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Thursday, April 24 2014 @ 10:25 PM EDT

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Oklahoma firm fined for paying bribes in Mexico, Panama

Corruption An Oklahoma company that provides aircraft maintenance services agreed Wednesday to pay an $11.8 million criminal penalty for bribing officials in Mexico and Panama to obtain business. The Justice Department said BizJet, a Tulsa firm, had bribed officials at four Mexican state and federal agencies and the Panama civil aviation authority. It said top officials at BizJet "orchestrated, authorized and approved" of the payoffs. BizJet said in a statement its German parent company, Lufthansa Technik AG, discovered the corruption, voluntarily notified U.S. authorities and "fully cooperated" in the U.S. investigation.

The case is the latest against U.S. companies and foreign firms with a U.S. presence that operate in Latin America and are found in violation of the far-reaching Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Other cases in recent years have involved bribe payments in Costa Rica, Argentina and Brazil.

The Mexican attorney general's office issued a statement saying the BizJet payoff occurred between 2004 and 2009, and that a BizJet sales manager had gone into hiding. It said it had identified contracts by the firm amounting to $20 million and some 50 million pesos ($3.9 million) and that an intermediary received "approximately $2 million U.S. dollars" to pay off officials.

Mexico said it identified six "public servants" who may have received payoffs. BizJet says on its website it offers "world-class engine and airframe maintenance" as well as interior refurbishment and avionics installations for jets and helicopters.

The Justice Department said in order to obtain contracts, BizJet employees paid bribes to officials in the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa as well as the federal police and the agency that oversees President Felipe Calderon's fleet of aircraft. It said U.S. prosecutors would defer prosecution of BizJet executives for three years, and if the company cooperates with a probe and heightens compliance efforts, the threat of criminal charges would end. The Justice Department praised BizJet and its parent company for "extraordinary cooperation, including conducting an extensive internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the department."

The Justice Department did not provide details of BizJets' bribes in Panama, except to say that the illegal payment had gone to the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority.

Jay Holtmeier, an attorney at the New York City office of the WilmerHale law firm, said Lufthansa Technik "itself discovered these issues as a result of an internal audit." Holtmeier said employees involved in the bribe-taking "are no longer with the company."

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a sweeping 1977 law, has snared several major companies in recent years with operations in Mexico and further south. Under a plea agreement in September 2010, a Swiss conglomerate, ABB Ltd., and two of its subsidiaries agreed to pay fines for bribing officials of Mexico's state-owned electric utility in order to obtain contracts worth $81 million in revenue. Two Mexicans were indicted the same month for allegedly buying a $297,000 Ferrari sports car and a $1.8 million yacht for electric utility officials in exchange for obtaining contracts for a company based in Azusa, Calif. Last year, two tobacco leaf merchants based in North Carolina and Virginia faced action over bribes paid in Thailand and Kyrgyzstan, in one case using a subsidiary in Brazil.

In a sign of the expansive reach of the U.S. anti-corruption act, Alcatel-Lucent, a French telecommunications giant, and three non-U.S. subsidiaries, one of which had an office in Miami, were accused of paying bribes in Costa Rica to get more than $300 million in contracts. In late 2010, Alcatel-Lucent and its subsidiaries paid $137 million in U.S. penalties. A German conglomerate, Siemens AG, and two South American subsidiaries paid a record $800 million in U.S. penalties in 2008 for bribes on contracts in Venezuela and Argentina. The sole basis for U.S. involvement in the case were two meetings by company executives and consultants in New York City and the use of U.S. banks to make payments.

Despite the payment, the Justice Department in December brought civil and criminal charges against eight top former Siemens employees for what it described as a decade-long bribery scheme. The charges underscored the department's interest in prosecuting executives for bribe-paying as well as imposing fines on their companies.

Editor's Comment: When this story hit the wire last night I blasted it to my contacts at TVN. So, who got paid in Panama? How much was paid in bribes? Is the Attorney General going to open an investigation? And what services was BizJet providing in Panama, anyway. I don't think I'm going to have a whole lot of time to dedicate to this, and at this point I have more questions than answers.

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Criminal Complaint For Extortion and Corruption Filed Against Luis Barría - Former Director of Public Registry

CorruptionThe lawyer Ernesto Águila filed a complaint this morning against the former Director of the Public Registry, Luis Barria, for extortion, forgery of documents, and for receiving bribes. Águila said Barria tried to force him to pay a bribe for some public registry contracts, and for having sequestered some property which he owns, lands which were subsequently released. In the process of the release of such farms, Águila, who is a member of the Panameñista political party, also said he noticed there were falsified documents that had been entered into the Public Registry that were going to be used in an attempt to sell the confiscated land. "While investigating the scriptures we realized the three deeds were with the same number and the same date with three different acts, in which the three scriptures seem to be false," explained Águila at a press conference held at the Atalaya Room of the Hotel Roma.

Águila announced the complaints were filed in the DIJ and with the Anti Corruption Prosecutor for falsifying documents with the intent of using those documents in order to sell the land. Although the allegations made ​as an entrepreneur, Águila said he would request that the Panameñista political party expel Barria, who is also in the party, after the corruption investigation is started. Barria resigned as director of Public Registry on 30 August 2011, for personal reasons, according to what he said to president Ricardo Martinelli. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Yeah, there was all kind of goofy crap going on at the Public Registry under Barria. He immediately abandoned ship on 30 August 2011 when the political alliance between the Panameñistas and the Cambio Democratico broke up, because you can only get away with that kind of stuff when you've got solid political cover. His cover melted away so he insta-hauled ass. Now, of course, he's exposed to investigation and prosecution. So, anyone who had land stolen from them between 1 July 2009 and 30 August 2011 - head's up. Águila just rang the dinner bell. Oh, and the way this works - you contact Águila and compare notes to see if the same people or same techniques were used to steal your land. Then you can "cross pollinate" the files. His case makes yours stronger in court, yours makes his stronger in court, etc. Happy hunting.

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Martinelli Admits He Lacks The Power To Jail Corrupt Politicians

CorruptionPresident Ricardo Martinelli said today the only campaign promise he can not fulfill is to put corrupt politicians in jail, because that is an issue that belongs to another organ of state, the judicial system. Martinelli said everyone knows who the corrupt politicians are, and they have done a lot of damage to the country, and there they all are, however he as the President cannot do anything about it. Martinelli President referred to his campaign promises during the ceremony to hand over new computers to the residents of Curundú.

When asked if he would request that Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino reconsider his resignation, President Martinelli responded by saying that both Mulino and Gustavo Perez have been excellent members of his team and he needs the help of both. Mulino submitted his letter of resignation on Friday after Perez stated that the draft law to create a new disciplinary system would not go forward, and then Martinelli announced he would withdraw the proposal from the Cabinet Council, which had already authorized the Minister of Security to submit the new draft law to the National Assembly of Deputies for consideration. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: Yes, Martinelli lacks the power to jail corrupt politicians today. However when the Fifth Chamber is activated (well, it's already activated - when Martinelli nominates the three new judges) then the Supreme Court will be able to go after corrupt members of the National Assembly. Right now there's a sort of "stand off" between the National Assembly and the Supreme Court - each one has the powers to investigate the other. They are all corrupt, so therefore the end result is that no one investigates anything. What ever happened to CEMIS? One of Martinelli's primary campaign promises was to "put the corrupt politicians in jail." But, he can't actually put anyone in jail, even for jaywalking. That's the job of the Public Ministry and the Judiciary.

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PRD Lawyers File Complaint Against National Police Over Jaén's Arrest

CorruptionA group of lawyers who are members of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) will file a complaint against the National Police and the government of Ricardo Martinelli, with allegations of abuse of authority, abuse of office, and impeding a lawyer from performing his duties, over the illegal arrest of Lic. Valentín Jaén. This legal action will be presented next week. At a press conference accompanied by members of National Executive Council of the PRD and the Legal Sector (PRD lawyers,) Valentín Jaén said they would file a complaint against Captain Isis Del Cid, a member of the Police, for having illegally deprived him of his freedom for 10 hours. Jaen said his arrest was politically tinged and came as the result of recent allegations the Legal Sector of the PRD brought against the abuses and illegalities of the government. He said during his arrest, the Captain laughed. Jaen said he will continue denouncing human rights violations, acts of corruption, administrative arrogance, and demanded respect for the laws and constitutional guarantees. For his part, Secretary General of the PRD, Mitchell Doens, said the police action committed against the attorney Jaen was "outrageous" and that the PRD notes with danger, because some sections of the National Police are getting out of hand. (Critica)

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Police Chief Slowly Purging Corruption From The Ranks in Panama

Corruption The National Police Chief Gustavo Perez said on Tuesday, March 6, that this institution is in a debugging process. He said about 2,000 police officers have left the ranks of the organization, in the two and a half years of his administration. According to Perez, these types of people are getting out of the police force because they are not consistent with what both the Police and the community are looking for. The police chief explained that these dismissals have taken place because "we always seek the best for the community, for the citizens We are building professional police officers," he added. However, when he finds a police officers who has had many complaints filed against him in the Office of Office of Professional Responsibility, then he must be eliminated, he said. "No one fires an employee because they are good, that does not happen in any company," he said. The rank and file of the police officers and officials have said it's time to get these people out of the organization, explained the police chief in TVN Noticias. According to Perez, there are police commissioners and deputy commissioners who have up to hive homes, and in other cases there are police officers who have as many as ten cars, which they could not justify. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Creating and fostering and fomenting professionalism in a fundamentally non-professional force is a very difficult task indeed. It's safe to say that the National Police force in Panama is becoming "less corrupt" as time goes by. If you'll notice when the drug busts happen and hundreds of kilos of cocaine are seized, very often the bad guys will be carrying thousands of dollars in cash with them as well. That's to pay bribes - they will just hand over the wad of cash in order to be let go and not arrested. Also, in Panama a police "commissioner" or "sub commissioner" is a name of a rank, not a position.

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Complicity of Electoral Tribunal Judges Denied in Corruption Scandal

CorruptionFormer Electoral Tribunal judges reacted yesterday to the alleged negligence of the entity in the case of fraudulent birth certificates that were registered a year ago in the Regional Directorate of Civil Registry of Cocle which could tarnish the credibility of the institution. The former magistrate Guillermo Marquez Amado denied that these irregularities affect the entity or the judges, because they informed the Public Ministry of what was happening. He said there is a clear intention of the Government to interfere in the Court, as is being done in the Supreme Court of Justice and the National Assembly. "They believe that everything is political and that this is a chess game," said the lawyer. Denis Allen, who is also a former Electoral Tribunal judge, agreed that this body has given its full cooperation to clarify the situation and to punish those who are found to be responsible, which shows there is a self-regulation. The abnormalities were detected on 4 April 2011, causing the removal of the regional director, Julio Carles. (Siglo)

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Former Regional Director of Civil Registry Arrested

CorruptionYesterday the National Police arrested a former Regional Director of the Civil Registry, who has been linked to a network of people dedicated to making fraudulent registrations of birth within the country, in order to obtain Panamanian nationality, police said. The former Director of the Civil Registry in Aguadulce, Cocle, was arrested along with two other former officials of that institution and three women of Palestinian origin, detailed the National Police in a press release - which did not contain the names of the detainees. During the investigation, which has been ongoing since 2010, it was determined three women of Palestinian paid the officials to alter the birth documents so they could obtain citizenship illegally.

According to the press release the detainees are married to citizens of Palestinian origin also, and apparently they own commercial stores in various cities in the interior of the country. These investigations began in 2010. In December 2011, the irregularities were increased and resulted in the capture of several people who were involved in this crime. Also arrested was the person in charge of the Department of Processes or Supplemental Evidence, and other officials are being investigated, said the National Police. (Siglo)

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Supreme Court Lifts "Sequester" From Parcel of Land in Paitilla

CorruptionThe Second Anti Corruption Prosecutor Lizzett Chevalier, confirmed that the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court issued its judgment which allows the lifting of the seizure of the parcels if land in Paitilla, an action requested by her office late last month to the Supreme Court, in order to expedite the notarial process to legally return the land to state ownership. In August last year the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court authorized the seizure of the parcel of land, measuring more than one hectare in size, as part of a request made by the Attorney General's office which initiated the investigation in the case. The Prosecutor said it now falls to the Public Registry to continue this process until completion.

In this case several suspects are being investigated for "crimes against the public administration and public faith" over alleged irregularities in the granting of the ownership of the land; those being investigated are the florist César Segura, the lawyer Carlos Pérez Ferreria, and the former Director of Regulation (Land Titling) of the National Authority for the Administration and Titling of Lands (ANATI), Anabelle Villamonte.

In December 2010 the florist Cesar Segura signed an agreement to formally resign from any claims of ownership for this parcel of land which had been illegally transferred to him. On Monday the prosecutor had sent their "prosecutor's opinion" to the court on this case. (Telemetro)

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MEDUCA Officials Implicated in Falsification of Documents

CorruptionThe Deputy Minister of Education, Jose Herrera Kivers, recognized the participation of two officials of the institution in falsifying more than 80 "acts of taking possession" for teachers to fill nonexistent vacancies. The resolutions had the forged signature of the Regional Director of Education of Panama Center, Maria Elena de Montaner. Herrera Kivers explained there are two clearly identified persons who participated in the crime, and they are well aware of the procedure and appointment process for vacancies. The Ministry of Education filed a complaint with the Public Ministry to continue with the investigations. (Critica)

María Elena de Montaner Presented The Complaint Before The Public Ministry

Editor's Comment: Every year the Ministry of Education issues a resolution for each and every public school teacher. It's a pretty screwed up system - the teachers are selected and assigned to work at a particular school, to fill a designated vacancy, to fill a real job that actually exists. The teachers don't just go back to the same school year in and year out, and their assignment can change every year, or they might not even be rehired for that matter. However apparently this network of forgers allegedly created fake resolutions with forged signatures to appoint people to fill teaching positions that don't actually exist. According to the Minister of Education Lucy Molinar they detected the exact same thing happening last year, being done by the same people. They just put a stop to it but never followed up to file the criminal complaints. Well, this year they did. It's always a massive cluster at the Ministry of Education every year when it's "hire the teachers" time - because the government runs the system, so the hiring and appointments becomes politicized. And once again, there's Lucy Molinar doing the right thing, cleaning house, putting things right. I want her to run the whole damn show some day...

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PRD Party Leader Files Complaint Over Illegal Wiretaps

CorruptionThe secretary general of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) filed a criminal complaint with the Attorney General's Office against those found responsible in the Security Council in relation to the case of interception of his phone calls. Doens was accompanied by lawyers Zulay Rodríguez y Olga Gólcher, both party members. The document presented indicates the Attorney General's Office issued a letter on 15 February 2012, which states that not only were the conversations of opposition politicians Luis Ernesto Carles and Mitchell Doens illegally recorded, but they were also uploaded to YouTube. Furthermore, Luis Ernesto Carles, the former Vice Minister of Government and a member of the Panameñista political party, asked the Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado to perform a visual inspection of the Security Council, because they are possibly responsible for the interception of the calls. (Critica)

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Jaime Salas Will Face Trial For Money Laundering

CorruptionAfter two years and eight months of investigation against the former Municipal Engineer Jaime Salas, who has been charged with money laundering, on Thursday he will face justice in a preliminary hearing before the Second Criminal Court. The investigation against Salas began in June 2009 by Jose Ayu Prado, who at the time was the Specialized Prosecutor for Organized Crime. (He is now the Attorney General). According to the case file, authorities detected an alleged irregularity in the movements of bank accounts of the company Edificaciones Portobello y Joed S.A., owned by Salas. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Jaime Salas was the Municipal Engineer during the administration of former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro of the PRD. And of course during those years, from 2004 to 2009, the president was the PRD's Martin Torrijos. The "boom" of real estate construction started on their watch. Most people don't understand the power and importance of the position of "Municipal Engineer" for Panama City. Every building needs permits issued by this office before, during, and after construction - of anything - from a 100 story apartment building down to a doghouse.

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Vice President of National Assembly Will Not Give Up Immunity From Prosecution

CorruptionThe Vice President of the National Assembly Marcos Gonzalez said yesterday he would not voluntarily surrender whatever is left of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution, as requested by the former Vice Minister Luis Ernesto Carles, and as part of the investigation opened by the Attorney General into alleged illegal wiretaps. Carles asked Gonzalez to not rely on his immunity from prosecution, and to support the statements he made in public last week about the wiretaps before the Attorney General.

"Carles has a political problem ... he wants to be a deputy in Aguadulce and he want to earn political points in the polls in his circuit," said Gonzalez. The Vice President of the National Assembly said his version about the alleged wiretapping was misinterpreted. "What I said was that the Security Council should be aware of the people who are trying to destabilize the government," he said. He said the person who has to explain himself about this case is Carles himself, because he admitted it was his voice on the recording, talking about sending resources such as machetes and chainsaws to the protesting Indians. "He [Carles] must clarify that situation," said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said he is not going to declare anything to the Attorney General about this case if he does not receive a formal citation from the Attorney General. "I have nothing to clarify or respond ... whoever recorded Carles, that's their problem," he added. (Critica)

Marcos Gonzalez, Vice President of the National Assembly

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Trial Scheduled For IFARHU Embezzlement Case

CorruptionThe Sixth Circuit Criminal Court scheduled a preliminary hearing for 7 March 2012 against 31 people involved in the IFARHU embezzlement case of $155,000 that occurred between 2007 - 2008. Among those under investigation are the former Director of IFARHU Samuel Buitrago, as well as the staff of the department of Grant Tracking, the Department of Audits of the Comptroller, and the Office of International Technical Cooperation. (Critica)

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Ministry Of Health Remains Silent Over Contract Modifications

CorruptionAfter complaints by changes made in the million-dollar contracts to build four hospitals in the interior of the country, the Government was silent yesterday. Those who did not remain silent were the spokespersons for the different organizations of the "civil society" that openly told La Estrella they remain suspicious of the actions of the Ministry of Health, and insist that generates suspicion of possible corruption and the irregular handling of public funds.

The Comptroller of the Republic said yesterday the Ministry of Health is the entity that must give due justification for the changes made ​​to the contracts signed in July 2010 with the company IBT Group Panama. Meanwhile, at the Ministry of Health, the technical and legal advisers of the institution took all day yesterday to prepare the answer that they said they would provide today through a press release.

Ruben Dario Carles, a former Comptroller, was surprised by the official response and he said it is the comptroller Gioconda Torres de Bianchini who must give explanations, because it is her responsibility to control the use of state funds.

Carlos Lee, spokesman for the Citizens Alliance for Justice, was concerned with the way the government is managing these multi million dollar contracts that were not included in the annual budget, and it's not known what they are doing. (Estrella)

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Public Ministry Opens Official Investigation Into Wiretapping

Corruption The Public Ministry has opened an official investigation into alleged wiretapping against government opponents, following the release this month of conversations of the former Vice Minister of Labor Luis Ernesto Carles - who now is in the opposition to the government of Ricardo Martinelli - and the General Secretary of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Mitchell Doens.

Sources inside of the Public Ministry said yesterday the investigation was opened by Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado on Wednesday, 15 February 2012, a day after a controversy broke out over the public admissions made by the Vice President of the National Assembly and Member of the Democratic Change political party, Marcos Gonzalez, that the elements of "state security" listen to opposition politicians. That same day, Ayu Prado was approached by journalists, given the requests made ​by ​several sectors of the country to open an investigation, but he refused to answer the journalist's questions.

A day later, Carles and Doens went to the Public Ministry to report the incident and to request an investigation. But it was not until yesterday when the news leaked about the opening of the investigation, and only after it was confirmed by Carles, after he spent three hours in the offices of the Public Ministry making a sworn statement. As he left the Public Minister the former Vice Minister Carles said he was informed of the existence of a file to investigate the wiretapping, which he described as an "assembly to discredit opposition politicians."

Meanwhile, sources reported that as of yesterday the PRD's Mitchell Doens had not received any summons to appear before the office of Ayu Prado. (Prensa)

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Former Vice Minister Testifies in Wiretap Investigation

CorruptionThe former Vice Minister Ernersto Luis Carles, on Thursday challenged the Vice President of the National Assembly, Marcos Gonzales to be stripped of his immunity and render affidavit to corroborate or clarify the facts surrounding the wiretaps of politicians, journalists, trade unionists and union leaders, after he hinted in the media that the State Security Council authorized the action. In his statement Carles called for an inspection to the Security Council, evoking Article 29 of the Constitution establishes that only the competent judicial authorities can authorized the intercept of telephone calls. Carles made his statements as he left today at noon the offices of the Attorney General, where he went "to serve as a witness at the preliminary investigation, after receiving a summons from the the Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado, referring to an official investigation being conducted into alleged phone wiretaps." The citation came after recordings of the former Vice Minister were spread through the Social Media in which he was talking to protesting Indians who were blocking the Pan-American highway. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: So, what's being investigated? I'm sure the first question was - "Is that your voice on this recording?" In my opinion both sides were wrong on this one. The "former Vice Minister" was fired after the breakup of the political alliance between the Panameñista political party and the ruling Cambio Democratico party of president Ricardo Martinelli. During the protests Carles was apparently recorded as he coordinated with the protesting Indians, to buy them chainsaws they were to use to cut down trees to block the road. They also talked about taking down "towers" - presumably either cell phone towers or the towers used to carry high tension electrical lines. On the government's side - they probably did record this call and then spread it via the Internet in the form of a YouTube video. And of course that was wrong because telephone conversations can only be recorded legally with a judge's order. However it was also wrong for Carles - a disgruntled politician - to be "inciting riot" or whatever the hell else you might call it. I suspect this recording was the "intelligence information" cited by Security Minister Raul Mulino, which he used to justify shutting down cell phone coverage in the area. Anyway, it's going to get interesting. I wonder if Jose Ayu Prado will actually investigate the wiretaps - he might balk for political reasons. Or, will "national security" trump the Constitution. Stay tuned...

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Comptroller Seizes 109 State Owned Vehicles (Improper Use)

CorruptionThe Comptroller General of the Republic, during an operation related to Carnival 2012, has achieved the retention so far of 109 official state owned vehicles, nationwide, for breach of the law. The operation was launched because during Carnival celebrations people tend to try to used these state owned vehicles and they drive them with expired license plates, they are being driven by unlicensed drivers, and being used to transport people who have nothing to do with the government. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: If it has a yellow stripe down the side, it's a state owned vehicle, and it's only supposed to be used for official business.

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Blandon Named In FIS Audit For Diverting Government Funds

CorruptionThe National Assembly Deputy from the Panameñista political party, Jose Isabel Blandon, was included on the list of lawmakers who supposedly used a network to divert millions of dollars from the old Social Investment Fund, using false companies and foundations. An audit report of the FIS, prepared by the firm Lopez Consultants, said Blandon is linked to the diversion of an expenditure that should have reached the hands of the Catholic Church, but did not.

According to the report, Blandon used the Catholic Church as a "promoter" for the projects he requested from the FIS. The firm that prepared the report backed up the assertions with invoices and official FIS purchase orders that totaled at least $40,000 dollars each. Most purchases were allocated to one company, Servicios y Ventas Múltiples, the same company related to fictitious deliveries in cases of the other lawmakers who were also named in the multi million dollar fraud perpetrated against the FIS. The alleged aid promoted through Blandon included food and supplies, which should have been delivered to the church of Santa Ana.

During the external audit of the FIS, the auditing company López Consultores says they have found that the aid was never delivered. As a witness, the firm cited the pastor of the church, Manuel Man, who declared they have "never" received any help from the Assembly or from Deputy Blandon. Man admitted having signed several requests for support aimed at Blandon, because the Deputy himself made the suggestion. Blandon's assistants promised the pastor there would be no problem, and that this was the standard practice of the prior pastor at the church, said Man, according to the external audit report prepared on the FIS.

Amid the FIS scandal of the FIS report in January 2010, Blandon said the aid that had been requested through father Man was not only to that church, but encompassed the entire circuit 8-7. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: This is why the Panameñista lawmakers are ready to fall on their swords over the "Fifth Chamber" issue in the Supreme Court. If Martinelli can actually get eight of twelve Supreme Court justices, then they can hold trials and investigations into these kinds of corrupt practices being conducted by the members of the National Assembly. Up until now, there has been a sort of "cold war" - in which neither the Supreme Court justices nor the Deputies of the National Assembly can be tried or convicted by anyone. The "Fifth Chamber" would tip the balance of power in favor of the Supreme Court, and they will use that power to put opposition politicians like Blandon in jail, or at least get him kicked out of the National Assembly. Did I forget to mention "guilty, or not"? Hardball politics, Panama style. If Martinelli wants to end these Indian protests, he should just say "screw it" and name this three new judges. It's all about focus, and initiative.

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Panama City Mayor Cutting Staff And Eliminating Phantom Employees At City Hall

Corruption The Mayor of Panama City Roxana Mendez responded to remarks made about the retention of the paychecks of officials of the municipality who are on vacation, which was denounced by the member of the Panameñista political party Luis Barria on the morning edition of the channel 13 Telemetro news. Mendez said that on Monday the payroll was paid with difficulty, because the institution is implementing a new system. She accepted that some vacations may have been disrupted, mainly because there are people on the payroll, but when the new administration took over, there were not actually working at the entity. Mayor Mendez recommended that any city official who finds themselves in this situation should come to the office of Human Resources to submit the resolution that was issued to approve their vacation time, and they will be paid. "We cannot continue to give checks to people who are not there," said the Mayor. Mendez made her remarks as she left the Don Bosco Church, where she went to fire pastor Oscar Rodriguez Madariaga. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: When Roxana Mendez took over she found there was about 1,000 people on the payroll of city hall who were either not needed, or who were receiving a paycheck and not actually going to work. She is now in the process of cleaning up the mess left behind by her predecessor Bosco Ricardo Vallarino. She's firing people left and right, all of them members of the Panameñista political party. And who should those people be mad at? The Varela brothers and Jose Blandon, who torched the alliance between the Panameñistas and the CD. So, I hear you've been fired. Want a job? Come over to the dark side...

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Letter From Italy Says There Were No Cost Overruns in Finmeccanica Radar Purchase

CorruptionAn explanatory note from the Italian government, dated Jan. 19, denies there has been a cost overrun in the purchase of radar sets from the Italian company Finmeccanica, by the Panamanian government through the Ministry of Public Security. In the Italian government's response, President Ricardo Martinelli said yesterday "hopefully those malevolent and wicked souls who want nothing but bad for Panama reconsider know" and recognize they made a mistake. The note, signed by Massimo Pugnali responsible for coordinating Sales and Market Development for the Finmeccanica Group, and by the Italian ambassador in Panama Cursio Giancarlo, said it the first point: "The conditions offered by each company according to its subsystems are fully consistent with those used internationally for functions and similar programs, and the full cost of the entire system is congruous with the budget allocated by the Government of Panama for that purpose." The note further states the financing arrangements secured by Finmeccanica have ensured, as had been requested, that the balance of the state registration of debts were only applied at the beginning of the operation of the system (three years or so, immediately after the signing the contract). This information is given, after the Panamanian government asked Italy for an explanation of the contract, signed on June 30 last year between the two countries, due to the questions raised by members of the political opposition on the existence of a cost overrun on the purchase of the systems acquired from the company Finmeccanica. The note was addressed to President Martinelli, the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Security, and the Chancellor. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Uh, allow me to state the obvious. The government of Panama went back to the company - Finmeccanica, which is 30% owned by the government of Italy - and ask them "did you charge us too much?" And the answer basically says "we charged what you had budgeted." Obviously, that's not the best way to determine if there was price gouging going on. "Excuse me Mr. Used Car Salesman - did you charge me too much for that used car?" Ridiculous. Why not hire an outside, independent contractor to go around the world and examine equal or comparative systems bought from this company and others by different nations around the world, to determine if there were price overruns. But that's not going to happen. With this letter the government of Panama will bury the whole issue.

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Supreme Court Orders ANATI To Turn Over Juan Hombron Documents

CorruptionThe Supreme Court ordered the National Authority of Land Management (Anati) to provide detailed information on the free titling of land in the coastal community of Juan Hombrón, in the province of Cocle. This decision is contained in three decisions signed last November by the judges Jerónimo Mejía and Harley Mitchell, through which was granted an equal number of habeas data requests filed by attorney Jorge Sanchez Bernal, on behalf of the residents of the area. This is 3 of the 14 appeals filed last year by Sanchez, who also reported the case to the Public Ministry. Carlos Dutari, the Director of Land Titling of the ANATI, told the Supreme Court, in its response after being notified of the decisions, that he had not turned over the information due to processes of administrative and budgetary adjustments being made in the entity. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: In Panama requests for "habeas data" are basically like Freedom of Information requests. In this case the lawyer filed the habeas data requests in order to force the ANATI to turn over information in the case to the prosecutors. He knew the ANATI had the information, but they were not going to give it up, so he went to the Supreme Court to make them do so, and the court decided in his favor. Now the ANATI will have to make the information (whatever it is) available. These issues of access to what should be public information are the keystone of an anti corruption campaign. A truly non corrupt government is one that is completely and totally transparent. When facts and figures about how the money is spent, for example, is hidden, then you know someone is doing something wrong. And, it takes a massive effort (such as this) to force them to give it up. Today I learned that each and every representative in the Capital district of Panama City was given more than $400,000 dollars to spend on projects in their communities. What was that money spent on? There are 21 districts in Panama City, so that was $8.4 million dollars, spent by politicians, on what? Now, how easy (or hard) do you think it would be to get some true and accurate accounting on that spending? Answer = impossible.

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Judge Resigns Just Days After Handing Down Decision in Corruption Case of Former President

CorruptionThe judge of the Second Superior Tribunal, Geneva Aguilar de Ladrón de Guevara, presented her resignation yesterday afternoon. Judicial sources confirmed the judge submitted her resignation, although the General Secretariat of the Court has not yet been officially or formally notified. Geneva Aguilar's decision comes just days after the Second Court of Justice upheld the dismissal in the money laundering case of former president Ernesto Perez Balladares. The judge was assigned to perform the duty on the tribunal, according to the alphabetical order of the judges composing the court, after her colleagues and Luis Mario Carrasco and Wilfredo Sáenz were declared disabled (conflict of interest). Geneva Aguilar objected to the grounds for disability (conflict of interest) presented by Judge Saenz and filed an injunction before the Supreme Court against the decision to allow the impediment of Saenz, supported by the judges Elvia Batista and Joaquin Ortega. But the Supreme Court enabled Judge Jose Hoo Justiniani as special deputy to constitute the court, that issued the dismissal of the charges filed against Perez Balladares and 14 other people. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I didn't clearly understand all of that, and I think that's part of the intent. I understood there were some "irregularities" in the decision of the Second Superior Tribunal in the Perez Balladares money laundering case. Basically, there was still a decision that had to be made by the Supreme Court before this lower Tribunal should have been able to make their decision. However, they went ahead and did it anyway. No matter, it was always clear from the start this case would end up in the Supreme Court, from day one.

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Investigation Will Proceed Against Director of the National Assistance Program Giacomo Tamburrelli

Corruption It was reported that today, Wednesday, 11 January 2012, Panama's Electoral Tribunal removed the electoral protection for the Director of the National Assistance Program, Giacomo Tamburrelli. Tamburrelli is also the General Secretary of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party. With this decision, the Electoral Prosecutor can proceed with the investigation initiated against Tamburrelli, for the alleged commission of electoral crimes against the freedom and honesty of the vote. According to the document, the investigation against Tamburrelli began on 26 September 2011, the result of a complaint filed by the lawyer Manuel Arosemena Santana, representing Mitchell Doens, the Secretary General of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

In the complaint it is alleged Tamburrelli used the state resources under his control to entice members of the PRD political party to switch to the CD political party. The decision from the Electoral Tribunal also said "the investigation being conducted by the Electoral Prosecutor is based on actions unrelated to the participation of Mr. Giacomo Tamburrelli Lettieri recent party elections held on 4 December 2011." These elections were held in the district of El Bebedero, in the province of Los Santos. The election was won by the CD candidate Nidia Cureña.

The resolution of the Electoral Tribunal is dated 3 January 2012. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: As the Director of the National Assistance Program, Giacomo Tamburrelli controls the funds that are handed out to the different areas of the country for community improvement projects. In the complaint against him his political detractors in the PRD allege he is using those funds as bait to get local politicians to switch from the PRD to his CD party. In Panama people who are serving in the higher ranking positions of government have a certain degree of protection from frivolous or politically motivated lawsuits. In these kinds of cases the Electoral Tribunal has to make a decision - based on the evidence and the complaint - whether or not there is enough reason to allow the investigation to proceed. If so, they "lift" his protection, and now the Electoral Prosecutor can proceed with his investigation. It's worth noting that the Electoral Tribunal and the Electoral Prosecutor are two positions in the government that are not controlled by President Ricardo Martinelli and the CD - they're controlled by the PRD. So, yeah, as with everything else in Panama, it's political.

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Money Laundering Case Against Ernesto Perez Balladares Dismissed

CorruptionThe Second Court of Justice under the presentation of Judge Elvia Batista issued a definitive dismissal in favor of the former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares, in relation to the case for the crime of money laundering. The sentence was handed down on 5 January 2012, which benefits Balladares and fourteen others who were also affiliated with this case. Perez Balladares was under investigation for alleged diversion of funds in a process of concession for the operation of several casinos. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Ah, OK. Now it all makes sense. Sometimes it takes awhile for all of the moving parts and pieces to "click" into place. A few days ago the new President of the Supreme Court Alejandro Moncada Luna was sworn in, and in his acceptance speech he was talking about how they would be submitting a proposal to limit the terms for Magistrates to ten years. And, he also wanted the ability to fire corrupt judges. At the time I didn't know what he was talking about, and I said so in my comments. Currently Supreme Court justices are already limited to ten years in office, but Alejandro Moncada Luna was talking about the judges who sit on the Superior Tribunals, like the ones who decided this case in favor of the former president Ernesto Perez Balladares. During his speech Moncada Luna said "we cannot continue to allow corruption in the judiciary." Someone called me up and explained that these Supreme Court justices are appointed for life. And, they are notoriously corrupt, especially in high profile cases involving people with lots of money. The person who called said often it becomes a virtual bidding war, and whoever is willing to pay the most money, wins the case. And what's more, it's almost impossible to remove these people from their positions, no matter what. Now, of course I have no indication any bribes were paid in the case of Ernesto Perez Balladares. And, I suspect the government prosecutors will now appeal this decision to the Supreme Court. If the decision had gone against Perez Balladares then he would be the one doing the appealing. No matter - in cases such as this the final word is always had by the Supreme Court, and I don't expect this case will die at this level.

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Three Former ANATI Officials Led To The Public Ministry in Handcuffs

CorruptionThree former officials of the National Land Authority (Anati) were led in handcuffs today to the Attorney General's Office to make be interrogated as part of the investigations following them for the granting of free titles for 54 hectares of land in Juan Hombrón. Preliminary reports indicate they are the former Legal Counsel of the ANATI, and the former Cartographers of the institution. Information indicates the main person accused in this case is Anabelle Villamonte, the former Director of Land Titling, who is free on bail and who faces charges for alleged crimes against the environment. TVN News is working to determine of these three people are being interrogated for the presumed commission of the same crime, or if the investigation has been able to prove that they committed some other type of crime. (TVN)
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Former ANATI Official Anabelle Villamonte Released On Bail

CorruptionThe former Director Land Titling of the National Land Authority (Anati), Anabelle Villamonte, was released after posting $250,000 bail, according to her defense lawyer Guillermina McDonald. Villamonte was arrested and has been detained at the temporary holding facility of the Judicial Investigation Department (DIJ) since 15 December 2011, charged with allegations of crimes against the environment in the case related to the allocation of titles for land allegedly located in mangrove swamps. Villamonte is now at home, according to her lawyer. She was released after the judge of the Second Criminal Court gave official notice to the Attorney General that bail had been posted. (Panama America)
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"Papadimitriu Should Have Said Something From The Start" - Martinelli

Corruption The Minister of the Presidency, Demetrio Papadimitriu, should have clarified his family's participation in the purchase of rights of possession property in Juan Hombrón from the outset, said president Ricardo Martinelli. "If I had known, I would have told you before," Martinelli said on channel 2 TVN Noticias. On 20 December 2011, two months after it was disclosed that the government had granted free title to 54 hectares of land in Juan Hombrón to several privately held companies linked to the family members of the Minister of the Presidency - Papadimitriu admitted his parents had confirmed their connection with the acquisition and titling of those lands. The lawyers representing the Papadimitriu family say they claimed the title over these rights because they paid for them. Last night Papadimitriu was called and a message was left but he did not answer. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Whoops, again. Is this Martinelli tossing Papadimitriu under the bus? Maybe he's the member of the Cabinet who's "burned out" and in need of a change of scenery. Well, I doubt it. Martinelli has stuck by several others of his administration who have gotten in trouble for scandals, and you really (really) have to screw the pooch for him to jettison your ass. There have been several people that I thought "well, that's it for that guy..." but in the end Martinelli has remained true. And, Papadimitriu is Martinelli's closest political adviser so in reality there's not much of a chance of him getting cut loose. But yeah, Papadimitriu should have let us know sooner his parents were using their son's political connections to worm ill gotten land titles for beachfront property thanks to sweetheart deals with the ANATI. That would have been nice...

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Former Education Minister Castro Faces Questioning in Corruption Probe

Corruption The former Minister of Education, Belgis Castro, appeared today before the Second Anti Corruption Proscutor to file declaration regarding the case of irregular contracts for the removal of fiberglass from several schools in the country. Belgis has been charged for committing embezzlement and for property damage (to the state) totaling more than $100,000 dollars. A recess was declared and the questioning will continue in the afternoon. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Belgis Castro was one of the Education Ministers who served during the PRD administration Martin Torrijos. This whole "clean up the fiberglass" scam was totally unnecessary from the start. These guys managed to create a type of mass hysteria by convincing everyone that the schools were "contaminated" with fiberglass, and they had to use government funds to "clean it up." In fact there's nothing contaminating at all about fiberglass insulation - it's not harmful at all as long as it's behind a wall of gypsum board (for example.) Yes, the little fibers can irritate your skin which is why workers who are installing fiberglass insulation wear protective clothing. Belgis Castro and others at the Ministry of Education first created the bogus need to "clean up" something that was not in reality a problem at all, then they embezzled the money allocated for the (unnecessary) cleanup. The investigations continue.

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Judge Grants Bail To Anabelle Villamonte for $250,000

CorruptionThe Second Criminal Court granted bail to Anabelle Vilamonte, the former Director of Certification and Adjustment of the National Authority for Land Administration (Anati) for $250,000 dollars. Villamonte is accused of crimes against the environment related to the transfer of 54 hectares of beachfront property in Juan Hombrón, in the province of Cocle. The court was running against the decision of Attorney General José Ayú Prado. However, it remains to be seen of the Attorney General accepts the amount of the bail, or if he will appeal the decision. If so, Villamonte could spend Christmas in the detention cell of the Directorate of Judicial Investigation (DIJ). (Critica)

Editor's Comment: In Panama prosecutors have the power to order a person's arrest, and anyone who has been detained can apply for bail to a judge.

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Varela Calls On Italy To Explain The Finmeccanica Scandal to Panama

CorruptionThe Italian Government has to settle accounts with Panama about the scandal in which the Italian company Finmeccanica is involved, with which Panama has a contract for the purchase of security equipment, said today Vice President Juan Carlos Varela. He also suggested the contract should be suspended immediately, in order to be negotiated, in order to buy what is needed to buy and remove needs to be eliminated. Varela also reiterated that he alone was responsible for managing a framework agreement as the Chancellor that was signed during a state visit by the presidents of Panama and Italy, in which regrettably the figure of an intermediary later emerged. Valter Lavitola - The vice president said in an interview on TVN News that he recommended to President Ricardo Martinelli not to appoint the Italian Valter Lavitola as an honorary consul, and Martinelli followed his recommendation. (Estrella)
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