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Tuesday, May 30 2017 @ 03:25 AM EDT

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Portugal's Days In Office Are Numbered

CorruptionThe Presidency Minister, Roberto Henriquez, said the Ombudsman, Patria Portugal, did not answer the questions from the deputies and he believes she will soon be removed from her position.

"There are still questions about the cost overruns for the acquisition of a couple of services,” said the minister. Henriquez also questioned Portugal’s attitude and said that someone who is being questioned cannot “challenge” the forum in charge of evaluating or judging her.

"I feel we are in the beginning of the end of her permanency in the institution (...) we have still not received a satisfactory explanation of why they had to pay exorbitant costs for services that have never cost so much in Panama before," he said.

In this regard, he said the Assembly is the one that can remove her, but if there are other elements such as investigations, the decision could be in the hands of another entity. Therefore, Henriquez paraphrased the Democratic Revolutionary Party deputy Elias Castillo, who said yesterday that Portugal's days were numbered, because he does not believe she can handle the questions.

Portugal was at the National Assembly on Thursday for five hours, giving her explanation after all the questions she was being asked for the controversial contracts awarded by the entity directed by her. (Prensa)

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Patria Portugal Defends Herself Before The National Assembly

CorruptionThe Ombudsman, Patria Portugal, said before the National Assembly that she has worked transparently during the two years she has been in office.

"I’ve done my work transparently,” said Portugal, who arrived at the Assembly at 9:00 a.m., together with a group of officials from the entity. Portugal said “the media has attacked me for over two months and has not given me the opportunity to defend myself.”

She told the deputies she appreciated that they voted for her in 2011 to run the institution and said “I have not let you down.” Portugal is being questioned for the controversial contracts she has signed during her management.

Among these contracts is the contract with Imaginarium Studio, S.A., company chaired by Jean Paul Ortega, 23, for a total of $250,000 to redesign the website of the institution. Other controversial expenses were the purchase of a sofa for $3,000, letter openers and pens sets for $150 each and hats for $200.

She was also questioned for moving the headquarters of the Ombudsman’s Office: it is currently located at the PH Seguro Chagres, Calle 50, where the annual rent is around $634 thousand. Today, she was brought to the National Assembly after the deputies agreed on calling her to respond to 13 questions.

At the Assembly she said “the Ombudsman has credibility. The Ombudsman is now noticed and its presence is felt. Now there is an Ombudsman in the country.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

At the beginning of her speech, Portugal said she went to the Assembly to defend herself against what she considers to be an attack with political elements. "I am here today to give an account to the Nation, to give an answer to the Founding Fathers (...) I come here to honor my name and my father’s name,” she said, referring to her father Heliodoro Portugal, a popular leader who disappeared in 1970.

She said she is not attached to a position and that "I can prove the changes made in the Ombudsman.” She said the entity, regarding government budget, is the “Cinderella” of the institutions in the country.

She also said the Ombudsman has a budget of $5 million. “Not much [money]... if you could see how we had to manage ourselves with it. Every penny and every dime ever used is there,” she said, with a forceful tone.

I AM NOT WEALTHY

About the contracts, she first talked about the rental agreement at the new headquarters of the Ombudsman. She explained they had to move their headquarters (previously located at Calle 50) for security reasons after recommendations from certain authorities such as the Fire Department of Panama.

She made a total balance of what they spend for the rental agreement at the main headquarters and the other 10 branches located in different areas. They have a total budget of $2.2 million per year for rental agreements.

About the contract signed with a company to redesign their website, she stated they did everything under the law. “Many lies” have been said about this project. She stated they did not only redesign their website, they also did many different graphic design projects for the campaigns carried out by the institution “and at last they redesigned the website.”

“I am not here to fight for my position, but for my dignity. Because no one is going to step on my name because this is the only thing I inherited from my father,” she said. “I am incapable of taking someone else’s money. I work very hard for it [her salary]. I am not wealthy, I have a decent house. I am not planning on getting rich,” she said. (Prensa)

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National Assembly Summons Portugal For The Scandals She Is Involved In

CorruptionThe Ombudsman of Panama, Patria Portugal, was summoned for Thursday, July 11, by the National Assembly.

Portugal, who is involved in a scandal for cost overruns in contracts for works that could have been done for less money, must show up in court to give her answer to 13 questions.

The deputies from the opposition and the governing party gathered to decide on calling Portugal to give her statements. None of them gave any objection or stopped the motion; Patria has three days to go to court, by unanimous decision. The vote took place at around 3:46 p.m. on Monday, July 8.

Among the questions are: How many contracts have you authorized since you were appointed as the Ombudsman and for how much was the authorized amount of these contracts?, What were the needs and purposes of these contracts?, How do these contracts contribute to the improvement of the services of defense and control that fall within the responsibilities of the Ombudsman?, What were the technical and financial criteria taken into account to move the Ombudsman from the building it used to occupy to its current location in Panama city?, How much did it represent on savings for the national treasury, the rental agreement with the new office of the Ombudsman?

The deputies Jose Isabel Blandon and Rogelio Paredes, from the opposition, said besides Portugal, they are considering to summon the administrator of the Garbage Collection authority, Enrique Ho Fernandez, for the irregular lease on the garbage collection trucks.

Paredes expects that every single deputy votes in favor of questioning other officials accused of mishandling public resources, and he also expects to have enough votes to summon Ho Fernánez to explain the case.

The Panameñista deputy Jose Luis "Popi" Varela proposed to summon the Comptroller Gioconda Torres de Bianchini.

Portugal was elected in March 2011 with votes from the governing party, and they need two thirds to dismiss her from her position.

Furthermore, the civil society requests the resignation of Portugal. (Estrella)

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Galvez Officially Announces They Will Call Patria Portugal To Give Her Statements

CorruptionThe president of the National Assembly, Sergio Gálvez, officially announced this afternoon that the directive board of the Legislative Branch, directed by him, will call the Ombudsman, Patria Portugal, to give her statements.

"First, the Board will call her. Second, if she is required to be taken to court this will be done, so she can give an extended explanation about the contracts she did," he said.

Galvez said the reason why they have not done anything about the complaints is because “we want to give her the presumption of innocence, for her talk about everything; we will listen to her."

Therefore, he said in the next few hours they will announce the date chosen by the Directive Board for her to explain the situation.

However, before calling the Ombudsman, the National Assembly will meet with the authorities handling the case to learn more about the research conducted by the Public Ministry.

ORGANIZATIONS WANT THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL TO DO SOMETHING

A month after several organizations of the civil society requested the Ombudsman, Patria Portugal, to face the scandals surrounding her institution in the last few months due to cost overruns in the entity, they have reiterated their request once again.

At a press conference, the organizations said they require the Comptroller General to do something about the bad handling of State resources by the Ombudsman, because they (Comptroller) are not complying with their constitutional function of monitoring public expenditure.

Despite the number of complaints filed with the Public Ministry for cost overruns in contracts from the Ombudsman, and the questions sent to this institution by the Citizens Alliance, they have not received any arguments or satisfactory answers from the Ombudsman or any other justice entities from the Government.

"While the current Ombudsman remains in office we will have a non-reliable institution without moral strength,” said several members of the civil society, who insist on Portugal’s dismissal from office.

One of these cases includes the contract signed with the company Imaginarium Studio, S.A., chaired by Jean Paul Ortega, for a total of $250,000 towards the redesign of the website of the institution.

Others are the purchase of a sofa for $3,000, letter openers and pens for $150 each and hats for $200. And more recently, the scandal of the approval of a consulting service for $200,000 with the company En Avant, S.A., to train the staff in customer service. These are some of the controversial cases involving the Ombudsman, who has said she will not resign from the institution and this entity is “open” for all the competent authorities because “everything is there." (Prensa)

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The Ombudsman Will Not Resign From Her Position

CorruptionPatria Portugal, the Ombudsman, said the contracts she has made were within the law.

"I believe in Law and Justice, and in the Office of the Ombudsman there is evidence about the contracts I have done for consultancy and other services," the Ombudsman.

"Of course I will remain in my position," said Portugal, facing the possibility of being dismissed from office.

"I'm sure the truth will come out when the investigations are completed," said Portugal.

The Transparency Authority and the Public Ministry are investigating the Ombudsman, Patria Portugal, for a possible case of corruption in the contracting of services for the institution, because the service provided to the institution for the redesign of the website was considered to be very expensive, and people close to the Ombudsman were hired for a consultancy service. (Critica)

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21 Organizations Request An Investigation On Patria Portugal

Corruption"It is unacceptable that the institution known for defending the human rights of all the inhabitants of the Republic is involved in such a big scandal, which reflects the bad management and lack of transparency for handling the State resources."

This was stated by twenty one organizations and civil society associations through a press release, in which they were referring to the latest scandal from the Ombudsman, after they granted a direct consultancy service of $200 thousand to the company En Avant, S.A. to train their staff in customer service. This company is linked to the company Imaginarium Studio, S.A., which won the public tender of $250,000 for redesigning the Ombudsman’s website. The president of the latter company is also a member of the Democratic Change Party.

The groups, including Citizens Alliance for Justice, Ethical Consumer Association, National Lawyers Union and the Senior Continental Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, said "while the current Ombudsman remains in this position, we will have a non reliable institution and without moral strength, which should be the main strengths of this institution."

On this matter, they said “it is urgent that the Comptroller General's Office sends a report to the Supreme Court of Justice in order to investigate the performance of the current Ombudsman."

The 21 civil society groups called on all the citizens to defend the institution and remain alert so this scandal is not used to discredit the importance of this institution on defending human rights and democracy. The groups ask themselves: "Was it really necessary to hire the services of a company in order to train the staff of the Ombudsman’s Office and establish service protocols for the institutional clients?"

They question whether the organizations, the media and the citizens are actually noticing that "the Ombudsman’s Office’s money is being wasted," how is it that no one sees this within the institution, and why has the Comptroller not said anything about these contracts?

However, Portugal, through a statement issued on Monday, June 24, said "questions on the subject are unfounded and the Consultancy "Analysis and Training to Improve Customer Service" adheres to the Law 22 of 2006 and the regulations on budgetary administration.

On May 29, 2013, thirty human rights organizations gave their opinion and declared they are against Portugal’s actions of hiring and paying $250,000 for Image Consulting, and asked the Comptroller to investigate this contract.

The National Assembly appointed Portugal on March 2011 with 48 votes in favor and 15 votes against. The vote was nominal (name by name) and 63 out of 71 deputies were present. (Estrella)

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Belgis Castro Is Summoned For The Glass Fiber Case Trial

CorruptionCesar Samudio, lawyer of the former Minister of Education, Belgis Castro, confirmed the former Minister was summoned to go to trial by the Third Circuit Court of Chiriqui for the crime of embezzlement for the removal of glass fiber.

"This is part of the routine of the hearings," said Samudio.

Samudio said it will be determined during the hearing whether or not there is any responsibility fallin on Castro regarding the removal of glass fiber.

He said there is no set date for the hearing, because the people involved in the case are just being summoned for the trial. (Prensa)

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The National Authority Of Transparency And Access To Information Conducted An Audit At The Ombudsman's Office

CorruptionAbigail Benzadón, administrator of the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information, said the entity conducted the audit for the Office of the Ombudsman due to the high payment made for the design of their website.

Benzadón explained the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information collected the data available in the Ombudsman’s Office.

With this information, she said they did a brief analysis of the contract signed by the Ombudsman and then they gave it to the Public Ministry.

"My concern with the Ombudsman is what they invoked for the contract, if you invoke Article No. 92 of Law No. 22 of public procurements, you are asking for a consultancy, and consultancies had a top budget of 50 thousand dollars when the law on public procurement was created. This law was modified in 2008 and the limit was moved up to $300,000 for a consultancy," explained Benzadón.

She said she is worried about these entities because they can pick the consulting company without a public tender or without opening a process for receiving proposals.

Based on this fact, the most important quality at the time of choosing someone for a consultancy is their experience, according to Benzadón.

"Whatever you pay for a consultant becomes an asset to the Government," she said.

When she was asked if the Ombudsman had a consultancy, Benzadón said that based on the 12 points of the agreements “there is an advertising contract” because they only ask them to improve their webpage or redesign the site.

The administrator of the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information said the Comptroller General's Office is conducting an internal audit in the Office of the Ombudsman from an administrative point of view.

She said the $250,000 charged for the design of the webpage of the Office of the Ombudsman were already paid. (Prensa)

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Varela And Banfield Are Against The Titling Of A Natural Preserved Area in The Ngobe Region

CorruptionThe Vice-President of the Republic and presidential candidate for the Panameñista Party, Juan Carlos Varela, gave his opinion on Tuesday, June 18, after finding out about the construction of the Six Senses hotel on a preserved area in the Ngäbe-Buglé Reservation.

He said if he wins the 2014 elections he will investigate, review and revoke this matter. “We can’t have this type of titling (...) based on a Costa Rican politician bribing a court (...) these are the types of operations that have to be stopped, investigated and reviewed,” he said.

Varela said developing tourism in the region without reaching any agreement with the residents makes no sense. "This taunts our laws, the country and our government," he said.

In the same note, the politician said measures will be taken to return the lands to the indigenous groups, if he wins the elections on July 1, 2014.

The environmentalist Raisa Banfield also expressed concern about the most luxurious lands constantly being given to foreign investors.

Because of this, she said the laws on land titling in the country were not made to defend the interests of the Government as it has been said, but instead they exist for the benefits and interests of the investors.

“We don’t understand how they are handing out titles within indigenous regions, where the laws are different, and we are also talking about protected zones,” she said.

And to Banfield’s judgement, this title is given for an area called Ramsar, which is why she doesn’t understand why the government doesn't step in to stop it.

"In the country people turn a blind eye to certain situations and this is why many illegitimate transactions are granted," she added.

Both statements were given after the article on La Prensa about an investigation on the Costa Rican politician and deputy Antonio Álvarez Dasanti, who purchased land in the region, site that was declared as a protected zone in 2004. (Prensa)

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(Corrupt) Court Tosses Cases Against Former Panama City Municipal Engineer Jaime Salas

CorruptionPanama's Second Superior Tribunal has thrown out (provisionally archived) forgery charges against the former Municipal Engineer of Panama City Jaime Salas and three other former government officials in a recent decision.

Salas and three former officials were denounced by the American citizen Yana Franz, after they issued an occupancy permit in 2007 to occupy the apartment building PH Bella Mare in Punta Pacifica, which could not be inhabited in 2009 because of electrical and infrastructure damage.

On 6 July 2012 the Fourteenth Court provisionally dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence, and because the Seventh Circuit Prosecutor did not specify the offense in the charges against the the former government officials.

The prosecution appealed the lower court's decision, and in this decision the Second Superior Tribunal upheld and confirmed the earlier decision, in a provisional filing dated 3 May 2013.

In another case, on 17 July 2012 the Second Criminal Court provisionally dismissed charges against Salas in another process against him, this time for money laundering. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Once upon a time, Jaime Salas was one of the most influential people in Panama City. As the Municipal Engineer, he had to sign off on construction and occupancy permits for every construction project in Panama City. He worked for Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, and he was presiding over the office of the municipal engineer during the entire "construction boom" years of 2004 - 2009. He generated A LOT of cash money for the PRD politicians in the form of big bribes, paid by the builders who needed to get permits to build. He is the reason why Juan Carlos Navarro became Balbina Herrera's running mate in the 2009 elections. If you'll notice - Balbina Herrera was the Minister of Housing during the administration of Martin Torrijos, and in that position she was the other key player who also had to sign off on things like zoning changes, for example. Those two people - Herrera and Navarro - were the biggest "earners" for the PRD in those years, and they were rewarded with a shot at the presidency. And now that Navarro is running again as the PRD's presidential candidate, Salas gets a pass. Is anyone surprised?

About the scam - Salas would sign off on the documents to issue an occupancy permit for a building, even though it was not ready to be occupied, because many of the contracts were written with a clause saying that the buyer had to close on the contract and pay the final payments when the occupancy permit was issued. The corrupt builders would pay hefty bribes to guys like Salas, who would sign anything for money. And now the judges toss out the case, because they will decide anything for money. The plaintiff in the case was trying to get the Panamanian government to recognize that no - the office of the Municipal Engineer never should have signed off on the occupancy permit if the building wasn't ready. Silly gringo - common sense is for foreigners. DO NOT expect any sort of legal or judicial security in Panama. It's a myth. The government pitches this all the time, that Panama is supposedly a safe place to invest and do business, and your investments are protected by a sound judicial system. No, it is not. Just be prepared to play the game Panamanian style, where the biggest bribe wins. These decisions are the embodiment of that simple fact.

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Panama Has Many Issues Within The Penitentiary System Related To Abuse And Corruption

CorruptionThis Friday, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty of the Organization of American States, presented the last regional report on the condition of prisoners and prisons in Panama.

Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil, said the critical failures in Panama, as well as for other countries in the region, are: overcrowding and overpopulation, poor prison conditions regarding the availability of basic services, high incidence in violence within the prison and lack of effective control from the authorities, the use of torture from the custodians, the excessive use of preventive detention, and corruption and abuses in prison management.

Escobar Gil also mentioned the lack of work and educational programs for the prison population. (Telemetro)

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Complaint Filed To The Administration Of Navarro

CorruptionThe lawyer, Alejandro Pérez, a member of the Panamanian Party, filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor for alleged acts of corruption committed during the administration of the Mayor of Panama on charges of Juan Carlos Navarro, during 2001-2006.

Pérez explained part of the evidence submitted to the Public Prosecutor's transactions made by the Mayor of Panama with fraud companies, false purchase orders and collection of car repairs which were never fixed.

The lawyer said these tests on alleged corruption of the former mayor of the capital district, Juan Carlos Navarro, should be investigated, as well as the entrepreneurs who made ​​the transactions.

He said the people involved in these alleged corruption are involved with this fraud. (Critica)

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Ombudsman Said She Will Not Resign

CorruptionThe Ombudsman, Patria Portugal said she will not resign to her position, as some unions have requested, and said the Comptroller General of the Republic is investigating the purchases made by the institution.

Portugal also said they did not create a new web page, but instead made some changes to the image, which consisted of about 10 or 12 points and for this is why it was so expensive.

The scandal was generated for the consulting service which included the development of the new design of the website of the Office of the Ombudsman, as well as some purchases made by the institution.

So far, the Attorney General is waiting for an audit requested to the Comptroller. (TVN)

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Popular Party Demands Resignation of Human Rights Ombudsman Due To Cost Overruns

CorruptionOn Thursday, June 6, the youth wing of the Popular Party (PP) requested Patria Portugal, the Ombudsman, to resign from her position after the scandal in the entity due to the cost overrun on multiple purchases.

As explained by these members of the PP through a statement, the Ombudsman has only issued brief comments stating everything they did was transparent, remaining silent about the most sensitive aspects.

The young wing of the PP demanded the following: "As citizens who expect transparency and integrity from the authorities in their administrative acts, we demand the immediate resignation of Patria Portugal and a prompt investigation on the contracts with cost overruns.”

They also demand accountability and transparency, because they believe these acts of corruption are due to a lack of transparency.

Also, they state that the regulatory role of the institution dealing with the abuse of power has been mysteriously fading away, distorting the functions for which it was established.

For three weeks, Portugal and the entity directed by her have been receiving harsh criticism after the publication in La Prensa about a series of high-cost purchases.

According to experts, these purchases did not justify the high-costs, for example, $250 thousand for the redesign of the entity’s website.

It was also known that the Ombudsman purchased hats for $200 each, letter opener and pen set of $150 and a $3000 couch are some of the purchases made recently by Patria Portugal. (Prensa)

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Company Will Pay $ 6 Million To Colón

CorruptionAbout $ 6 million will be charged in the coming days by the City of Colón to the developement company, Howard SA, in taxes for construction of the access road to the third bridge over the Atlantic canal sector, said Renet Ríos, Colón City Treasurer.

Ríos said this company stalled their work because of the Municipal Engineering, since they had not paid their taxes, even though they were cited on the 26 December 2013 and were fined $ 100,000. (Dia A Dia)

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The Proposal For The Construction Project in Amador is Rejected By Many

CorruptionA new Amador, where the third coastal strip opens the door for concrete fillings in the sea, luxurious homes, buildings and a recreation center, is the proposal disliked by engineers, architects and organized groups of the Panamanian community.

This plan started after a consultancy requested by the Administrative Unit of Reverted Assets (UABR), delivered in January 2012 to this entity.

According to this report, the coastal strip would be the expedited road to the causeway and the proposed development projects.

The UABR refused to confirm if the study was approved. However, there are some suggestions in the document –including the marine fillers all along the Avenida de Los Poetas- in accordance with the Government’s works.

In the document, they planned to relocate the convention center and the expansion of the causeway, for example.

"Filling the causeway with buildings only benefits the developers and a relatively small number of residents in the area; there is no public benefit and it’s a costly project. This plan sacrifices the concept of a recreational area for everyone in order to favor its residents only," said Nicolas Ardito Barletta, first administrator of the Inter-Oceanic Region Authority (ARI) and creator of the touristic plan in Amador, developed in 1996.

The Panamanian Society of Engineers and Architects (SPIA) emphasized on the creation of Amador as a touristic area, and due to this it may not be used as anything other than touristic activities.

Rodrigo Sanchez, president of the SPIA, said the Amador infrastructure was developed for low impact tourism and this has already collapsed.

Wastewater is discharged directly into the sea because the original plan was not respected, so it would not stand the mega project proposed by the study, he said.

"There should not be any other plan rather than the tourism plan; the new plan is not going by those standards, there should be no concrete fillings or residential projects," said Sanchez.

The Spanish company C4T, which produced the study, also proposed to build a port for approximately one thousand boats, as well as unfolding the causeway through land fillings to build projects that would block the view to the sea.

The pressure for the construction of infrastructure in the islands and the potential mangrove damage caused by fillings raises concern in the School of Biologists. "The effort and the struggle to regain these lands of the world's largest nation will be in vain if they are sold to the highest bidder," said Carlos Guerra, president of the School of Biologists.

Alliance Pro-City qualified as deceitful the construction of the third coastal strip due to the hidden interests of the government behind its development. (Prensa)

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Sonda And Mi Bus Were Fined

CorruptionThe attorney, Víctor Martínez, presented in the Supreme Court of Justice a claim for $ 5 million against the companies Sonda and Mi Bus, financial collectors and operators of the Metro Bus system.

For months, users complain about Sonda for not meeting the number of sale and recharge stalls for the Metro Bus cards and against Mi Bus for the delay in the frequencies of the new transport system.

Martínez said the lawsuit was because of damages this situation has led to thousands of users of the Metro Bus. (TVN)

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Portugal Tries To Justify The $250 Thousand Contract

CorruptionIn a statement, the Ombudsman's Office defended the 250 thousand-dollar contract with the company Imaginarium Studio, S.A. for the creation of a new logo and the development of a website.

While the institution directed by Patria Portugal qualified this contract as 'transparent,' civil society groups said the current Ombudsman 'lacks legitimacy.' (Prensa)

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Different Organizations Reject The Administration Of The Ombudsman

CorruptionAt least 30 organizations, among environmentalists, unions, and human rights, joined to express through a notice, their disagreement with the way the Ombudsman, Patria Portugal, is handling this entity nowadays.

According to the leaders of these organizations, the way this institution is being handled, which is responsible of defending human rights, is not ideal.

They assure the 250 thousand dollars contract to redesign their website is one of the elements that add up to their lack of credibility.

“The political nature at the time of choosing the Ombudsman, the low budget, and the lack of human rights vision of some of the representatives through the past 15 years of the Ombudsman Office’s existence, has been weakening the institution in charge of protecting human rights of all the inhabitants of the Republic, specially for the most vulnerable groups,” explains a paragraph in the notice.

At the same time, the organizations are demanding to meet with Portugal, so she can explain the strong accusations made against the Ombudsman’s Office, after the contract.

“We ask the Ombudsman to meet with us, in order to provide us with the information about the handling of the institution’s budget and contract details, which are highly questioned.”

The notice from the organizations comes up after the press release regarding the contract between the Ombudsman and the company Imaginarium Sudio, S.A, directed by Jean Paul Ortega, member of the Democratic Change political party, for graphic design.

For this case, the National Council of Transparency against Corruption, through its executive secretary, Abigail Benzadon, submitted to the Comptroller General of the Republic a report about the irregularities detected in the contract between the Ombudsman and Imaginarium Studio S.A.

The document states the institution directed by Portugal does not have proof of the work received, and it also reveals that additional charges were found, and they ignored the required administrative procedures. On the other hand, Portugal has not given any statement about these accusations. (Prensa)

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Belgis Castro is Sentenced To 36 Months in Prison

CorruptionThe Sixteenth Criminal Circuit Court sentenced Belgis Castro, former Education Minister, to 36 months in prison, for the crime of embezzlement, following the discovery of irregularities for the removal of fiberglass insulation in ten schools in Panama East.

The sentence states the dismissal of five other people involved in this process, and establishes an injury to state property in the amount of $153,000, which represented the total cost of the works.

The indictment in this process was led by the Second Anti-Corruption Prosecutor.

It was known that this Office of Instruction analyzes to appeal the decision, requesting a heavier penalty, considering there were indications for the official to be sentenced for the crime of embezzlement.

Another similar process was raised against Belgis Castro for similar irregularities in schools in the province of Chiriqui.

The case against Castro started in mid-2009, following a complaint presented by the current Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, noting they paid for the cleaning work to remove fiberglass in schools without these being carried out properly.

When the research began, the prosecutor’s office in charge of the case ordered his arrest, but was later released with a different injunction. The complaint was supported by audit reports.

Castro was the Education Minister in the government of Martin Torrijos, in 2007 and 2008. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Will miracles never cease? A former minister sentenced to prison time for corruption? In Panama? These guys first "created" a false crisis and invented the supposed need to clean or remove fiberglass insulation from schools. They played the relatively ignorant Panamanian people and press like fiddles. You see, fiberglass is not dangerous. It causes your skin to itch when you're working with it, but it represents no danger whatsoever if (for example) a ceiling tile falls down and you can see the fiberglass insulation hanging there. At the height of this bullshit, there were even parents protesting at schools, demanding that the government hire contractors to remove the fiberglass insulation and "clean" the schools to (supposedly) protect their children. Belgis Castro then went to the National Assembly, ask for and received additional funding to clean up the fiberglass, then funneled off the money. Yeah, he should get more than three years in prison for this. The court decision came down now because the Martinelli administration is trying to remind people of the corruption that occurred during the PRD administration of Martin Torrijos.

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Martinelli Appointed Other Government Officials Until The Year 2020

CorruptionThe Executive Branch, through Decree 532, appointed Zelmar Rodríguez Crespo as the administrator of the National Authority of Public Services (ASEP) for another seven years.

Besides her appointment, Luis Cucalon was also appointed for the National Revenue Authority, as well as Abigail Benzadon in the Transparency Authority, which must be ratified by the National Assembly, convened for a special session on May 27. (Prensa)

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Benzadon is Appointed As The Director Of The Authority Of Transparency And Access To Information

CorruptionPolitical sectors and the civil society questioned the appointment of Abigail Benzadón as the director of the Authority of Transparency and Access to Information.

The Vice President from the Popular Party, Teresita Yániz de Arias, said the appointment "is a joke" because, in her opinion, Benzadón has proven to have no independence of judgment or action at the National Council of Transparency.

"What is at stake here is the subordination of certain officials to the Executive Branch’s will, which perverts the institutional structure," he said.

Meanwhile, Angelica Maytín, from the International Transparency Panama chapter, said they have no knowledge of the official’s resume. In addition, her appointment is not surprising at all because Benzadón and her team developed the law that created the Transparency Authority.

The panamenista Alcibiades Vasquez said the appointment will only be until the end of this presidential term, because if the Panamenista party wins they will take her out of the position.

The Cabinet Council approved, in favor of the National Council of Transparency against Corruption, the total of $4 million to assist the V Conference of the States, part of the UN Convention Against Corruption and the Seventh Conference of the International Association Against Corruption, which will be held in Panama from the 22nd to 29th of November.

The delegate from the Panamenismo, Jose Luis Varela, said even though he does not know how this money will be invested, he believes it is questionable that the institution, who has not said anything about the corruption scandals it seems to be involved in, would want to spend this amount of money to promote itself as if it is doing its job. Meanwhile, Herbert Young, who led the National Council of Transparency against Corruption between 1999 and 2000, considered this amount is not justified. (Prensa)

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Sequence of Resignations From The Legal Branch

CorruptionA stony silence surrounds the sudden and repeatedly resignation of judges in the last months.

In late April, the judge from the Superior Court of Las Tablas, Karem Benitez, after a confusing incident, was denied access to her office and it is unkown if she will return to her position. Then, by surprise, the judge from the Fourth Criminal Circuit of Panama, Silverio Rodríguez, left his position and it was never known if he was dismissed or if he resigned. Yesterday, there was a rumor about the Judge from the First Criminal Circuit, Rolando Quezada Vallespino, who left his position, but the information was not confirmed by the press office from the Legal Branch.

Facing this situation, lawyers have expressed their concerns. They believe this has to do with political nuances, so they call out to reactivate the judicial service. (Estrella)

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Hydroelectric plants: a business of power

CorruptionWith the recent energy crisis, government officials stressed the need to build more hydroelectric plants to increase power generation capacity in the country.

This business moves millions of dollars, and even Ricardo Martinelli’s relatives as well as employees from Importadora Ricamar, S.A. (Super 99’s business name), are linked to this business.

For example, Carlos Manuel Quintero, executive from Super 99, was appointed by Martinelli as treasurer on the directive board of the Empresa de Transmision Electrica, S.A. (ETESA).

This appointment was made despite Quintero being linked to a company interested in building hydroelectric plants, as well as Ulises Gonzalez (another executive from Super 99 and partner of the president).

Leonel Zapata, a close friend of the president's sons, is also linked to these type of projects.

GENERATION PROJECTS

10 - This is the amount of hydroelectric plants to be built in the province of Veraguas.

8 of these projects are related to relatives and friends of the President. (Prensa)

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Metro Bus System Still Doesn't Satisfy Its Customers

CorruptionNot even the fine of $1,148 per day, applied by the Transit Authority (ATTT) 49 days ago to the Mi Bus company, due to poor frequency of metrobuses, has prompted them to improve the service they are providing to the customers in Panama City and San Miguelito.

The Metrobus system, which has been operating in 26 routes for the past two months, has reached a total fine of $ 56,252 yesterday, for breaking the contract established by the Panamanian government with this company.

According to the director of the ATTT, Roberto Moreno, the transport system has improved a little, but it is still not meeting the needs of the citizens.

According to the official, the penalty will continue until the system meets the requirements of the Panamanians. (Siglo)

Editor's Comment: The next national general elections are now one year away, to be held in May 2014. The Metro Bus system and the elimination of the old "Red Devil" buses was supposed to be one of the major accomplishments of the administration of Ricardo Martinelli. There have been incessant complaints about having to wait for more than an hour, not being able to recharge the electronic swipe cards used to pay for bus fare, and a lack of bus stops for the user who will now be standing in the rain as they wait for a bus. These and other complaints have turned the Metro Bus system into a "net negative" for the Martinelli administration, and simply put, from a political point of view things cannot stand the way they are. Expect the government officials to turn up the heat on the companies running the Metro Bus system. If they don't respond, and fail to comply with the details of their contract, I wouldn't be surprised if the government takes some sort of drastic and dramatic action against them.

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108 Cases Of Misleading Advertisement

CorruptionIn the first three months of 2013, the Department of Advertising Truth of Acodeco has opened 108 cases.

Out of the 108 cases, 9 were due to claims, 42 due to formal complaints and 57 because of unrequired duties.

These cases came up because of the misleading advertisement. Misleading advertising is the term commonly used to refer to the breach of any promotion, discount or premium to be delivered to the consumer once the payment has been met by the product or service offered. (Critica)

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Threats To The Press Are Being Denounced

CorruptionIn Panama there is freedom of press, however, "the problem is, we are always being threatened," said Simón Bolívar Alemán, the president of the Journalists Forum, today on International Day of Press Freedom.

He said journalists are always in danger of being persecuted by prosecutors and the judiciary, which is the greatest threat to press freedom.

And according to figures from the Attorney General and the judiciary, currently, 33 journalists have prosecutions for offenses against honor or civil lawsuits filed by officials or individuals who consider themselves affected by their publications.

Secretary General of the Union of Journalists, Filemón Medina, said the conditions in the country for reporters are not favorable.

Medina also warned the upcoming elections can intensify attacks against the media and journalists who every day go to the streets in search of information.

"If we allow journalism professionals to be silenced by fear, then we are allowing society to be silenced," Medina said. (Prensa)

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Client Of The Club Ecuestre Denounced Eisenmann Because Of Tax Evasion

CorruptionLast year, one of the clients of The Eisenmann Companies and Club Ecuestre of Coronado, part of the business group of Ithiel Roberto Eisenmann, also filed a formal complaint of alleged tax evasion.

Sidney Sittón, the attorney, complained to the former Department of Revenue, an alleged tax evasion by the company Club Ecuestre of Coronado, in which the complainant claims he had changed his registration to The Eisenmann Companies.

According to Sittón's complaint, this company receives unregistered charges on the tax of Movable Property Transfers and Servicing (ITBMS).

According to the document, the Club Ecuestre also receives fees for admission, which are not reimbursed and which does not pay ITBMS. The admission fee of the club is one thousand dollars a year, in addition to the rental fees and other monthly services.

Sittón sustained the charge against The Eisenmann Companies in a number of documents attached to the complaint, which include payment vouchers and invoices for services rendered by the company's lawyer, in maintenance and use of the stables, where ITBMS don't reflect any payment.

The date of documentary evidence dating from December 2011, and the last transaction date being 21 July 2013.

The Department of Revenue confirmed the receiving Sittón's complaint and said they are giving it the appropriate action.

Both companies, The Eisenmann Companies and Club Ecuestre, were also reported two weeks ago by a group of residents of Club Ecuestre de Coronado, which 56% of residential owners claim to support for alleged "abuse and lack of transparency. "

The complaint was lodged by the Association of Private Residents of the Club Ecuestre (REUCE) to the Authority for Consumer Protection and Competition (ACODEC), which evaluated the case.

Eileen Goossens, President of the REUCE, said the association was registered with the aim of "combating abuse and lack of financial transparency" of the administration, which is still controlled by Desarrollo Golf Coronado SA and The Eisenmann Companies Inc.

According to the complaint, the company established management standards and mandatory fees in a group of properties that are not legally registered as condominiums.

Goossens presented a series of documents supporting the claims of the residents, and the threats they have received from the lawyers of Eisenmann.

On 20 December 2012, the company warned its clients, saying they "are not allowed, at any time, to submit financial statements." (Panama America)

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Crime Investigations Begin In Italy And Mention President Martinelli

CorruptionItalian prosecutors in Naples have initiated three international corruption investigations involving the Italian company Impreglio (which is responsible for the Panama Canal expansion project), the Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, and the Cuban-American businessman Rogelio Oruña.

Italian prosecutors ordered the arrest of Valter Lavítola for international corruption in the Finmeccanica case where he has been accused if supposedly having paid bribes to Panamanian government officials.

Italian prosecutors started their investigation of Impreglio by conducting an inspection of the company's offices in Milan this week. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: There are several ongoing corruption scandals involving high ranking Panamanian officials of the Martinelli administration, and it's become obvious that here in Panama nothing will be done to investigate any of this. The Italian prosecutors will conduct their investigation, and even if they conclude that the Italian individuals paid bribes in Panama, there's little chance that anything meaningful will be done here. Just recently convictions and sentences were handed down against American businessmen in the BizJet scandal for having violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and paying bribes to Panamanian officials in the Civil Aviation Authority in order to obtain a contract to maintain the presidential airplane. And of course nothing was done to the Panamanian officials here. In another ongoing scandal, there are serious allegations of insider trading in the Financial Pacific case involving shares of stock in the Petaquilla gold mining company. And once again, securities regulators in Vancouver might investigate the allegations of insider trading, but nothing will happen here in Panama.

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Wife Of Missing Auditor Linked To Financial Pacific Scandal Confident She Will Find Him

CorruptionVernon Ramos López, the Deputy Director of Financial Analysis of the Superintendent of Market Securities, has been missing November 2012.

Now almost six months later, his wife Sabina Ho persists in her search for her husband.

López, who was removed from his post in February, has been linked to the Financial Pacific case because his team conducted an audit of the company.

However, his wife prefers not to speculate on anything.

Regarding the possibility that her husband is out of the country, Ho said her husband's passport with the newly renovated U.S. visa is in her hands, and that the only document she doesn't have is his personal identity card. (Telemetro)

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