreign Minister in the current government administration: Kobe, Japan under Aristides Alberto Arosemena, and South Korea under Jaime Lasso.

All of the operations would have been handled by Michelle Lasso, as reflected in the bank statements and official documents.

The Don James Foundation managed about $13.9 million in its three direct accounts, two of them in the Banco Panama and the other at Global Bank.

But it is estimated the sum exceeds 27 million, if you add the satellite accounts managed by Michelle Lasso, who created a network of more than 15 corporations, more than 10 bank accounts in Panama and the United States, where illegal gambling was conducted offshore, an activity that ended in a coordinated international investigation conducted by the FBI.

The president of the Don James Foundation is Jaime Lasso, who as the Consul in South Korea made direct deposits into the first bank account at the Banco Panama.

Lasso issued a statement last weekend, which states that all transactions made ​​in the Don James Foundation were done with transparency, and that they have nothing to do with the money laundering case that was investigated in the U.S..

Lasso announced he would proceed legally against the Diario Las Americas and all the institutions that issued the reports.

What Lasso did not explain was the reason why he and the former Consul Alberto Arosemena, in Kobe, made recurring deposits for large sums of money to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

These are two of the consulates Varela controlled while he was the Foreign Minister. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: The only thing new in this article is that a formal complaint has now been filed before the Public Ministry, asking for the Panamanian authorities to investigate the entire incident. And of course, now the next step will be for the Attorney General to start working the case. Investigating people like Jaime Lasso and his daughter Michelle Lasso, as well as Alberto Arosemena is relatively easy because they are just common Panamanians under the law. So are Varela's family members, except for his brother, who is a Deputy in the National Assembly. The rest of them don't have any sort of legal protections.

However Juan Carlos Varela himself enjoys a couple of layers of legal protection. First of all as the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party he is protected from investigation or prosecution by Panama's Electoral Law. These elements are designed to prevent the opening of frivolous lawsuits or criminal investigations for purely political purposes. So therefore, the Electoral Tribunal will act as a filter. They would first have to decide to lift or suspend those protections, before any investigation could proceed against him.

Varela also enjoys the protection affording him as the sitting Vice President. According to Article 191 of the Panamanian Constitution, the Vice President can only be held responsible if he;

1. Oversteps his constitutional functions;

2. If he uses coercion or violence during the electoral process to prevent the meeting of the National Assembly, for impeding the exercise of the functions of this or other bodies or public authorities established by the Constitution, or;

3. If he commits crimes against the "international personality of the State" or if he commits crimes against the State.

Article 191 goes on to say that, in the first two cases, the Vice President would be removed from power and would be prevented from exercising public office as defined by law. In the third case, however, "common law" would be applied.

So therefore, it is entirely possible that Martinelli intends to prove Varela is a money launderer, and that he received funds that were first illegally collected by the Consuls in Japan and Korea, and then later transferred to Varela for him to use in his campaign. At first blush one would think Martinelli simply intended to tarnish the candidate Varela, to cause him to lose votes in the upcoming election. However it's possible that Martinelli wants to take Varela off of the table completely - to have him removed from the office of Vice President, and to have him declared as ineligible as a presidential candidate because of these allegations.

Go back and read the very first line of this article. "...crimes against the state..." That means the third number line of Article 191 would apply - and Varela could be investigated and tried as a common citizen. It opens up all sorts of possibilities.

Stranger things have happened. Martinelli flat-out owns the Supreme Court and Attorney General's office, so they could take quick action and issue quick decisions on his behalf. Martinelli does not, however, control the Electoral Tribunal. But if They decide to try to protect Varela, then of course they will be seen as trying to protect an accused money launderer.

So yeah, they've got Varela and his crew apparently caught red handed, with their hand in the cookie jar. Well, actually it's more like they climbed all the way into the jar and were having tea and cookies on an ill gotten yacht, thanks to money laundering, graft, corruption, and the diversion of state funds.

What you are now watching is the slow-roasting of Varela and crew in the press, orchestrated by Martinelli and the CD. They had this one ready and waiting for a long time, and decided to pull the trigger now, right before the election, for maximum impact.

Anyone care to speculate about what the Financial Analysis Unit would find if it was under the control of either the PRD or the Panameñistas, and they started looking into all of the companies and accounts controlled by Martinelli and his crew? In fact, Martinelli has a tremendous strategic advantage because of the position he's in, and he's using all of it. And that's why the CD will probably be running Panama until 2064...

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Former Consul Bought Juan Carlos Varela - Who Appointed Him - A Yacht ("Thanks, Buddy...")

CorruptionThe investigation by the Miami based Diario Las Americas newspaper not only left traces of how large sums of money were diverted from the Panamanian consulates in South Korea and Kobe, Japan to bank accounts in Panama in the name of the Don James Foundation.

South Korea and Kobe were consulates controlled by Varela, when he was serving as the Foreign Minister from July 2009 and October 2012. (See Editor's Comment)

In the case of Korea, Varela appointed his cousin Jaime Lasso, and in the case of Kobe he appointed Alberto Aristides Arosemena, who is linked to his brother, the National Assembly Deputy José Luis Varela.

Two of the multiple transfers from the former Consul Arosemena could be related to the purchase of the new yacht Varela and his brother acquired between 2010 and 2011.

According to the documents of the investigation being carried out by the Diario Las Americas, between May and June 2012 Arosemena made three transfers of $25,000 each to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

This was not a normal transfer from an account at the HSBC Bank in Tokyo to the Global Bank in Panama, to the account of the Don James Foundation.

In two of the transfers, the former Consul Arosemena explained that the money was meant for the purchase of a " boat " or a "yacht."

The dates coincide with the registration of the purchase of the $3 million dollar yacht named the "Centuria," owned by Varela, a luxury property that the presidential candidate of the Panameñista party tried to hide in Miami, after the breakup of the alliance with the ruling Cambio Democratico political party.

Varela tried to hide all traces of the purchase of the pleasure craft.

For this he used an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands named Scorley Assets LTD.

However, the loan contract for the payment of a part of the yacht identify him as the true owner with his brother.

The history of this "zero kilometer" (new) Bertram yacht is full of questions, and is a possible case of evasion.

The Vice President's yacht was baptized with the name of a special rum launched by the Varela Hermanos S.A. liquor company: "Centuria."

Before, and since its purchase in 2011, they have kept the yacht in Miami in the United States, away from prying eyes.

It all started in February 2010, when Varela decided to become part of a select group; the owners of luxury sport fishing yachts.

At that moment in time the Vice President and former Foreign Minister was one of the most influential men in the current government.

Simultaneously his brother also controlled Panama's lawmaking body; he was the President of the National Assembly.

Traveling under the guise as the Vice President and Foreign Minister, on that date Varela attended the "Miami Boat Show," according to two sources, leading him to fall in love with the 2011 Bertram yacht model 630.

And so he took steps to purchase the luxury craft through a dealer in Panama: Evermarine Corp.

Varela ordered a yacht 67 feet (20.40 meters) long, 5.52 meters wide, weighing 45 tons and with a fiberglass hull.

Its market value: $ 3 million, according to two maritime operators consulted by this newspaper.

On August 9, 2011, just days before the breakup of the alliance between the Panameñista political party and the ruling Cambio Democratic, Varela inscribed the buy-sell contract for the yacht in the Public Registry of Panama, using a foreign company as a screen.

One Dollar

Varela used the law firm Icaza, González-Ruiz y Alemán to register the yacht in Panama.

One of the directors of this law firm - Alvaro Aleman - served as Varela's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The notarized document revealed the company Evermarine Corp. of Belize sold the yacht named the "Centuria" to the company Scorley Assets LTD of the British Virgin Islands for only one dollar and "other considerations of value" that are not identified in the document, to which this newspaper (Panama America) had access.

On 18 November 2011, two months after the buy-sell contract for the purchase of the yacht was registered in Panama, Varela's name comes up in a bank loan with the Tower International bank for $2 million dollars in financing, to partially finance the acquisition of the "Centuria," payable within a period of 120 months and with an annual interest of 6.75%.

In the loan agreement with Towerbank both Juan Carlos Varela and his brother the National Assembly Deputy Jose Luis Varela are listed as the sureties and guarantors in each and every one of the obligations assumed by the debtor company, Scorley Assets LTD.

Foreign Service

On 29 July 2011, the "Centuria" received its navigation papers as a private pleasure craft under the Panamanian flag, but under the classification of foreign service on behalf of the company Scorley Assets LTD.

In patent navigation documents the company Scorley Assets LTD left blank the reference of the assessed value of the yacht "Centuria."

However, once again it was reported that the ship was purchased as "new construction" for one dollar, and for "other considerations of value" that are not identified. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: One more detail, with enough meat to chew on for a week. So Varela purchased a new yacht for $3 million dollars. The consul in Kobe, Japan sent him $75,000 over three deposits to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation. And believe it or not the dumb ass put down a reference of "yacht" and "boat" on the transfers. How incredibly stupid.

The Panamanian consuls "do things" for people in the countries where they serve. By law they are supposed to be allowed to legally keep a percentage of the fees they charge, and the rest is supposed to be turned over to the Panamanian government. There is no way in hell these guys should be able to send $75,000 in cash directly to Varela for him to use to buy a new Yacht. This, folks, is the definition of being caught with your hand in the cookie jar. And the other guy - Lasso - is now threatening to sue the Diario Las Americas.

One thing is true. So far Lasso, Arosemena, Varela, and the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and the BVI company Scorley Assets LTD have not been named by the US Justice Department as part of the investigation into online gambling and money laundering. Michelle Lasso was convicted of money laundering. Part of the money she laundered went to Varela. And it got to him through offshore accounts in the Caribbean and the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation. So you can bet your ass that right now, as I'm tying this, there are criminal investigators and analysts in the Justice Department who are tearing apart these transactions. I would not be surprised if there isn't an announcement, pretty soon. They will mostly want the money, that's for sure.

Drip, drip, drip. It's like watching an explosion in slow motion.

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Don James Foundation Denies Abnormalities

CorruptionJaime Lasso, the representative of the Don James Foundation, denied any link between the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela and the judicial investigation in the United States for money laundering against his daughter, Michelle Lasso.

Yesterday members of the Panameñista political party produced copies of checks written during the 2009 election campaign by companies belonging to the Colombian David Murcia - who was investigated for illegal fundraising - to the company Importadora Ricamar S.A., owned by president Ricardo Martinelli, and to CD S.A., the company created to raise funds for political purposes.

The Miami based newspaper Diario Las Americas has been publishing reports for a week now written by the journalist Sergio Otálora, implicating Jaime Lasso and Juan Carlos Varela in illegal activities (money laundering and the illegal diversion of funds from the Consulate in South Korea), implications Lasso labeled as false.

Through a press release, Lasso said the case in the US is closed, and at no time was he involved, the Don James Foundation, or Juan Carlos Varela.

Checks From Murcia

The lawyer Miguel Batista Guerra denounced the existence of checks for several thousand dollars written by companies related to David Murcia, during the 2009 election campaign to the company Importadora Ricamar S.A., to the company CD S.A., and to Ricardo Quijano, the current Minister of Commerce.

These checks, according to Batista Guerro, were "hidden" by prosecutors and they were not included in the investigation led by the head Anti Drug Prosecutor at the time José Abel Almengor, and the Prosecutor of Civil Affairs William Parodi against Murcia, who was tried and convicted in the US for crimes related to the illegal capture of money.

Quijano denied the linking of the party or the companies owned by the President to the Murcia case, and he described the allegation as a way to tarnish the candidacy of José Domingo Arias. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This is nothing more than the most recent attempt by the candidacy of Juan Carlos Varela and the La Prensa newspaper to whitewash the millions of dollars his campaign apparently received - money that came from illegal online gambling activities in the United States, and monies that were illegal collected and diverted from the Panamanian consulate in South Korea to the same bank accounts. First of all, Ricardo Martinelli is not the candidate. With this "news" about some checks from 2009 they are attempting to salvage a few votes with the logic line of "Varela is no worse than Martinelli," or "Martinelli did the same thing Varela did." That is not a winning strategy, especially when you're not running against Martinelli, and you have yet to adequately answer or address the $27.5 million dollar question about your laundry...

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Transactions By Varela Appointed Diplomats Exceed Their Salaries

CorruptionAnother angle investigators are exploring are the transfers made by Michelle Lasso using funds from illegal gambling activities, from accounts in Caribbean tax havens.

They have also scrutinized the transfers to the accounts held by Michelle Lasso made ​​from the bank accounts of the company Laris S.A. in HSBC Panama.

What is important here, according to the information obtained by Diario Las Americas, is that one of the signatories was Jeanine Gurian, the mother of Philipe Gurian, who was convicted in the United States for money laundering.

According to the previous investigation, he was found guilty in 2007 of financial fraud in a civil lawsuit and ordered to pay $150 million.

And to avoid making the payment, Gurian transferred all of his assets to his mother.

The Don James Foundation and the people who received funds from the above accounts are linked to the money laundering investigation in the United States.

What's more, Gurian was also charged with investment fraud in conjunction with the DeCavalcante family - mafia in New Jersey - with which, according to those same charges, he has been completely identified.

Other Transactions

Several documents held by the Diario Las Americas, show that the funds received in the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, both in Panama and abroad, exceed the financial profile of the wife, mother, and minor children of Jaime Lasso del Castillo, who was the Panamanian Ambassador to South Korea, named by Juan Carlos Varela when he was in the Office of Chancellor (Foreign Minister) and Vice President.

According to the observations of the Financial Analysis Unit of Panama, these funds come largely from offshore accounts controlled by Michelle Lasso Outdoor (in high risk jurisdictions) and transfers made by Lasso del Castillo from Korea.

The Financial Analysis Unit report documents international transfers indicating a possible corruption of the Panamanian diplomatic corps in Japan and Korea, during the period of time from 2009 to 2012, for example;

International Transfers - Don James Foundation (Banco Panama - Acct Number 01100000231)

October 8, 2009 - Alberto Aristides Alberto, U.S. $44,015.54 - HSBC, Chao Ki , Kobe Japan. (Banco Panama - 01100000231)

May 21, 2012 - Alberto Arosemena Aristides Medina - U.S. $24,975.00 - HSBC Chao Ki, Kobe Japan. (Global Bank Overseas 01-101-230790)

June 4, 2012 - Alberto Arosemena Aristides Medina - U.S. $24,975.00 - HSBC Chao Ki , Kobe Japan . (Global Bank Overseas 01-101-230790)

Jaime Lasso presented, as part of his profile, that he held foreign assets in the order of $2 million.

You can see in these transactions, particularly those in November 2012, that he transferred a significant amount representing 75 % of the statements.

November 13, 2010 - Jaime Lasso - U.S. $249,981.00 - Korea Exchange Bank, Seoul. (Banco Panama 01100000231)

August 22, 2011 - Jaime Lasso - $49,981.00 U.S. - Korea Exchange Bank , Seoul. (Banco Panama 01100000231)

September 27, 2011 - Jaime Lasso - $49,981.00 U.S. - Korea Exchange Bank, Seoul. (Banco Panama 01100000231) (Diario Las Americas)

Editor's Comment: These articles by the Diario Las Americas are sort of poorly written. I think they are sort of playing a game of "slow dribble" - because they want to make a new headline with this story every day, from now until the elections in Panama on 4 May 2014. Those elections are now just 16 days away, so apparently we can expect sixteen days of a slowly dribbling story.

The new information contained in this story are mostly the details about how the convicted money launderer Philipe Gurian transferred $150 million to his mother, to avoid paying a civil case settlement. And how the two diplomats appointed by Varela to South Korea and Japan transferred much more money than they were being paid to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

So, Varela is really facing potential criminal action on several fronts, here. First of all, he benefited from the proceeds of money laundering - the money transferred by Michelle Lasso (through the offshore laundering accounts in the Caribbean) and then to Panama. So, potentially the US Justice System could come after Varela as a money launderer.

Let me point out here that the US justice system - with regards to online gambling - plays to a double standard. The legal gambling operations in the United States pay millions, if not billions of dollars in taxes every year. When the US justice system goes after these sorts of "illegal" offshore gambling operations, they do so primarily not because they have anything against gambling. Rather, they do so because these operations are not paying any taxes to the US government. That's why gambling online is illegal.

When the US justice system goes after these people, normally they only go after the money and assets. Cars, homes, planes, businesses, jewelry, bank accounts and cash - whatever is worth something. They want the money. All of these seized assets then become the property of the US government. They auction off the assets, and the money from those sales then belongs to the people.

They rarely (if ever) hand out long prison sentences to the people who set up and run these operations. There have been several large busts in recent memory. Just a little while ago they shut down an online gambling network that was based out of Panama - and seized more than $1 billion in assets. That's "billion" with a "b". They care about the money. The perpetrators are given a slap on the wrist - after the feds have taken everything they own.

There are several reasons why Varela's legal future is very uncertain. First of all, he's going to lose the upcoming election. He will no longer be either the Vice President of Panama, nor will he be a presidential candidate. So the Panamanian authorities will be able to go after him, full force. Expect an investigation into these allegations of money laundering and diversion of illegal funds, collected as bribes by the Consulates in South Korea and Japan.

There's the possibility that Varela and his crew will be forced to turn all of the money over to Martinelli and his crew (or most of it) in exchange for being let off the hook with regards to future legal action. That's the way "justice" works (both in Panama and the United States, apparently). Simply hand over the money, and you get to walk away with a wrist-slap.

However Martinelli tends to be rather vindictive and spiteful. He might decide that he's already got enough money, and he would rather see Varela slowly roast as he spins on the spit, over the fire of an ongoing investigation. Just, because, you know, Varela is his bitch.

Panama could "cooperate" with the US authorities, if the US wants to launch or extend their investigation into the money laundering networks.

I expect Varela will lose his US visa, at the very least.

Anyway, expect a slowly developing saga. In fact the Diario Las Americas already has a stack of documents. They could blow their whole wad in one day. But what fun is that, once you've got the victim all tied down and butt-up. They're going to drag this out, as long as possible. Expect one last major "revelation" on 3 May - the day before the elections.

It should also be pointed out, that as a newspaper in the United States and based out of Miami, they are completely removed and exempt from any orders or control that can be exerted by the Panamanian Electoral Tribunal. That's one more reason why Martinelli decided to hand them the documents from the Financial Analysis Unit.

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Money Diverted From Consulates Financed Varela's Campaign

CorruptionThe Don James Foundation, possibly related to the money laundering case of money derived from a network of illegal online gambling led by Phillip Gurian in the U.S., managed almost 14 million dollars in three bank accounts, two of then in the Banco Panama.

But the Foundation was also be part of a financial structure allowing presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela to divert funds from two of the consulates he controlled as Chancellor: South Korea and Kobe, Japan.

Michelle Lasso, who was convicted together with Gurian - a subject linked to members of the "Cosa Nostra" (mafia), was one of the two main signatories of the account.

The money from the illegal online gambling activity in the United States was mixed in Panama with the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, from which Varela received funds from the former Consuls Jaime Lasso in South Korea and Albero Aristides Arosemena in Kobe, according to an investigation by the Miami based Diario Las Americas newspaper.

Bank records left traces indicating a great part of the deposits and transfers went to Varela.

Jaime Lasso, the father of Michelle Lasso and the President of the Don James Foundation, was the Consul in South Korea when direct deposits made ​​to one of the Foundation's accounts in the Banco Panama for more than 399,943 dollars.

When he was removed from the position as Consul in October 2011, Lasso moved another $249,981 from Korea to the bank account of the Don James Foundation in Panama.

Arosemena did similar things while he was the Consul in Kobe, Japan.

Arosemena deposited more than $150,000 in one account in just six months, according to documents published by the Diario Las Americas newspaper as part of their investigation.

It was also learned Michelle Lasso had at least two bank accounts open at this same period of time, were there were deposits of 2.6 million dollars.

Add to these bank accounts opened by other relatives of Jaime Lasso where there were deposits of $1.9 million and another for $1.3 million.

Jaime Lasso also opened a personal account with 312,000 dollars.

Most of the bank accounts opened by these members of the Lasso family were in the Banco Panama, where Jaime Lasso is a shareholder.

Recently, Michelle Lasso was convicted of the crime of money laundering in the United States, after an investigation that covered exactly the years when the foundation received money from the consulates controlled by Varela.

According to the investigation conducted by the Diario Las Americas newspaper, the Don James Foundation and the Lasso family moved about $27 million into the local Panamanian banking system between 2009 and 2011.

Varela admitted having received money from the Don James Foundation for his presidential campaign, but he did not admit receiving money illegally diverted from the consulates, and instead he said he received those funds as a campaign donation and for investments his family made with Lasso.

How much money did Vice President Varela receive?

The bank records contained in the investigation can only reveal part of this information.

According to the documents, the Vice President and presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela and his family received $423,000 directly from one of the three bank accounts of the Don James Foundation.

Through his first checking account at Banco Panama, in July 2009 the Don James Foundation ordered two cashier's checks for Gladimar and T-Shirt Interamerican for $45,000.

These payments might be related to Varela's campaign expenses, who at the time was preparing for the primary elections in the Panameñista political party.

In the records it appears these two checks were received by Elias Guzman, Varela's driver.

On January 23, 2010, Jaime Lasso, through the bank account of the Don James Foundation, ordered the payment of $70,000 to Juan Carlos Varela using a cashiers check drawn on the Banco Panama.

Lasso said he owed the money to pay for 50 pure Brahman cattle for his farm.

There is no public knowledge of any cattle business owned by Vice President Varela.

Juan Carlos Varela's brothers also received payments or transfers from the Don James Foundation.

On March 25, 2009 Luis J. Varela received $ 50,000 and on May 16, 2011 he received another $70,000 according to the reports used by the Diario Las Americas.

The National Assembly Deputy Jose Luis Varela received payments through his companies.

For example, Riofra, led by José Luis Varela, received $ 20,000 in two deposits on July 19, 2011 and another on September 5, 2012.

The company Luis J. Varela y Hijos S.A. was also part of the structure used by the presidential candidate Varela to receive monies from the Don James Foundation and the consulates in South Korea and Kobe, Japan.

The bank reports in Panama recorded that on September 7, 2012 this company - which is directly linked to the Varela family - received $20,000 from the foundation.

The contradictions of Lorena

Meanwhile, Lorena Castillo, the wife of presidential candidate for the Panameñista party, defended her husband and tried to distance him from the reports published by the Diario Las Americas.

Castillo first said the (copies of the) checks published by the Diario Las Americas newspaper were "false," but she later admitted then would be analyzed.

In statements given to RPC Radio, Castillo said "It has been a very hard week of accusations, every check you see is absolutely false."

However, minutes later she contradicted herself when she said "the checks were delivered for analysis."

After Juan Carlos Varela discredited the Miami-based newspaper, the editorial board lamented that instead of offering an explanation and details about his relationship with the facts under investigation, the candidate "has yet to give a convincing explanation to the Panamanian people."

Martinelli : benefit of the doubt

Meanwhile, President Ricardo Martinelli said "unlike others, I give the benefit of the doubt to the presidential candidate, Vice President Juan Carlos Varela , unlike what they did with me. There are the checks and substantial evidence, and these are very serious accusations, but there due process must be followed, something they did not due for me, because they accused and convicted me," said the chief executive.

The spokesman for Democratic Change (CD) party Luis Eduardo Camacho accused the Vice President and presidential candidate of the Panameñista party Juan Carlos Varela of having a "double standard."

"Varela has a double standard, because now he says the journalist who published the scandal in the Diario Las Americas is 'a paid mercenary,' while he applauded the publications in the newspaper indicating President Ricardo Martinelli was supposedly involved in the Lavitola scandal," he said. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: They are going to keep using this to kick Varela in the nuts as hard as they can, and as many times as they can - from now until the election which is just a few days more than two weeks away. Isn't it nice of Martinelli to give Varela the benefit of the doubt, while at the same time calling for "due process." In the world of political double-speak, what he was really saying is "you can bet your ass there's going to be an official investigation into the use of illegal funds and money laundering."

Politicians - more fun than a room full of monkeys with open jars of peanut butter...

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Financial Analysis Unit Official Could Go To Prison If They Disclosed Official Information

CorruptionOfficials of the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) are required by law to safeguard the information they learn or obtain in the performance of their duties, and whoever does not comply with this requirement could be sentenced to between three to five years in prison, according to the Penal Code.

The Financial Analysis Unit was created during the administration of former president Ernesto Perez Balladares, through Executive Order 136 of 1995.

The Executive Order says UAF officials are obliged to provide information only to the Attorney General, when - in the Attorney General's opinion - there is cause to proceed with an official investigation conducted by the Public Ministry.

In addition the UAF should provide "assistance" to the investigating officers of the office of the Attorney General, and those designated by the Superintendency of Banks of Panama, to assist in criminal investigations or administrative acts related to money laundering.

Article 6 of Executive Decree 136 of 1995 states that the Executive Branch will proceed against any current or former UAF official who discloses information obtained in the performance of their duties to unauthorized persons.

The penalty includes dismissal, and the filing of a criminal complaint for the commission of crimes against the sanctity of privacy, where the penalty is from three to five years in prison, according to the Penal Code.

"The UAF is an armored entity, of complete confidentiality," said the former UAF director Victoria Figge today on Telemetro.

"Nobody can be sniffing what is what is there. Anyone who shows or divulges documents are exposed to serious sanctions."

Figge asked how the Miami based Spanish language newspaper Diario Las Americas received information from an alleged investigation being conducted by the UAF, which links the Vice President and presidential candidate from the opposition Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela, to money laundering.

"How did (the information) get to the newspaper? This violates the law of the UAF. It detracts from the credibility of the institution, which was hard to earn," she said.

"Recently there was a report from the International Monetary Fund on the weaknesses we have in this area, and this type of disclosure does not help us. This shows the institutional weakness that exists in this country," she said. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Notice how the La Prensa newspaper is completely focused on the leaking of the UAF information to the Diario Las Americas newspaper, and this article is all about how any UAF officials who leaked the documents should go to prison. When in fact the focus of this scandal should be squarely on Juan Carlos Varela, and how if he was receiving illegal money from the United States and spending those funds for his election campaign, then he's a money launderer and not fit to be the president of the Republic.

This is a perfect example of the bias that exists in the Panamanian press. I. Roberto Eisenmann owns the La Prensa newspaper, and he is at war with Ricardo Martinelli and the CD. He could care less if Varela is a money launderer. La Prensa will do anything to get Varela elected. Varela could be caught on video screwing sheep in the town square at noon, and La Prensa would focus on how the sheep were being too provocative...

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Judge spares Panama woman prison in gambling case

CorruptionBy Robert Gavin - A Panamanian woman who laundered $8 million for an international gambling ring that included two Albany County jail officers will not go to federal prison.

Michele Lasso, 30, was sentenced Tuesday to two years of probation and a $25,000 fine in U.S. District Court, where the judge blasted her claims of naivete.

"This gambling conspiracy could not happen without you," Judge Mae D'Agostino told Lasso, as Lasso wept while sitting between her attorneys. "I think you need to look in the mirror."

Her husband, Alejandro Lopez, watched from a courtroom bench, his hand pressed on a Bible.

Lasso, who holds a master's degree in financial markets, pleaded guilty Oct. 31 to conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Lasso must forfeit $8 million and will be banned from the United States.

Lasso held a visa and was living in Parkland, Fla., before she was charged on April 10 in what is now the largest gambling bust in the history of Albany County. Lasso has spent most of the last year in home detention while raising an infant son born four days after her arrest. "I'm just very sorry," Lasso told the judge, crying.

Lasso controlled bank accounts, credit cards and wire transfers for a global sports betting ring operated by Philip Gurian, 52, of Boca Raton, Fla., who pleaded guilty to money laundering on Oct. 9. Gurian — whose criminal history includes a 2004 federal stock scam conviction with a captain in the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family — will be sentenced by D'Agostino on April 15.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sharpe, who prosecuted the case, asked that Gurian be sentenced to between eight and 14 months in prison. Sharpe had recommended probation for Lasso.

Lasso — also known as Michele Marie Lasso-Barraza — transferred gambling proceeds to Panama, Andorra and the Cayman Islands, and set up two sham entities known as Nigel Holdings Inc. and Nigel Holdings S.A.

Wiretaps caught Lasso talking with Gurian via Skype. In one conversation, Lasso said she tried to move $4 million from a gambling website to a Panamanian bank.

Lasso's attorney, William N. Shepherd, who once was the statewide prosecutor for Florida, told the judge his client is deeply changed from the woman caught on the wiretaps.

"At the time of the offense, Ms. Lasso lacked the good sense and appreciation of the U.S. legal system to consider the impact of this conduct, but now she reflects on the conduct with devastation, humiliation and regret," Shepherd wrote.

Lasso could have faced 12 to 18 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

D'Agostino told Lasso she seriously considered imposing a prison sentence. The judge scoffed at Lasso's contention that she didn't appreciate the gravity of her crimes and that she came from a country where gambling is legal. "You speak almost as one who was naive and really didn't know what was going on," D'Agostino said. "I've read the wiretaps. I've had the benefit of listening to you when you did not know that law enforcement was listening in. So for you to leave this courtroom today and try to tell anybody that you didn't understand what was going on, in my view, is simply beyond belief."

At the conclusion of her sentencing, Lasso was placed in the custody of federal immigration agents.

Gurian — known as "Florida Phil" — ran between 40 and 50 offshore websites. Bettors received passwords and log-in codes for gambling websites that took a 10 percent fee on all bets. Gurian once boasted that he was earning as much as $150,000 daily.

Gurian laundered at least $8 million in proceeds through Lasso using Nigel Holdings Inc. and Nigel Holdings S.A. He had bookies working for him in New York, Boston, New Hampshire, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, California and Las Vegas, as well as the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Russia, Holland, Mexico and Panama.

On April 10, authorities busted the ring, including Albany County jail officers Timothy Robillard and James Cerniglia, both of Clifton Park; longtime Latham bookie Joseph "Oink" Carucci and Christopher Socola and Craig Hayner of Clifton Park. All have pleaded guilty. (

Editor's Comment: This morning the journalist Sergio Otálora of the Diario Las Americas who wrote the articles linking the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela to money laundering, involving these illegal proceeds from online gambling, said he had bank records as well as copies of cancelled checks written directly to Varela. During the interview on Telemetro, he was flipping through pages and pages of additional information. He said Michelle Lasso's father, Jaime Lasso del Castillo - who Varela appointed as Panama's Consul to South Korea when he was serving as Panama's Foreign Minister - now turns out to be Varela's cousin. The total amount of money deposited into the 26 Panamanian bank accounts was "more than 30 million dollars" according to Sergio Otálora.

The journalist from the Diario Las Americas refused to answer direct questions regarding his contacts with Panama's Financial Analysis Unit - although it's now fairly obvious that as soon as the political operatives working for Ricardo Martinelli heard about the money laundering case against Michelle Lasso, the scrambled to investigate all of the associated accounts. Imagine the hard-on they got when they discovered that much of the laundered money was going directly to Juan Carlos Varela. In typical Martinelli fashion, they simply decided they would get the most "bang for the buck" by giving the information to Sergio Otálora of the newspaper Diario Las Americas in Miami. It also came out during the Telemetro interview this morning that the newspaper is owned by Venezuelan businessmen who are in political opposition to Venezuela's president Maduro.

Alvaro Alvarado tried hard to put the blame on the messenger, however it's perfectly clear that Varela received literally millions of dollars of illegal funds - which makes him a money launderer. His cousin's daughter funneled the money to him, which he is now spending to pay for political ads. Sooner or later there will be an investigation in Panama, where nothing will happen. Above a certain level there's a sort of "glass ceiling" where all politicians become untouchable. However, it would be a trip if the US Justice Department should issue a warrant for Varela's arrest, as being the kingpin behind this money laundering operation. That hasn't happened yet, but it might...

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Panamanian Presidential Candidate Involved In Money Laundering

CorruptionBy Sergio Otalora - Several bank accounts in Panama received funds from money laundering, from transactions related to illegal online gambling operations, and these funds have been used to finance the political campaign of presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela, according to information obtained by the Diario Las Americas.

The illegal operations were executed in the United States, and the money produced by these transactions was deposited into more than 26 bank accounts in various Panamanian banks, such as the Banco Nacional, HSBC, and Global Bank, among others.

According to a lawsuit filed in a court of Albany, New York, Philipe Gurian, of Boca Ratón and Michelle Lasso, of Delray Beach, two cities in the Southern part of the state of Florida in the United States, were charged with conspiracy to launder "monetary instruments."

The indictment includes penalties of 20 years in prison for both, as stated in the document signed by Richard S. Hartunian.

In fact, Lasso was sentenced in April to three years probation and Gurian was sentenced to two decades behind bars.

These bank accounts, according to an investigation conducted by the Financial Analysis Unit, the authority that monitors the Panamanian financial system to look for funds from organized crime, these banks accounts also received funds from two members of the diplomatic corps, people who were appointed by Vice President Juan Carlos Varela when he was the Foreign Minister of Panama; Jaime Lasso del Castillo, the former consul in South Korea, and Alberto Arístides Arosemena Medina, the former consul in Kobe, Japan.

Michelle Lasso, the daughter of the former diplomat in South Korea, was also a signatory on the bank accounts that were closed after her arrest in Florida, on the ground that her name appeared on international blacklists of organizations such as World Check, World Compliance, used by the financial sector.

Varela, who is the Vice President of Panama and the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, would have used those funds for his personal expenses and to finance his political campaign.

Some of the alleged illicit funds received in the accounts linked to the Lasso family were paid with various checks to Varela, his family members, employees, and - directly - to those who provide services to his political campaign.

Varela's campaign said these allegations obtained by the Diario Las Americas were "baseless and unfounded rumors."

"We do not want to encourage such accusations," said campaign organizer, Jonathan del Rosario, who also said "the financial authorities use this institution (referring to the UAF) to attack politically. That's why these allegations do not merit a response by the candidate."

Del Rosario dismissed completely the fact that accounts and checks exist which indicate the candidate (Varela) has allegedly used funds obtained apparently obtained in an illegal manner, to finance his campaign and also for his personal expenses.

He also said a claim started against Varela by the government of Panama for about $30 million dollars "fell by itself for a lack of evidence."

Don James Foundation

One of the bank accounts that has attracted the attention of investigators was opened by the "Don James Foundation" on January 7, 2009 - with account number 001100000231 in the Banco Nacional of Panama.

According to them (the Financial Analysis Unit) the bank account was used as a special vehicle to channel bribes to Varela, by issuing checks in his name, to his family members, businesses, and for his presidential campaign with funds derived from illegal activities.

Transfers of money were deposited to that account (about $1,500,000 according to reports) from different sources, among them companies associated with money laundering, and associated with the diplomats appointed by Varela.

The funds transferred to the Panamanian bank accounts had as their origin - according to the documents - "paper companies" created in Caribbean tax havens.

Those funds were the product of the illegal gambling operations that, once entered into the legal financial system, had been "laundered."

Other funds deposited to the account of the Don James Foundation are related to Arosemena Medina and Lasso del Castillo.

The first of these was an international wire transfer of $45,000.

Arosemena Medina is the son of Alberto Arístides Arosemena Athanasiadis, the Alternate for National Assembly Deputy José Luis "Popi" Varela - the brother and campaign manager of Juan Carlos Varela.

The accounts of the Lasso Group Lasso also received international transfers of more than $100,000 from Arosemena Medina, without any sustainable economic support, given the nature of the account.

Those funds could have originated as bribes paid to the consul then laundered through the account to finance the Varela campaign.

Meanwhile, Jaime Lasso Del Castillo, as the Panamanian consul in South Korea, was earning $45,000, a sum that included personal expenses and travel expenses, but the transfers made ​​by this person far exceeded his salary.

In one sample examined by the Financial Analysis Unit over a period of one year, they found evidence of eight monthly international transfers from his account in South Korea for $50,000 each, with the exception of two deposits to his account for $250,000 - one in November 2010 and another in October 2011. (Diario Las Americas)

Editor's Comment: So, the daughter of the diplomat Varela appointed as the Consul to South Korea was arrested by the FBI as part of a money laundering investigation. They were using her accounts to launder the proceeds from the illegal Internet gambling. The money from those accounts went straight to Varela, his family members, and service providers working on his electoral campaign.

What's more - the same diplomat was sending $50,000 per month from Korea to Panama - using those same accounts to launder the money he was generating as the Consul in South Korea. And he was able to send all of that money, even though he was only being officially paid $48,000 per year, on the books.

They got him, with his hand all the way up to the shoulder in the cookie jar. Varela might be able to laugh off anything coming from the Martinelli administration, but you can't laugh off the FBI, federal marshals, and the United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York.

Varela always had third place all locked up in this election. He will still end up in third, but now with even a smaller percentage of the vote than he was going to get, before these articles were published. Now Varela will deny, then tomorrow there will be additional information forthcoming to cement the damage, like copies of cancelled checks or what have you. He's toast, now more than ever.

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Martinelli promises not to take refuge in the Central American Parliament

CorruptionThe prestigious Italian prosecutor Paolo Ielo of Rome named Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli in the document containing his request to prosecute Valter Lavitola for international corruption.

Martinelli is identified as the passive part in the crime - that is to say - as the person who was allegedly to receive the kickbacks arising from the hiring of three companies of the Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica.

According to the prosecutor, the Panamanian company Agafea Corp., SA was going to be would be the way to channel the money - about 18 million euros (25 million dollars) - and that this company is "traceable" to the Panamanian ruler.

Asked immunity as a Deputy of the Central American Parliament, which he will receive as of 1 July 2014 in his capacity as the former president of Panama, Martinelli says he does not intend to be part of this organization.

When asked about the Finmeccanica case, Martinelli said again "I piss myself laughing with this issue invented by politicians." (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Interesting. Well, I guess it would be incredibly hypocritical of Martinelli to take refuge behind the immunity granted as a member of the PARLACEN - because a few years ago he called it a "den of immunity." Rather, he would be showing courage and leadership, and would be setting an example for the other leaders of the region by refusing this status, and defending himself legally from whatever challenges might come his way as a simple Panamanian citizen. However Martinelli also has Italian citizenship, so it might become quickly complicated for him the minute he leaves office.

Imagine this scenario - the prosecutor in Rome presses charges, and Martinelli's name is sent to Interpol as someone who is wanted by the Italian authorities. That means he would risk arrest if he went anywhere outside of Panama. Of course within Panama he would be safe, because after Arias wins the election they will own the judiciary lock, stock, and barrel.

That means Martinelli could choose to fly to Italy on his private jet, hire lawyers, and defend himself. But in that case he might be arrested there and thrown in prison (with Lavitola) so there's not much of a chance of that actually happening.

This scenario is perfectly possible of actually happening. Martinelli would be come a virtual prisoner of Panama - akin to Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, who is wanted by the United States as an international terrorist for the murder of US Army Sergeant Zak Hernandez. A few years ago Pedro Miguel Gonzalez was at the pinnacle of his political career as the President of the National Assembly in Panama for the PRD party. Today, he's basically land-locked in Panama, and if he sets foot anywhere else - any number of US agents just might be there waiting for him. Gonzalez turned back into a pumpkin on 1 July 2009, the day the PRD left office and Martinelli took over, and he's been stewing in Panama ever since. So thanks to these charges pending in Italy, Martinelli is looking at a similar fate.

Nah, don't see that happening. I think Martinelli will suck it up and join the PARLACEN. A little bit of egg on your face is better than being a billionaire who's stuck in Panama forever...

What do you think? Will Martinelli join the PARLACEN? Will he return to Italy to face the music? Or, will he simply hunker down inside of Panama in a virtual "house arrest"? Because, those are basically his only three options, unless I'm missing something...

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Italian Justice Planning To Investigate Martinelli - Who Says He's "Pissing Myself Laughing"

CorruptionPresident Ricardo Martinelli will face Italian justice, according to judicial sources.

Martinelli will be prosecuted by the Prosecutor of Naples for the alleged international extortion of the Italian company Impregilo.

And for this, according to the sources, the prosecutors will wait until his term in office ends.

Also, yesterday the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported Martinelli "will be charged in Naples once he leaves office for an alleged international extortion case...".

The sources clarified that Martinelli and businessman Rogelio Oruña have the condition of being "investigated" and, therefore, they have been implicated for alleged extortion, as has Valter Lavítola.

Oruña and Martinelli were cited by the defense attorneys representing Lavítola to testify in favor of his former friend.

Yesterday the president wrote via his Twitter account, after learning of the virtual accusation against him, "I piss myself laughing every time they they rewrite this bad Italian novel." (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Interesting question. When Martinelli leaves office he will automatically become a member of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). Martinelli famously called the Parlacen a "den of immunity" when he was leading the charge for Panama to withdraw from the organization.

In fact, Martinelli was simply pissed off, because the PRD controlled Electoral Tribunal had decided against his Cambio Democratico candidates prior to the 2009 election. As a result they did not appear on the ballot, and the PRD candidates won.

Martinelli then set off on a rampage to shut down the offices, not pay bills, and formally withdraw from the Parlacen. Meanwhile they launched a series of legal challenges in the Supreme Court (which the eventually won.) The PRD guys were removed and replaced by the CD guys. Then, Panama dropped their efforts to leave the Parlacen.

So now Martinelli will automatically become a regional representative in the Parlacen for five years, on the day he leaves office. This gives him immunity from prosecution, which is why the Italian prosecutors in Naples can make all of the plans they want against him. And it's also why Martinelli can "piss himself laughing" when he reads these things, because he knows he's basically untouchable.

Finally, with regards to this article, remember that it comes from the La Prensa newspaper. They are now doing everything they can to score as many points as possible against Martinelli before the election. Meanwhile, Martinelli's approval rating among the Panamanian populace is reaching 80%. La Prensa is desperately trying to help their guy, Juan Carlos Varela. Mostly because I. Roberto Eisenmann knows he's screwed on many levels if Arias wins.

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Former (PRD) Minister of Agricultural Development Convicted And Sentenced To Prison

CorruptionThe Fifth Circuit Criminal Court convicted the former Minister of Agricultural Development Alejandro Posse Martinz of the crime of "theft with breach of trust" and issued a sentence of 20 months imprisonment against him.

Posse Martinz was criminally charged in the Public Ministry by the Tenth Circuit Prosecutor, who successfully proved he received check number 0481 for $22,624.09 on 15 December 2005 and check number 0850 for $24,224.56 on 15 November 2006, for "financial assistance" that had been approved by the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA).

The court observed, according to the ruling issued by Judge Enrique Paniza Morales, through resolution No. DAL-432-ADM-2005, issued by the MIDA and adopted on the recommendation of the National Commission for Agricultural Transformation, that in face the direct recipient of the up to $100,000 in financial assistance was Luis Posse Martinz representing the company Carinthia SA.

Posse Martinz remained as the legal representation of the company Carinthia SA, and the financial assistance granted to the company should have been communicated to them and some benefit should have gone to the company.

The judgment determined that the company Carinthia SA was the beneficiary of the grant, and not Alejandro Posse Martinz.

A check for funds corresponding to a repayment was issued by the company Carinthia SA and were deposited in an account held by a third party, although those funds should have been entered into a fund or account held by the company. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: You can ignore the details of this case, because they are not important. What is important is the timing of the headline. Remember when those PRD guys were running the country? Well, the guy who used to be in charge of the MIDA was just sentenced to 20 months in prison for stealing public funds! Gasp! The shock! The horror of it all! A crooked Panamanian politician? Who wudda thunkit?

The CD is holding back a few more last minute announcements to remind everyone how corrupt the PRD was while Martin Torrijos was in power. Doing this is the other side of the Martinelli political equation. On one hand you build stuff and make yourself look as good as possible. On the other hand you go after your political rivals and make them look as bad as possible.

Timing is important. It makes no sense to have this sort of headline in the middle of January, because no one would have noticed or cared. But having it appear in the headlines 26 days before the election might have some sort of an impact at the polls. Not much, but every vote counts, right?

And if the magic curtain is ever pulled back to the point where you can see exactly how much public money the CD is packing away, you'd be dumbfounded. Corruption in Panamanian politics is a common denominator, so you can simply eliminate it from your decision making process (because no matter who is in charge, they are guaranteed 100% to be corrupt, and they will be stealing public funds, no matter what.)

Martinelli has set a few new standards in that category as well. But of course no one will ever investigate any of that, because he owns the entire government, judiciary, and Public Ministry, from top to bottom. His position will continue to solidify and consolidate after Arias gets elected. The CD is in position to own Panama for a very long time indeed.

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SocGen Faces Bribery Claims in Libya Wealth Fund Suit

CorruptionBy Kit Chellel - The Libyan Investment Authority said in a $1.5 billion lawsuit that Societe Generale SA paid about $58 million to a friend of the Qaddafi family to secure investments.

The payments to a Panama-based company owned by Walid Giahmi, who was friends with the son of deposed Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi, had no real purpose and were kept secret from the LIA board, according to court documents filed in London.

They were made with the aim of “influencing the LIA’s decision to enter into each and every one of the disputed trades through the payment of bribes,” the LIA said in the documents.

Libya’s $60 billion sovereign wealth fund is one of dozens of small companies and government agencies that have sued lenders over deals the investors claim were too complicated to understand. The LIA also filed a Jan. 21 lawsuit against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), saying the bank made about $350 million selling it derivatives that turned out to be worthless.

An e-mail to three SocGen spokesman in France seeking comment didn’t get an immediate response.

By the time Qaddafi was deposed and killed in a 2011 coup, the wealth fund he helped establish had built up about $60 billion from the selling of the country’s oil reserves. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month requested information from hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC (OZM) as part of a probe into several firms’ links to the LIA.

“This claim, together with the one against Goldman Sachs that was initiated in January 2014, reflects the desire of the LIA’s new board of directors to redress previous wrongs and seek the recovery of these substantial funds as it seeks to invest and generate wealth for the people of Libya,” said AbdulMagid Breish, the LIA’s chairman, in an e-mail.

The LIA said in court documents from the SocGen suit it didn’t know exactly how the corruption worked or who received the bribes, but it believed then-executives at the LIA “received payments or other personal benefits.”

Giahmi, a Libyan who was friends with Qaddafi’s son Saif and now lives in Dubai, was the owner of Panama-based Leinada Inc., according to the LIA claim. While there’s no evidence the company provided any real advisory services, it was paid a “success fee” in relation to the investments, the LIA said.

Giahmi was a director at U.K. company W.M.T Property Developments Ltd., according to the companies register. The company was wound up in 2012 by insolvency firm Ian Franses Associates. Franses declined to provide contact details for Giahmi in an e-mail, saying his work was confidential.

SocGen “knew or at the very least suspected that the Leinada payments were fraudulent and corrupt payments as described above, but chose not to make further enquiries,” the LIA said in its court documents.

The case is: The Libyan Investment Authority v Societe Generale SA (GLE), High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division Commercial Court, 14-260.

Editor's Comment: So the (now dead) dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011 (42 years) - spent most of his time sucking oil money out of the ground. He managed to stash 60 billion dollars, and and now his son is using Panama based companies to pay bribes in exchange for contracts. Great. Sure, that makes Panama look better on the International scene - the place where scumbag dictators go to launder their ill-gotten booty. And by the way, today Libya's GDP per capita (PPP) is no better than it was when Muammar Qaddafi took over. In fact, Panama is doing better in this category which means the Panamanian people are "richer" than the Libyan people - even without the oil money. Because they never got the oil money, the dead scumbag dictator did.

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Navarro Was The "Most Corrupt in Panama" According To US Report

CorruptionIn relation to a banking transaction between the Municipality of Panama and Banistmo Inc. for $25 million for the purchase of the Hatillo building and other ghost investments, the US Embassy in Panama already had several reports about Juan Carlos Navarro, who at the time was the Mayor of Panama City Juan Carlos Navarro, who today is the PRD's presidential candidate.

On May 31, 2006 William Eaton, who was the US Ambassador to Panama at the time, reported to the State Department of the United States that the comptroller at the time, Dani Kuzniecky identified Mayor Navarro as the most corrupt official in what was the administration of PRD president Martin Torrijos.

In the cable, made public by WikiLeaks, Eaton reported to Washington DC his concerns about the increasing rate of corruption in the Torrijos government.

Kuzniecky said he had identified the two most corrupt institutions of this administration: the first was the office of the Mayor of Panama City, being run by Navarro; and the second most corrupt was the Maritime Authority of Panama, being run by Ruben Arosemena.

Before this report, Eaton had sent an earlier cable in which he wrote of Navarro's intention to buy the Hatillo building for $15 million.

Eaton said Kuzniecky saw no sense in Navarro buying a building that was more than 40 years old when he could by something better.

"Why would anyone want to pay $15 million for an old building, when you can build a new one for less money?" Kuzniecky told Ambassador Eaton, months before Navarro finalized the purchase of the Hatillo building in order to move the headquarters of the Municipality of Panama City there.

Ambassador Eaton's cable, leaked by WikiLeaks, coincided with the financial move made by Navarro in 2006, and as a result today the Municipality of Panama City is still paying off the debt, including interest, of more than $38 million.

Kuzniecky was not the only high-ranking official who called Navarro corrupt, during his ten year tenure as the Mayor of Panama City from 1999 - 2009.

Both President Ricardo Martinelli and Vice President Juan Carlos Varela have also called him corrupt.

In June last year Martinelli said there is no one who is more corrupt than him, referring to Navarro and his tenure as Mayor.

And this year Varela said Navarro is a clear example of the corruption that Panamanians reject.

"We will not make an alliance with people who are looking to do business while in power in order to continue to divert the funds that belong to the Panamanian people," Varela said.

The Defense

Navarro tried to justify that banking movement made during his tenure as mayor.

"With this loan the projects were developed to perfection. Everything was done exactly as it was, everything was properly certified by the Comptroller," said Navarro to the Panama America newspaper.

He said the Hatillo building turned out to be "an extraordinary investment " for the Municipality and for Panama, because now it is worth four to five times more than what was paid.

"Thank God we did it, because if we had not, the Municipality would have remained in the dilapidated garage where it was when I took over as Mayor. All of the professionals, engineers, and developers agree that was the best investment ever made ​​by the Municipality of Panama, probably in its history, " Navarro said.

He also said he did the right thing with the building that became the headquarters of the Dimaud.

However, there is no infrastructure at the site, and the documents reveal that so far, the Cleanliness Authority, which has replaced the old Dimaud, has failed to recuperate the funding that Navarro transferred at the time in the Municipality of Panama.

The Cleaning Authority registers it as an old account that's difficult to recover.

Harmodios Montaner, the former director of the Dimaud, said most of the $9 million dollar loan they inherited from the Navarro administration went to pay off suppliers, of which there were no details.

The Facts

In 2006, Navarro, overriding the rules the and warnings issued by the Comptroller General of the Republic, Dani Kuzniecky, indebted the Municipality of Panama City with two private loans payable in 10 years to buy the old building, and to fund other investments that were never completed.

Almost all of the money went into petty cash which the Navarro administration used during his term in office at the head of the Municipality of Panama City.

In the middle of all this, there were transfers of funds and the advance payment of contracts, although the comptroller Kuzniecky had spoken out against these movements.

The old Municipal Directorate of Urban and Household Cleanliness (Dimaud) took out a loan for 9 million dollars which was used for the purchase of new garbage trucks, and for the construction of a new headquarters building in the area of ​​Cerro Patacón for 1.2 million dollars, which was never executed. This was the most affected entity.


Having the funds from the loan, Navarro began to pay in advance for contracts handed out to several contractors, including the consortium Termotécnica Proinpetrol.

On August 25, 2006, the comptroller Kuzniecky stopped Navarro and prevented him from paying advances to the company because it was supposed to be a turnkey contract, in which the contractor had to submit one account at the end of the project once all work was complete.

On October 25, 2006, Kuzniecky again called attention to Navarro, because he continued to fund the company, contrary to what was stipulated in the contract.

Mayor Navarro simply ignored the calls being made by the comptroller, a situation that was reflected in the management of other projects funded with money from these two loans.

Navarro asked the Comptroller General's office to open an official checking account in the Banco Nacional of Panama, to be used exclusively for the management of operations for the monthly payments to the contractors who were linked to the projects that were financed by the loans made by Banistmo Inc.

The comptroller Kuzniecky refused this request because he said it violated the second clause of the contract with the bank.

So Navarro simply waited until Francisco Rodriguez took over as the new Comptroller, in order to obtain the endorsement from the Comptroller for the checking account at the bank, and in that way he was able to channel the funds from the bank credit loan as he saw fit. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Remember, this newspaper (Panama America) is owned and operated by Ricardo Martinelli. Their job is to publish "news" articles that make Martinelli and Arias look good, and which make guys like Navarro and the PRD look bad. This article is clearly designed to revive and old scandal from 2006 and to paint Navarro as a corrupt politician. They want to try to remind the Panamanian voters of exactly how corrupt Navarro was when he was the Mayor of Panama City. The fact of the matter is that all Panamanian politicians, every one of them, from every political party - are corrupt. There are no exceptions. The political class wants to be in power because that's where the money is. No administration in the history of the country has let more government contracts than Ricardo Martinelli - which means he's stolen more public funds than anyone else. The CD is no better than the PRD or the Panameñistas, they are all equally corrupt. Martinelli is just better at it, that's all. So anyway, take this "corruption" chatter with a grain of salt, and consider the source.

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PRD's Navarro Demands Appointment Of Special Prosecutor In Finmeccanica Case

CorruptionThe presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Juan Carlos Navarro, is demanding that Panama's Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor to reopen the investigation into the alleged corruption case involving the president, Ricardo Martinelli, and the Italian company Finmeccanica.

"It is up to the Panamanians get to the bottom of this scandal. In the case file held by the prosecutor in Italy, it is emphasized that the defendants participated in a complex corruption scheme that directly links President Ricardo Martinelli and other political figures of the current administration to collecting bribes for the sale of helicopters, digital mapping services, and radar equipment," he said.

Navarro made his statements just hours after the Italian justice system decided to send Paolo Pozzessere Paolo and Valter Lavítola to trial for this case.

"It's the first time in history a European citizen has been called to trial for having paid bribes to a sitting President. The world now sees us as a country where public officials have a price, starting with the President," he added.

Faced with Navarro's request, Panama's Attorney General Ana Belfon dismissed the idea of reopening the investigation, saying she does not have "documentary evidence, or evidence of any kind (indicating) there is a Panamanian who is the subject of an investigation in that country."

However, Belfon said the Panamanian government will collaborate with the Italian justice system, if they request assistance.

Hours after learning about the events in Italy, president Ricardo Martinelli refused to comment on the issue while attending an event to inaugurate the new "Merca Panama" Food Market.

He said "I do not want to talk more of this drivel, let's talk about what you want," and he called the case a "badly translated soap opera."

At the end of the afternoon, via his Twitter account Martinelli released a private conversation between the president of the PRD, Benicio Robinson, and former President of the National Electoral Commission of the PRD Darisnel Espino, in which they were discussing the Lavitola case.

Editor's Comment: First of all, the Finmeccanica case was an attempted bribery. If the whole Lavitola blackmail scandal had not broken in Italy, then they would have gone through with it. However Lavitola was all over the headlines, so the Panamanian government officials had enough time to "adjust" the Finmeccanica contract to remove the money that was going to be paid as bribes and kickbacks.

Question - Why doesn't the La Prensa newspaper ever mention the fact that it was their boy - the Panameñista presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela who actually put this whole Finmeccanica deal together. When it all blew up, then Martinelli fired Varela from his position as Foreign Minister, broke the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas, and threw all of the Panameñistas out of this administration. This is also why Bosco Vallarino (remember him?) was leveraged out of his position as the Mayor of Panama City. This whole thing came about because the really corrupt politicians were the Panameñistas. And this is also why it's always the PRD who's screaming for an investigation, because they were "outside" of this deal and had nothing to do with it.

And of course Martinelli was going to get paid millions of dollars as well, and he was going along with the deal. But he has his own problems, like the fact that he's still regularly and routinely recording the private conversations of this political adversaries, and releasing them via Twitter as if it's nothing ("a'la Nixon"). No matter what, you have to love Panamanian politicians - it's like watching a never ending fish tank of entertaining crap...

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Lavitola Case (Bribery of Panamaninan Government Officials) To Resume in Italy Tomorrow

CorruptionThe preliminary hearing in Italy on the alleged bribery of Panamanian authorities by the former director of the Italian newspaper "Avanti" Valter Lavitola and others is scheduled to resume tomorrow.

The process involves the investigation of alleged bribes paid by the former director of Finmeccanica, Paolo Pozzessere, and the former collaborator of the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Valter Lavitola, to Panamanian government officials in return for obtaining government contracts.

The case, which has splashed onto the President of Panama Ricardo Martinelli, who rejects these versions of the events, appears in the investigations for international corruption and blackmail that the Prosecutor of Naples is running against Lavitola.

The investigators are trying to clarify the agreements signed between Italy and Panama in August 2010 to buy equipment from the Italian companies Selex, Telespazio, and Augusta - companies controlled by Finmeccanica.

The investigation also attempts to clarify if Lavitola was able to pay bribes to the Panamanian officials in order to obtain the government contract worth 176 million euros (245 million dollars) in order to carry out projects that were never performed.

The preliminary hearing of the trial began on March 4, in which the prosecutor Paolo Ielo accused Pozzesere and Lavitola of the offenses of corruption, the illegal diversion of funds abroad, and bribery.

After listening to the defense counsel representing the accused, the judge in the preliminary hearing, Maria Bonaventura, decided to postpone the case and to hold a new hearing tomorrow, on 18 March.

Last Wednesday, Lativola, who is in prison for having blackmailed the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, testified in another case in which he is involved.

That case has to do with an investigation into the alleged payment of three million euros (4.1 million dollars) to Senator Sergio De Gregorio in 2007, to precipitate the fall of the administration of Romano Prodi, who at the time was the rival of Silvio Berlusconi, who is also being investigated in the case.

During his testimony, Lavitola said he would collaborate with the Italian justice system if his collaboration would gain him an early release.

"De Gregorio has encouraged me to do as he did: "to make a pact and to put Berlusconi into trouble! That way he will get out of all of the processes," confessed Lavitola during the hearing last Wednesday at Naples (in Southern Italy).

He added "I intend to work with the Prosecutor of Naples. I will say anything that may lead to my release."

Valter Lavitola has been in prison for the past two years, after he was arrested at Rome's Fiumicino airport on April 16, 2012 upon his return from Buenos Aires, where he stayed as a refugee from his problems with the Italian judiciary.

Specifically, he was accused of blackmailing Berlusconi in relation to his parties with women, a case for which he has been sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison.

According to the investigation, the former journalist acted as an intermediary between Berlusconi and the businessman Giampaolo Tarantini, who was presumably responsible for getting the girls who attended the parties thrown by the former prime minister.

According to the prosecutors, Lavitola convinced Tarantini to lie to the judges about the supposed parties held by Berlusconi, with a payment of 500,000 euros. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Yeah, a Panamanian president with an Italian heritage. A loud mouthed Italian prime minister, and Lavitola as the go-between. In fact, the bribes that were going to be paid to the Panamanian authorities never fully materialized. The whole thing blew up in Italy (the case over Lavitola blackmailing Berlusconi) right at the time the Finmeccanica deal in Panama was about to become final. The primary person in Panama who put all of that together was the former Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela - and that's why Martinelli fired him and broke off the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas. I call this whole thing "corruptus interruptus" - because they pulled out before the bribe money was actually paid. With a straight face the Panamanians simply "adjusted" the contract (to remove the money that was going to be paid as kickbacks) after the Lavitola-Berlusconi case blew up and became international news. And now Lavitola is willing to say anything so long as it gets him out of prison. What a nice mess we've going going on here. Corruption in Italy and Panama? I'm shocked!

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Arias Dodges Questions About Electoral Tribunal Data Complaint

CorruptionThe presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party, José Domingo Arias, avoided taking a definite position on the complaint that will be filed by the Electoral Tribunal before the Public Ministry, because they think his campaign used privileged information improperly.

"I understand that the Electoral Tribunal filed a complaint before the Attorney General which is in the hands of the party's legal team, which will give it due course," he said.

Erasmo Pinilla, the presiding judge of the Electoral Tribunal, said the situation is serious that this is the first time "information contained in the institution's database has been used for purposes that have nothing to do with the interests of the country."

CD members only need a cedula number in order to obtain political, social, work, and personal information on any citizen, their children, siblings, parents, and acquaintances.

Magaly Castillo, a lawyer and an active member of civil society, said "there are serious situations that violate the law and tarnished the electoral process."

Meanwhile, Ricardo Martinelli, the President of the Republic, wrote last night on his Twitter account: "free propaganda from judge Pinilla, the opponents and their media increases enrollment in our data acquisition system, thank you." (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I'm not sure that the CD actually did anything wrong here. They have amassed data on Panamanian citizens, mostly from public sources. The questionable part is - how did the data jump over the fence from being in the hands of the Electoral Tribunal, to being in the hands of the Cambio Democratico political party. I think this is mostly a privacy issue, but I think much of the details in the CD's "data acquisition system" comes from simply exploiting existing security weaknesses regarding how personal or private information is stored and held by government agencies. It seems like they started off with a bunch of basic information, then used programs to tie things together, form links among family members and acquaintances, identify political affiliations, etc. They are obviously driven by a desire to know "who's who" for the election process. This will most likely be used to target voters and to get the vote out. And of course on the opposite side of the equation, they know who their enemies are. Martinelli is a control freak, who understands that money is made using intelligence information. This is an intelligence operation, pure and simple.

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APEDE Directors On PRD Payroll During Torrijos Administration

CorruptionFive members of the current Board of Directors of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives (APEDE), were employed or benefited from direct government contracts issued during the last government of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) led by former president Martín Torrijos Espino between 2004 and 2009, reveals a report.

The document, to which the Panama America newspaper had access, details the amounts received and the services offered by these businessmen, who today are adversaries of, and who criticize the actions of the current president Ricardo Martinelli and his colleagues.

In other words, the group of businessmen who today are organizing a forum featuring the presidential candidates from the opposition political parties as the only participants, received lucrative salaries from a special fund under the United Nations Program for Development.

For example, David Saied Torrijos, a longtime PRD activist and current member of the APEDE, received fees of $198,250 in just three years.

This salary was earned by serving as the Director of the Technical Unit for Public Policy, of the Ministry of Economy and Finance between October 16, 2004 and December 31, 2007.

Meanwhile, Aramburú Porras and Associates, the consulting firm owned by Fernando Aramburú Porras, who is the current chairman of the APEDE, billed $93,975 for two consulting contracts for real estate and public offices.

Both economic agreements occurred between December 2005 and December 2006. The contract between the company of Aramburú Porras and the government of Panama, worth $44,100 lasted only seven months.

In other words, this man who is now questioning the contracts issued by the government of Ricardo Martinelli, was paid $6,300 for each of the seven months of the contract, which did not go through any sort of competition or bidding process, an official report reveals.

Other members of the APEDE also appear on the list, such as Carlos Ernesto González Ramírez and Aristides Hernández, who had contracts for two and three months for $20,000 and $17,000 respectively.

Besides these, Luisa Turolla was hired by the Secretariat of "Compita" Program of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) receiving $14,000 per month.

According to Irvin Halman, the former President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Panama, this practice is dangerous because there are people who say one thing, but in practice they do something else.

"As an entrepreneur and a citizen one must be consistent in their actions and attitudes," he said. Halman added that the fact of signing a contract with the State is not sinful as long as there is no conflict of interest.

According to the businessman Gaspar García de Paredes, who has links to the business associations of the country, they should criticize when anomalies occur in contracts."They should criticize when due process is not met in a bidding process or contest, or if in one way or the other a business or a natural person makes a contract with the state."

Finally, Garcia de Paredes said this type of activity must have the necessary transparency. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Once again, this article appeared in the Panama America newspaper, which is basically owned and operated by the government of Ricardo Martinelli. It's not journalism but rather political propaganda. And of course, the facts contained in the article are true and accurate. The current leadership of the APEDE is solidly in the PRD camp - because they got paid a lot of money by the PRD when they were in power. Those same "business leaders" are currently launching criticism against the administration of the CD and Ricardo Martinelli - mostly because he's not giving them contracts. If they were to "switch sides" then of course they would be getting paid again, and then they would shut the hell up. But that's not likely to happen, so what we are left with is this public bickering over which administration is the most corrupt. It's not news - all Panamanian politicians are corrupt. The level of corruption has basically been the same during the administrations of Mireya Moscoso (1999 - 2004), Martin Torrijos (2004 - 2009), and now Ricardo Martinelli (2009 -2014). So that means corruption is nothing more than a common denominator - so it should just be accepted as standard practice and ignored when trying to decide who to put in office. Martinelli is no better, or no worse, than any of his predecessors in this regard. Well, they've let more contracts, so he's been able to steal more. That just means he's better at it...

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Valter Lavítola Going To Trial For International Corruption

CorruptionValter Lavítola, the key link between the government of Panama and Finmeccanica, and Paolo Pozzessere, the former commercial director of massive Italian aerospace and defense company, will face trial as the accused in court number 10 of the court of Rome on 4 March 2014.

The prestigious prosecutor Paolo Ielo accuses them of international corruption for having attempted to divert up to 18 million dollars in bribes, "an amount that the recipients - the President of the Republic of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, and other government political figures who he said he would identify - covertly, and in any case hidden", according to the conclusion of the final investigation.

This is the preliminary hearing at which the parties involved will set their positions, and at which the prosecutor will make public the requested sentence for those accused of the supposed crimes of corruption in Panama.

After the hearing, the judge will resolve all the issues raised and, if necessary, set the date for the next hearing or, ultimately, the judge may determine that the prosecutors should continue to investigate the crime and bring more evidence.

According to confidential documents to which La Prensa has had access, Valter Lavítola was the center of the political-administrative relations in the Italy, Finmeccanica, Panama triangle, and he created the company Agafea Corp., SA "in the ultimate and effective interest of Ricardo Martinelli," adds the document.

Rome prosecutors determined in the summary that the President of Panama was "the hidden economic beneficiary and final recipient " of the bribes that would have been paid by the Italian companies Telespazio, Agusta Westland and Selex - the companies of Finmecannica - to Agafia Corp, S.A., for counseling and consulting.

However, Martinelli appears as a "passive part to the corruption" and he is "not punishable" because he is a foreigner, because of his diplomatic immunity, and because the crimes being investigated were not committed in Italy.

The offenses date back to 2010, when the Government of Panama signed, as part of a security agreement with Italy, a contract worth about $250 million Finmeccanica to supply six helicopters, 19 radar sets, and digital mapping services.

In another case, in the coming days prosecutors in Naples will set the date for the trial for the alleged corruption involving the failed construction of modular prisons in Panama by the Italian company Svemark, as well as in the Impregilo case in which Lavitola also appears as the accused and in which Martinelli appears as the subject of the so called "passive corruption" but he is "not punishable."

Finmeccanica, the Italian company in which the Italian government holds a 30% interest, has several ongoing legal cases.

The Court of Busto Arsizio, in northern Italy, is trying Giuseppe Orsi, the former Chairman of Finmeccanica, and Bruno Spagnolini, the former administrator of Agusta Westland, of international corruption, because they would have paid bribes of up to $69 million to senior Government officials in India to obtain a contract to sell 12 helicopters for $759 million, also in 2010.

The latest corruption scandal involving Finmeccanica takes us to the capital of Nigeria, Lagos.

Naples prosecutors opened an investigation into the alleged payment of bribes to government officials, precisely based on evidence brought to light by several numbered accounts in Switzerland belonging to Paolo Pozzessere. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: La Prensa won't be saying any time soon that the real key player in this entire scandal was Juan Carlos Varela, the presidential candidate for the Panameñista party. This newspaper La Prensa is trying to get him elected, so they are focusing completely on Ricardo Martinelli. They fail to mention that Martinelli fired Varela, precisely because it was Varela who set this whole Finmeccanica thing up, and who brought all of these problems into their camp. This scandal is the real reason why the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas fell apart on 30 August 2011.

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Panama Needs to Clean Up Its Act

Corruption(A Bloomberg Editorial) With the world’s second-largest free-trade zone, Latin America’s fourth-busiest airport, four container-vessel seaports, the Pan-American Highway and numerous free-trade agreements, Panama is on its way to becoming the Singapore of the Americas.

And as Eric Sabo reports in the March issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, the expansion of the Panama Canal now under way “is only part of the massive infrastructure spending that is propelling the Panamanian economy.”

Yet to reap the full benefits of such investment, and to address one of the hemisphere’s worst cases of economic inequality, Panama needs to follow Singapore’s lead in fighting corruption.

Singapore ranked fifth out of 177 countries in last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International (the higher the rating, the less corruption); Panama was 102nd -- a drop of almost 20 places from the previous year’s index.

Executives surveyed by the World Economic Forum have pegged corruption as Panama’s biggest problem for business.

Many of the qualities that have made Panama a hub for global trade and finance also attract malefactors. Drug cartels from Mexico and Colombia take advantage of its location, dollarized economy and free-trade zones to move their products and launder their proceeds.

Panama’s low tax rates (including no wealth or foreign income taxes) make it a haven for those seeking to shelter or hide assets.

Revenues from the canal and huge investments in infrastructure -- a five-year public investment program of as much as $15 billion amounted to more than 50 percent of Panama’s 2010 gross domestic product -- feed temptations for misappropriation, bid-rigging and bribery.

And notwithstanding five successive elected civilian governments since the 1989 U.S. intervention that toppled General Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama’s civil institutions and democratic culture remain weak.

Its judiciary is seen as lacking political independence: In 2012, the World Economic Forum placed it 132nd out of 144 countries in that regard.

The news media faces intimidation and harassment.

And President Ricardo Martinelli’s administration has been marked by scandals and efforts to amass executive power. As one U.S. diplomatic cable put it, the president “may be willing to set aside the rule of law in order to achieve his political and developmental goals.”

This May’s presidential elections offer Panamanians a chance to bring in a new administration that would attack corruption with greater urgency.

It could start with transparency -- for example, by posting online more details on corporate ownership and taking other steps recommended by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Panama also has yet to sign on to the World Trade Organization’s government procurement agreement, which would ease concerns about underhanded dealings on billions of dollars in contracts.

Strengthening Panama’s judiciary and building up anti-corruption institutions will take time; in the interim, a few aggressive prosecutions of cases involving corruption and abuses of authority would be a good down payment on reforms to follow.

What has made tiny Singapore such a success is not just its freedom of commerce, after all, but also its outsized commitment to following the rules.

Editor's Comment: Nice thoughts, but it's not going to happen. The problem is that all three of the main presidential candidates are basically equal when it comes to corruption. Panamanians have already tried the Panameñista (Arnulfista) party in Mireya Moscoso - and her administration was seen as one of the most corrupt in the countries history (and, that's saying something.)

The PRD had their turn in office - twice - from 1994 to 1999 with Ernesto Perez Balladares and from 2004 to 2009 with Martin Torrijos. They proved to be no better than the Panameñistas. The news headlines over the past several years have been filled with a steady stream of complaints and legal actions against the corruption activities of these past PRD administrations.

That left the door open to the Democratic Change party and Ricardo Martinelli. His strategy has been simple. They decided early on they would simply build more and get more done in five years in office than in the previous 40 - and then they actually pulled it off. The list of completed infrastructure projects is impressive - and so is the amount of money they've been making off of those contracts.

So the bottom line remains the same. Corruption in Panama among politicians becomes a common denominator, so therefore it gets zeroed out in the political calculus. Panamanian voters already know all politicians are corrupt, so they can stop wasting their time trying to hire someone who is not.

Jose Domingo Arias is now poised to win the election in 2014 and for the first time since the end of the dictatorship era, a political party will "repeat" in office or stay in power after a five year term. That means the CD will end up having appointed each and every judge on the Supreme Court. They will own every judge on the Electoral Tribunal. They will own the Attorney General, and Electoral prosecutor. In fact they already have control of practically every position of power worth having, and those they don't hold now, they will have after the 2014 elections. Their span of control over the Judicial system continues to strengthen every day.

So, clean up corruption in Panama? Dude, what are you smoking? Why shut down the party right after the first round of tequila shooters? Things are just getting warmed up, and it's only going to get worse.

It's a great time to be a CD party loyalist, and a really (really) bad time for anyone with a PRD tattoo. The Panameñista party will continue its amazing shrinking act and will eventually contract down to meaninglessness underscored by insignificance. The CD's allies the MOLIRENA party will continue to grow and prosper as their wingman. The new FAD party and Independent candidates will suck up the left wing radical fringe voters, and will never have a chance of assuming power.

But I agree with the basic premise of this editorial. Corruption is bad in Panama. Cases are investigated and tried selectively as political weapons against opponents - so what little anti-corruption action you do see, even that is tainted. I've been chanting for years that "there's no judicial security in Panama" so don't expect to be able to take your case to the courts and win, because you won't win. The Panamanian on the other side has more money and connections than you do, so you're going to lose. It's a problem, but external pressure isn't going to make it go away. It's not going to be significantly reduced any time soon.

Expect corruption in Panama to get worse, before it gets better. And that's also saying something...

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Security Minister Mulino Warns About Drug Money In Politics

Corruption Three months before the general election of May 4, Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino, again warned about the incursion of drug money in Panamanian politics.

Mulino, who appeared before the National Assembly yesterday to deliver his report for 2013, stated that "the warning continues," without specifying which politicians could be receiving political contributions from drug traffickers.

"To every politician who has asked me, the recommendation I've made is - as a candidate or political party, place a lot of emphasis on overseeing what the (political) activists contract, so there will be no issues of gang rivalries among activists. We hope you have the necessary awareness of the seriousness of it, because it is stretching to our country as has happened in neighboring countries ," he said.

Mulino even called the list of private donors that candidates have to submit to the Electoral Tribunal a "cosmetic issue," because the candidates provide only the information they want to submit.

"It's another kind of money - off this list, the thing with which we have to very careful. Especially, so that the dramas occurring in other countries do not exist in Panama, where criminal gangs are the governing territories. There are donors ... and other donors. There are lists ... and no lists. There must be a lot of responsibility," he said.

Mulino said he has given non judicial information to the Attorney General Ana Belfon, who says over time it can help to prosecute these cases, with their own investigations conducted by the Public Ministry and the Direction of Judicial Investigation.

This is not the first time Mulino has spoken out about this topic.

On previous occasions, and without naming names, he warned about the possible incursion of money from drug traffickers into the campaigns of presidential candidates, and candidates for the National Assembly.

When speaking about his time in office, Mulino said crime rates are down, and he asked for the lawmakers not to see the issue of crime only in murders, because there are other important areas and types of crimes that have decreased from 2009 until now. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Allow me to translate. When Mulino says they have turned over "non judicial information" to the Attorney General, what that means is they have illegal recordings from cellular telephone conversations containing details about corrupt politicians receiving bribes or "campaign contributions" from drug traffickers and money launderers. Panama has some technical ability to intercept cellular phones in the country. They can plug in a number and monitor all activity - voice, data, and movements.

But what's even more likely is - the government of the United States and the NSA (or other outside intelligence agencies) have been providing detailed information regarding these sorts of activities to the government of Panama. Mulino, is the Public Security Minister, would be one of the few people in the Government of Panama who would receive that sort of a briefing. Add President Martinelli and the Minister of the Presidency to that list - but it's a short list.

Now, it's practically impossible under Panamanian law for the Attorney General to run out and arrest a political candidate based on NSA intercepts. It's equally illegal for the Attorney General to run out an arrest a candidate based on - illegal domestic wiretaps conducted and collected by the Panamanian government. Notice in this article where the Attorney General said they would use this "non judicial" information as a springboard for them to launch their own investigations. Translation = "now that we know who is dirty, we can try to dig up enough on them using our own investigatory powers to be able to prove it - without the need for the NSA wiretaps..."

It should surprise absolutely no one to learn drug traffickers are spending their money to buy politicians in Panama and to fund their campaigns. It's been happening all over Latin America for decades, and Panama is no different.

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The "Kangaroo Scandal" Claims Its First Victim

Corruption The ball is bouncing and the scandal spreads, over the allegations of offers of money to the leader of the youth of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) Felix Moulanier, for him to change from the PRD in order to join the MOLIRENA political party.

A text message on cellphone and a tweet, released yesterday, took the case to the center of the political stage.

At 3:52 pm yesterday afternoon president Ricardo Martinelli announced via Twitter he had accepted the resignation of the director of the National Lottery, Emilio Somoza, who has been wrapped in the so-called "Kangaroo Scandal" for having offered money and politically appointed positions (jobs) to the leader of youth of the PRD in exchange for him jumping ranks to the MOLIRENA political party.

"I just accept the resignation of the Director General of the National Lottery of Panama," Martinelli wrote.

Last Friday - just minutes before Moulanier filed a formal complaint over the alleged bribes before the Electoral Prosecutor - president Martinelli wrote via Twitter "if there is evidence of what is being denounced by Mr. Moulanier, the Director of the the National Lottery of Panama will be immediately fired."

Somoza did not wait for the conclusion of the investigation, and he left the position he held since last October, when he replaced the President of the MOLIRENA party, Sergio González Ruiz.

His Resignation Is Not Enough

The social networks exploded with comments following Somoza's resignation.

The former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez was one of the first to call for the investigation requested by Moulanier.

"Faced with what happened in front of the Electoral Tribunal with the Director of the National Lottery, it's good that he resigned, but it's not enough. There should be an investigation," she said.

The opinion expressed by the former Electoral Tribunal judge Guillermo Márquez Amado was similar to that of Gomez.

"The resignation of the director of the Lottery should not mean that the investigation should be suspended," he said.

Márquez Amado added that "the one who should resign is the Electoral Prosecutor."

Yesterday afternoon the secretary of the Electoral Prosecutor, Juan Alvarado, said an investigation has been started in this case.

Somoza, in a brief statement issued by the Presidency of the Republic, said he resigned to devote time to clear his name of what he calls 'false accusations.'

"Kangaroos" in Panamanian Politics

Three days after the scandal broke, Moulanier appeared on television where he displayed a conversation via text chat, in which he receives the alleged offer to abandon the opposition group.

The conversation displayed by Moulainer was with Eduardo Lamphery, who also claimed to be a member of the PRD.

"Brother," - says the conversation displayed by Moulanier - "50k for you to switch, and five positions for your wife and family members. Two positions of $2,000 (per month) and three of $500 (per month). It's right now. He's already talked to the HD president and SGR."

According to Moulanier, that was part of the offer made to him by the MOLIRENA party for him to resign from the PRD and to support the candidate of the ruling Democratic Change party, José Domingo Arias.

Moulainer's complaint received an immediate response from Lamphrey. He was clear when he said "I take responsibility for the chat, but I do not take responsibility for the conversation."

About the content of the conversation with Moulanier, Lamphrey explained that the "50k" mentioned in the chat "did not refer to money, but rather I was talking about 50 kangaroos."

This, he added, was part of the "jokes" he exchanged with Moulanier, who supported his campaign to become the Secretary of the Youth of the PRD.

Such discussions should not be presented in this way (on TVN and Telemetro) and must appear in court, said the lawyer and PRD member, and he challenged the complainant to prove the chat was his (from Lamphrey.)

The lawyer's explanation continued. "HD and SGR are people who I do not know," he replied when he was asked about the meaning of the initials.

For a similar case of a payment for someone to jump from one political party to another, there are those who dare to predict the outcome of the complaint filed by the PRD party member.

Aurelio Alonso, the Representative from Pajonal who denounced the bribery of Gabriel De Janon, said the Electoral Prosecutor will investigate, but he will do so in order to clear the names of those who are members of the ruling government party. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: "50k" means "50 kangaroos". That's rich. I love it when corrupt politicians are caught red handed. They say the funniest things with a straight face, and they expect us to just believe them at their word. These guys were flat-out buying political support with cash and jobs. The really funny part is - this isn't news. It's the way the Panamanian political machine has functioned for generations.

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Director of National Lottery Resigns

CorruptionLast Friday, Emilio Somoza, the Director of the National Lottery, presented his letter of resignation. President Ricardo Martinelli officially accepted his resignation. President Martinelli confirmed the information through his Twitter account. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: This is the guy who was left standing red-faced on the steps of the Electoral Tribunal, when supposedly the PRD Director of Youth was going to jump over to the MOLIRENA political party. That all blew up once the television cameras were rolling, and instead the PRD guy accused Somoza of having offered him money and political appointments (positions) within the Lottery if he would switch teams. And the next day, he resigned from his post for having embarrassed Martinelli's government.

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Punta Chame Residents Ask Judge To Expand Accusations

CorruptionThe Association of Friends of Punta Chame have asked the Fourth Criminal Court to expand the accusations being made in their case to include the former Director of Land Titling of the National Land Management Authority, Anabelle Villamonte, in the case involving her and three others for the granting of free land titles in the community.

The association, assisted by lawyer Donaldo Sousa, presented their request by filing a formal opposition to the prosecutor's opinion in the case, submitted by the Fifth Circuit Prosecutor on 26 July 2013.

In the prosecutor's opinion, the prosecution asked for the prosecution of the accused for the crime of falsification (forgery), but the Punta Chame residents claim they are also guilty of abuse of authority, influence peddling, and crimes against the environment.

According to their appeal, the prosecutor failed in its duty to fully investigate the case by ignoring evidence which support and prove the crimes that were committed.

They warn that the land which was granted to the company Puntabeach Interprises - measuring 9,381 square meters - never ceased being a public property, because when it was awarded it was little more than a sandbank.

What's more, it was an area used for recreation people, and it is also a nesting place for marine species, the basis for the charges of environmental crimes.

As for the offenses of abuse of authority and influence peddling, their appeal alleges there is sufficient evidence in the record which prove the irregularities that were committed.

But the prosecutor Ruth Morcillo dismissed the environmental offenses, arguing that when the land was was transferred it was not a public property, and she also denied the charge of abuse of authority saying summary evidence was not provided.

In addition to Villamonte, José Aristides Calderón, José Eleno Abad, and Marcelino Ramos are also accused in this case.

Editor's Comment: There is no judicial security in Panama. Let me say that again, because this is a very important issue. THERE IS NO JUDICIAL SECURITY IN THE REPUBLIC OF PANAMA! If you remember I broke this case a long time ago, and it's still being fondled by the judicial system. The people who committed these crimes are part of the administration of Ricardo Martinelli. And, the "system" will protect them from harm. Among the people who are getting screwed are American expatriates who purchased "beachfront property" in Punta Chame. They woke up one morning (literally) to find that survey stakes had been driven into the ground on the beach, between their property and the ocean. And, someone was trying to sell the land - effectively creating "new" land between their beachfront lots, and the ocean. The corrupt scumbags at the National Land Authority (ANATI) were exactly the same people who tried to pull a similar thing in Juan Hombron and some of the exact same people were involved. The documents in this case and the Juan Hombron case were practically signed on the same day. And there are a million more details. But what matters in the strategic scheme of things is that there is no judicial security in Panama. That means, if someone in power decides they want to take your shit, your shit is taken. And, there's not a God Damn thing you can do about it. So Fuck You Gringo. Have a nice day, and welcome to the third world. Surprised? Why? We screw our own people over, so why should you be any different?

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Vernon Ramos' Wife Denies He Was Spotted In The Darien

CorruptionSabina de Ramos, the wife of the former Deputy Director of Financial Analysis of the Office of the Superintendent of Securities, Vernon Ramos, denied that during the investigation conducted by the Public Ministry (MP) to try to find the former official, that a witness came forward who saw him in the Darien.

According to her, the Public Ministry conducted the investigations in the Darien, because at some point in time her missing husband Vernon was asking a family member questions about this area, so therefore investigators went to the area to see if anyone has seen him.

"No witness has seen my husband in the Darien. Unfortunately he has not been seen, and we are forced to continue with this uncertainty that has been with us for more than a year. We pray to God for this to be resolved," she said.

She added that as a family they visited several provinces in the country as tourists, but they never went to the Darien because of the threat posed by guerrillas. But she remembered the curiosity Vernon displayed and therefore the investigators went there.

"They are trying to exhaust all leads to see if my husband has left the country, or if he has gone somewhere else," she said on Telemetro, but she added "unfortunately, we have not had a positive response."

The wife, in a sad voice, said her doubts are growing that her husband might be alive somewhere, because it is not possible that he would not have established communication with her in some manner, or that no one has seen him.

"God willing, we will have some light very soon," Ramos asked .

Vernon Ramon was reported missing by his family in November 2012. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: I think Vernon Ramos was made to "disappear" because of his knowledge of insider trading and corruption within the Panamanian equivalent of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Panamanian government. There's a slim chance that he might have been scooped and flown to the US as a protected witness, but that's the stuff conspiracy theories are made of. Unfortunately, I think he's simply dead. Either someone killed him, or he killed himself.

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Gomez Questions Concession Granted To Moscoso

CorruptionThe former Attorney General and attorney, Ana Matilde Gómez, referenced the concession granted to the former president Mireya Moscoso for using the bottom of the ocean and the beach next to her mansion in Punta Mala, Los Santos.

"Yet another episode of this bad saga, the bad side of this was how the concession was granted and how she got the right to this property. Can someone explain to me why this concession is necessary? Because to me this is just another political embarrassment,” said Gómez.

The former Attorney General questioned the fact that these types of concessions are granted and ask the authorities to explain why they do this.

"This is a payment given to her for what she’s been doing since a while back. The government must change, because if it’s difficult to fight corruption, with the changes of this government, it will be worse if the same government continues,” she said.

The permit issued by the Maritime Authority of Panama (AMP) was formalized with a contract signed by the administrator Roberto Linares on September 25. (Telemetro)

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Capriotti Talks About Martinelli In His Statement

CorruptionValter Lavítola is in prison once again. The prosecutors in Naples ordered his detention at the penitentiary center Poggioreale, where he will be held accountable for extortion against the company Impregilo, to which Lavítola was demanding to build a pediatric hospital in Veraguas.

While he was being taken to prison from his apartment in Rome, Angelo Capriotti’s (Mauro Velocci’s former boss) statements were made public to the prosecutors in Naples, who was trying to build prisons in Panama through the company Svemark.

According to Capriotti, Lavítola filmed a meeting with the former Silvio Berlusconi with prostitutes during his visit in Panama, with the intention of blackmailing him.

He also said Velocci had a video of Martinelli consuming cocaine; however, he said he never saw it.

He said he was sure that Capriotti heard the recordings of a conversation between the Italian ambassador in Panama, Giancarlo Curcio, his assistant Saverio Rossini and Mauro Velocci about the “explicit demand of 22 million dollars from Martinelli, as a bribe for the construction of prisons.”

Capriotti was the witness called by Ricardo Martinelli father and son to identify (as fake) the recording where Lavítola was talking about giving a helicopter to the President for free.

La Prensa called Martinelli to know his side of the story, but his phone was off. They also sent him an e-mail and he didn’t reply either. However, his spokesman, Luis Eduardo Camacho, said: “We don’t respond to the Italian drugadict [Velocci] or to the Panamanian opposition...”

“I don’t know anything about a video… You read the news, just like I did, where the witness said he has not seen any video… So you are reproducing news from a video no one saw,” he said. (Prensa)

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