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Wednesday, July 23 2014 @ 07:59 AM EDT

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(Dumb) Idea To Allow Sitting Deputies To Practice Law Creates Controversy

Law & LawyersThe ceremonial resolution (passed in the National Assembly) granting license, to allow sitting Deputies who are lawyers to also (simultaneously) practice law, violates the Constitution and the rules of ethics and morality, according to experts. (more)

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Varela Wants To Cancel Pardons Granted By Martinelli

Law & LawyersAlthough lawyers argue there are rules that empower President Juan Carlos Varela to repeal the pardons granted by Ricardo Martinelli at the end of his term in office, the president said yesterday the legal team of the Presidency still evaluating it. (more)

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Lame Duck National Assembly Passes Controversial Last-Minute Laws

Law & LawyersThe lame-duck National Assembly controlled by the outgoing Cambio Democratico political party approved a new law authorizing security guards for the wife and children of former presidents, and approved several controversial executive appointments. (more)

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Taxi Driver Who Killed Television Cameraman Has To Report In...

Law & LawyersPanama's Auxiliary Prosecutor ordered the taxi driver who struck and killed TVN cameraman Bolívar Jurado on the Northern Corridor to report to his office regularly. (more)

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Supreme Court Hearing on Ana Matilde Gomez Sentencing Starts

Law & LawyersShortly after 10:00 am this morning a hearing started at the Supreme Court of Justice to decide on a request made by the former Attorney General and National Assembly Deputy-elect Ana Matilde Gomez. (more)

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"The Public Ministry Is Not Political" Says Attorney General Ana Belfon

Law & LawyersPanama's Attorney General Ana Belfon said the Public Ministry "is not a political entity," and today she will make a statement on the requests to investigate the allegations published in both local and international news media against the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela.

"The Public Ministry does not live in political times, but rather procedural times," said Belfon.

The Chief of the Public Ministry met on Thursday with representatives from the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime from Chiriqui, to try to a work plan to confront the increase in criminal activities in the province.

She also indicated a task force lead by the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime in Chiriqui is investigating the disappearance of the two Dutch women Lisane Froom and Kris Kommers.

"We are not ruling out any theory in the disappearance of the two young women," she said.

She added that a Dutch organization is collaborating with these investigations. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: So Panama's Attorney General will make a decision today on how to proceed regarding the "Varela Gate" scandal. Interesting. Let's see - I expect she will announce they have opened an investigation into everyone involved, with the exception of Juan Carlos Varela. She will refer to the Panamanian Constitution and Criminal Procedure Code, and pass the responsibility to the National Assembly to investigate Vice President Varela. There's enough meat on the bone regarding the allegations against Michelle Lasso, her father Jaime Lasso, and others involved in laundering the money from illegal Internet gambling in the United States, as well as the allegations regarding the illegal diversion of funds from the Panamanian Consulates in Japan and South Korea.

All next week there will be still more details coming out in the press. Ana Belfon will call a couple of witnesses and generate a couple of headlines. The National Assembly will begin to talk about what to do about Varela. All of this during the final week before the national election which will decide the next president.

With regards to her statement saying that the Public Ministry is not a political entity? Bullshit. Jose Ayu Prado started off as a prosecutor in the Public Ministry who went after the former president Ernesto Perez Balladares (for Martinelli). As a payback for being a loyal lapdog, Martinelli promoted him to the position of Attorney General, where he continued to target corrupt officials, crooks and criminals who were in the opposition. Later Martinelli promoted him again to the Supreme Court. And today, he is the President of the Supreme Court. Not political? Rather, it's the definition of political.

But no matter. Ana Belfon will investigate crime and follow the law. The Lasso family and others apparently did (in fact) break the law, so I expect the Attorney General will investigate those facts. And of course, while doing so she will say "it's not political" and claim to be simply following the case wherever the chain of evidence takes them. However the truth remains, that a guy like Martinelli would never appoint anyone to a position as important as the Attorney General, without first making sure they were playing for this team. That's simply the way he operates.

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Ayu Prado Asks The US For Help To Implement The "Adversarial" System

Law & LawyersThe Board of Directors of the Supreme Court of Panama asked for help from the State Department of the United States, to continue implementing the new "adversarial" system in the judiciary.

The request was formalized during a meeting held on 16 April 2014 in Washington DC, between the President of the Supreme Court José Ayú Prado, the Vice President of the Supreme Court Luis Ramón Fábrega, and the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission for the Control and Abuse of Drugs, Paul Simons.

They also talked about corruption. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I would just like to point out that the La Prensa newspaper today did not have a single word in print, about the slowly developing "Varela Gate" scandal. Not a word. Like, it's not even happening. The only thing they've printed thus far have been articles attempting to support the position of "their" candidate. They've attacked the source of information. They've printed Varela's statements denying it all. Further proof that there really are no independent news media outlets in the Republic of Panama - besides me, of course.

For the record, I like Martinelli because he gets stuff done. He's done a lot of stealing to be sure. But, they all do so it's not like you can get rid of corruption by changing from one horse to another. If you simply accept the corruption as a part of the landscape that you can't get rid of and move on, then the next thing is productivity and efficiency. And on those scales of measure, Martinelli has been kicking ass. So, he might be a crook, but at least he gets shit done...

And yeah, the Supreme Court wants more money from the United States to implement the new adversarial system. And the US answered by saying "let's talk about corruption." Meaning (in diplo-speak) "we're not going to give you more money, if it's going to get stolen and misappropriated." Said with a smile and a warm handshake, of course. That's what I don't like about diplomats. They are way too diplomatic for me. The words that come out of their mouth is "we're so glad you stopped by" when the real message is "go fuck yourself." I prefer the direct approach.

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Challenge Filed Asking For Pinilla's Credit's From The University of Panama

Law & LawyersJavier Alexis Bosso Campbell filed a request for information with the General Secretary of the University of Panama in order to see if the President of the Electoral Tribunal, Erasmo Pinilla, graduated as a lawyer from the university.

His request states that in 2006 when Pinilla was ratified by the National Assembly of Deputies as a magistrate on the Electoral Tribunal, he only presented a supposed certification from 1975 issued by the Faculty of Law of the University of Panama. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Who knows? Maybe someone knows something. Pinilla was put on the Electoral Tribunal by the PRD. He's another party flunky who has also been guilty of ruining the supposed "independence" of the Electoral Tribunal. He worked together with Gerardo Solis to make sure every decision favored the PRD candidates, and went against the CD. So now if the CD can prove (at the last minute, before the election) that Pinilla really never graduated from the University of Panama as a lawyer, then it would be illegal and improper for him to be sitting as a judge on the Electoral Tribunal.

My gut tells me this is BS, and it's more designed just to make people think Pinilla is a fraud, than actually exposing him as a fraud. But if it's true, then it's a good one...

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There Will Be No Special Supreme Court Meeting To Hear Ballesteros' Allegaions

Law & LawyersThe Supreme Court will hold a regular meeting of the full body of nine judges on 10 April to debate whatever the members propose, instead of a special meeting today to discuss the complaints filed by the former judge Alexis Ballesteros.

The presiding judge of the Supreme Court, Jose Ayu Prado, called for caution and prudence with regards to the request by three of the sitting judges who are calling for an extraordinary meeting of the full body to discuss the issue, which was addressed by the Judicial Council on 31 March and during the regular meeting of the full body on April 3. There is an administrative process that has been circulated and decided.

The allegations being made by Ballesteros were analyzed during the meeting of the Judicial Council of 31 March and the regular meeting of the full court on April 3.

Right now there is a disciplinary process against the judges of the Second Superior Tribunal of Justice, currently located in the office of Judge Diaz.

Judge Diaz was challenged by lawyers defending the former judge Alexis Ballesteros on 31 March, and this challenge must first be resolved by Judge Luis Ramon Fabrega, Ayu Prado said.

The presiding judge of the Supreme Court said during the regular meeting of the full session of the Supreme Court and sitting judge is free and sovereign to raise any issue or matter they consider to be relevant.

The Supreme Court judges Oydén Ortega, Harley Mitchell and Víctor Benavides requested the President of the Supreme Court José Ayú Prado to call an Extraordinary meeting of the full body for today, April 8 at 3:00 pm, to address the allegations being made by the former judge Ballesteros.

The former judge complained his arm was twisted to issue decisions and rulings that would favor friends of President Martinelli. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: Martinelli appointed Jose Ayu Prado to the Supreme Court, and Martinelli also has a majority of the judges sitting on the bench. What you will see are delaying tactics, and nothing of any significance will be decided before the election on 4 May. In fact the three PRD judges Oydén Ortega, Harley Mitchell and Víctor Benavides all know nothing will happen and that they don't have the votes on the court to actually accomplish anything, so this is all about headlines and trying to keep this issue in the news as much as possible between now and the election.

After the election is over and Arias wins, then these three judges will be replaced by players who are faithful to the CD.

Two of the judges appointed by the former PRD president Martin Torrijos in January 2006 - Harley Mitchell and Víctor Benavides - will be leaving the bench on 1 January 2016. Oydén Ortega also appointed by Torrijos in January 2008 will be leaving office on 1 January 2018.

Jerónimo Mejía - also appointed by Torrijos in 2008 - is the last of the four "non CD" judges who remains on the Supreme Court. I have no idea why he didn't include his name on this list of judges calling for a special or extraordinary hearing into the Ballesteros matter.

But no matter what the bottom line remains the same. There is no judicial security in Panama. The facts in the case file mean nothing at all, if the person who you are going against is Panamanian, rich, and connected. This fundamental truth becomes even more true the higher up you go in the judicial food chain. No one will ever win any sort of legal case of any kind against Ricardo Martinelli, and that also will become even more true after Arias wins the election on 4 May. They won't "own" all nine judges until 1 January 2018 but it really doesn't matter when all you need is a simple majority, and they already have that.

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The President Controls Panama's Judiciary (As Usual)

Law & LawyersThe independence of the judiciary is once again in jeopardy.

Alexis Ballesteros, who resigned yesterday from his position as the judge of the Fourth Criminal Circuit of Panama, said he was pressured and intimidated by his superiors to issue decisions favoring those close to President Ricardo Martinelli.

In an interview granted to La Prensa, Ballesteros said due to orders from judges Wilfredo Sáenz, Secundino Mendieta, Alejandro Moncada Luna and the President of the Supreme Court José Ayú Prado, he was instructed to issue decisions in criminal cases he handled both as the judge of both the Fourth and Eleventh Criminal Courts.

He said his contact between the four Supreme Court judges was the Administrator of the Tourism Authority Solomon Shamah, who in turn takes his orders directly from Martinelli.

As recently as yesterday, Ballesteros said he was repeatedly summoned to the offices of Moncada Luna, Saenz and Mendieta, and in these meetings they told him how he should decide in ongoing three criminal cases; that of Balbina Herrera, a case involving a family member related to Gabriel Btesh, and the case of the company Transcaribe Trading for blocking the entrance to the offices of La Prensa.

For the first two cases he was taken to the office of Moncada Luna when he was the President of the Supreme Court.

Ayu Prado, Moncada Luna, Saenz, and Mendieta were all appointed to the Supreme Court as magistrates or alternates by President Martinelli. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Once again, there is no judicial security in Panama. Politicians have completely taken over the judiciary. It doesn't matter what the evidence says. If the political power and connections go against you, then you will lose your case. This is not news, but rather simply further confirmation of a known and well established fact.

One more thing. This isn't new, and Martinelli is not the first to do this. La Prensa and the Panameñistas would do well to review the history of the Supreme Court with regards to the judges appointed by their very own Mireya Moscoso and their voting records, before they throw too many stones at Martinelli and the CD.

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Delays By Electoral Prosecutor Draw Criticism

Law & Lawyers The work - or rather the inactivity - of the Electoral Prosecutor Eduardo Penaloza continues to attract criticism.

Now the Electoral Tribunal is questioning his low levels of productivity.

By law, the institution he leads is charged with investigating electoral offenses.

Through a press release, the Electoral Tribunal says they have conducted an audit through which they tried to determine the level of work of the electoral criminal courts throughout the country.

In the midst of an election process in which politicians, civil society and others have reported a series of events that could be considered as electoral offenses, the lack of action by this institution is being questioned.

There are leaders such as Gerardo Solis, who is the Vice Presidential candidate for the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), alleging that he and other citizens are not filing these types of complaints, because they do not trust the electoral justice system, because it is being run by a Prosecutor who is an accomplice of the ruler - President Ricardo Martinelli - who appointed him.

The Electoral Tribunal's investigation concluded there was a significant drop in productivity in the offices of the Electoral Prosecutor, headed by Prosecutor Eduardo Peñaloza.

The statistical results of this audit are added to the criticism from politicians, civil society, and the judges of the Electoral Tribunal themselves about the lack of action on the part of Peñaloza. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: First of all - Gerardo Solis needs to shut the fuck up. He was first a corrupt former Electoral Prosecutor himself, originally appointed by the former PRD President Ernesto Perez Balladares. Then later during the PRD administration of former president Martin Torrijos, the PRD-controlled Supreme Court appointed him as a Judge of the Electoral Tribunal. He served as the President of the Electoral Tribunal before leaving office at the end of his term in 2012. After he left office he launched his presidential campaign as a independent, and then later was named as the running mate of the PRD's presidential candidate, Juan Carlos Navarro.

The Electoral Tribunal is supposed to be an independent and neutral monitoring body, designed to make sure elections in Panama are fair and impartial. No single individual on the planet has done more to politicize Panama's Electoral Tribunal than Gerardo Solis. To now hear him complaining about the actions of the current Electoral Prosecutor is beyond incredulous - rather it boarders on the insane.

During his entire time working within the halls of the Electoral Tribunal, first as the Electoral Prosecutor, then as a judge on the Electoral Tribunal, and finally as the President of the Electoral Tribunal, Solis made it his personal mission to ensure each and every decision was tweaked or twisted in order to benefit the PRD. He never (ever) did anything in a fair or impartial manner. Now running for the first time for an elected position (all of his previous positions have been appointments) Solis is now reaping exactly the same sort of bitter and sour fruit that he himself was sowing. Finally, some real justice for this asshole.

There are three judges on the Electoral Tribunal. In the Panamanian justice system, it's the prosecutors who drive the system, by developing the investigation and taking the cases before the judges. Martinelli - faced with a hostile Electoral Tribunal controlled by the PRD - focused on taking control of the gatekeeper's shack. He appointed the Electoral Prosecutor Eduardo Peñaloza, who is now doing his bidding. Martinelli has also appointed one judge to the Electoral Tribunal, but the other two are still PRD lapdogs. And, their terms in office don't end until after this election in May 2014.

And now Peñaloza is stalling and delaying any case or complaint that's being filed against any member of the CD or their allies the MOLIRENA party. And of course the PRD, now on the outside and in the opposition to the CD, is complaining. They find themselves having to complain about the exact same tactics they used against the CD in 2009. I see this as payback. Electoral Karma. An icy glass of revenge kool-aide.

All of this goes to further highlight what Panama Guide readers should already know. There is no justice in Panama. You cannot expect there to ever be any judicial security, under any circumstances. The only way you can be sure of winning a case is if you have both the prosecutor and judges on your side, as well as the corrupt politicians who control them. If money or power or politics is involved - then the entire system, from top to bottom - is completely and totally corrupted.

The CD's Jose Domingo Arias will win the upcoming election in May 2014. He will then continue to appoint CD friendly judges and prosecutors, including those sitting on the Electoral Tribunal and Supreme Court. Now would be a great time to make those campaign contributions. In Panama everyone (and I mean, 100%) is a player on one team or another. Either you side with the PRD, the Panameñistas, or the CD. If you try to remain neutral, you can bet that the other guy, the Panamanian who you are facing off against three years later in a large civil lawsuit, did not remain neutral. In any case, the bottom line remains the same.

There is no judicial security in Panama.

Oh, one more thing. This article appeared in the La Estrella newspaper, which is 100% biased against the CD, and in favor of the PRD. Just trying to keep your program up to date with who's who. I know, you practically need a scorecard to keep up.

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Prosecutor Asks For Case Against Moulanier To Be Dismissed

Law & LawyersThe Seventh Circuit Prosecutor asked a judge to dismiss defamation charges against Felix Moulanier, the youth leader of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), following a complaint filed by the former Director of the National Lottery Emilio Somoza Valdés.

Sources within the Public Ministry said the request was sent to the judge at the end of February, after the prosecutor came to the conclusion there was insufficient evidence to determine a crime had been committed.

Somoza filed the complaint containing charges of defamation in January based on the events that occurred at the National Lottery, after Moulanier said publicly he was pressured to join the MOLIRENA political party.

In the complaint, Somoza said he was offended by Moulanier's statements, who accused Somoza of having attempted to bribe him with $50,000 in return for abandoning the PRD and joining the MOLIRENA party.

Moulanier said the discussions about the alleged bribery attempt took place in the offices of the National Lottery.

Editor's Comment: Remember this story? This was the one where the PRD guy Moulanier walks into a press conference that was called by the MOLIRENA guys at the front door of the Electoral Tribunal. He was supposed to be announcing that he had quit the PRD and joined the MOLIRENA party. However (surprise!) when the cameras were rolling, instead he publicly denounced Somoza and others for having attempted to buy him with cash and other things like jobs for friends and family members. The MOLIRENA guys who were there - now shocked - rolled up their political banners and slinked off. Somoza resigned from his position at the National Lottery in disgrace. He fired off this lawsuit when the thing first broke, and now it's going to be dismissed. Mostly because there's no "crime against honor" when the facts being presented are just that - facts. Moulanier wasn't making stuff up, he was just sucker punching a politician in public, and beating him at his own game. No crime in that. But this whole thing did serve to demonstrate the lengths to which they are willing to go in order to get people to switch from one side to the other.

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Eisenmann vs. Martinelli (a.k.a. La Prensa vs. TCT) - Forcing A Judge To Resign

Law & LawyersThe judge of the Fourth Criminal Circuit Court of Panama, Alexis Ballesteros, said he was asked to resign for not "following directions" and for having overridden a decision made by a lower court to throw out the criminal case against five employees of the company Transcaribe Trading SA (TCT), for having blocked access to the office of the La Prensa newspaper on 2 and 3 August, 2012.

Ballesteros put his claims in a letter sent yesterday to the President of the Second Tribunal, judge Secundino Mendieta.

The Second Municipal Court definitively closed the case regarding the blocking of the street in front of the offices of the La Prensa newspaper, in a decision handed down on November 26, 2013.

However, lawyers representing Corprensa (the parent company of the La Prensa newspaper) appealed this decision, and the Court of Appeals was composed of the judges of the Fourth (as rapporteur), Fifth and Sixth Criminal Circuit Courts.

In the letter - to which this newspaper (La Prensa) had access - judge Ballesteros explains he was cited four times by Mendieta and by Judge Wilfredo Sáenz to receive instructions in the TCT process against Corprensa.

"The surveillance cameras of the Second Superior Court of Justice are the witnesses of the number of times that I met with you in private to hear your instructions on this case," he said .

The judge said that "I see with great concern how after the four citations ... today I you have requested my resignation."

We asked for, through the Secretary of Communication of the Judicial Branch an official version from judge Mendieta and the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Jose Ayu Prado, but there was no answer.

Decision In Favor of Corprensa

This newspaper (La Prensa) had access to the draft decision issued by Judge Ballesteros on 7 March, in which he reversed the lower court's decision of 26 November 2013, which had closed the case. The TCT employees Ariel Garay, Justavino Frías, Félix Aguilar, Ceferino Espino, and Basilio Ríos were being prosecuted for "crimes against freedom" in this case.

What's more, in the decision judge Ballesteros ordered the judge in the lower court, Leslie Loaiza of the Second Municipal Court, to conduct a preliminary hearing.

Ballesteros argued that even if the Fourth Municipal Prosecutor had requested for the file to be closed on 28 February 2013, a preliminary hearing should have been held because there were five defendants.

He decided that the victim in this case, Corprensa, is entitled to be heard by the judge before deciding if the case should be closed.

Ballesteros based his decision on that which is established in the Judicial Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Law on the Protection of Victims of Crime.

"Regardless of what the trial judge decides, the prosecution can reiterate (in the hearing) their concepts held in their prosecutor's opinion. The legal defense can agree to that which is requested by the prosecutor, and the complainant can oppose and ask for the opening of criminal proceedings," he said.


In the letter sent to Mendieta, Ballesteros added "it is regrettable that because I did not accede or abide to your guidelines (to confirm the closing of the case), as retaliation you are now asking me to resign."

The judge called the position of Mendieta and Saenz "preposterous" for obliging him to resign for having acted in accordance with the law, and for "not having followed their instructions."

He warned that "if I had decided in the way you asked me to, I would have been violating the due process of the victim (Corporación La Prensa)."

"As I explained to both of them, no one will stand up for me after that decision is revised later," he said.

Ballesteros said "my honor and my family comes before their particular interests (of Mendieta and Saenz)."

The judge made ​​it clear he will not resign because he believes the procedure is not appropriate.

In that sense, Ballesteros said even if his position is temporary, he was not informed of the reasons why he should resign.

What's more, the position he has been occupying was vacant since Silverio Rodriguez resigned on 3 May, 2013.

Ballesteros even hinted in the letter that in one of the meetings, he was asked if it was true that he was issuing - in exchange for money - decisions of invalidity in drug cases.

In response to this, Ballesteros said he provided documentation as proof that he had not handed down any decisions of invalidity in any drug cases, because these cases are allocated through a the random computerized Single Registry Entry system.

His lawyer, Rosendo Rivera, said "they tried to accuse him of rigging cases, with the intention of pressuring him to decide in the manner they wanted."

He said on Tuesday, March 18, judge Mendieta told judge Ballesteros he had until Friday to submit his resignation.

Rivera said the last meeting judge Ballesteros attended with the judges Mendieta and Sáenz was on February 25.

"If the resignation is because he is in a temporary position, then make him a full judge, explain the reasons and remove him from the position," he said.

According to Rivera, judge Ballesteros has a history of more than 13 years in the judiciary, and he has climbed the ladder with having been involved in any wrongdoing. Prior to being picked to fill the vacancy in the Fourth Court, Ballesteros served as the Eleventh Circuit Court judge.

He added that Ballesteros is not wedded to the position, because his disagreement lies in the manner in which they intend to remove him from office.

"If the judges are going to depend on what they are being told by the presiding judge of the Supreme Court or the judge of the Second Tribunal when it comes to making their decisions in cases, then we are not doing justice," he said.

According to Rivera, their interest was to confirm the closure of the case in the blocking of the office of La Prensa so that would be closed forever, because no appeal is allowed in these instances (there is no secondary instance of appeal).

Judge Brown Resigned

The above draft ruling that revokes the closure of the Corprensa file already has two signatures.

In addition to Ballesteros, the decision was signed by the judge of the Fifth Criminal Court, Enrique Paniza, and it has been pending signature by the judge of the Sixth Criminal Court since 11 March.

Judicial sources said on Friday, 14 March, the judge of the Sixth Criminal Court, Jorge Brown, presented his resignation.

The same sources said on Monday, March 17, Celia de Duncan (who was the First Circuit Judge of Colon) was moved to occupy the position left vacant by Brown's resignation.

What's more, the Third Criminal Court judge Hilda Bonilla has been on vacation since March 6.

Her place has been occupied on an interim basis by Irma Palacios.


2 Aug 2012 - Workers from the company TCT block the road in front of the offices of La Prensa.

16 August 2012 - Corprensa files a complaint.

28 February 2013 - The Fourth Municipal Prosecutor calls for the case to be closed.

13 December 2013 - Corprensa filed an appeal. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I took the time to translate this article because it clearly illustrates one thing - that there is no judicial security in Panama. Having the law or the evidence on your side really does not matter one bit. President Ricardo Martinelli is locked in a battle to the death with I. Roberto Eisenmann Jr., who is the owner of both Coronado and La Prensa. Eisenmann is 100% Panameñista, and he backs the Panameñista presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela.

When Martinelli and the CD broke off their political alliance on 30 August 2011 (because of Juan Carlos Varela's involvement in the Finmeccanica case) Eisenmann and La Prensa went on the warpath against the CD and Martinelli. They published a series of articles and reports about government contracts to build highways and roads, issued by the Martinelli administration to the company Transcaribe Trading SA (TCT). David and Daniel Ochy, who own TCT, went ballistic over these articles, and they sent their trucks and heavy equipment to block the entrances to the offices of La Prensa in the middle of the night, effectively preventing the newspapers from being delivered. And then of course, La Prensa filed their complaints.

So you can clearly see how this is anything but a "normal" legal case that's making it's way through the judiciary system in Panama. The two judges who were pressuring Ballesteros to decide to close the case - the President of the Supreme Court and the judge of the Second Tribunal (who are both above the position held by Ballesteros) were trying to pressure him into deciding to uphold the lower court's decision to close the case (forever). In these kinds of cases, there is no allowance for a second appeal, if two decisions in a row go against you. However if Ballesteros decided against the lower court, to keep the case open, then it goes back down for a hearing. In short, La Prensa and Eisenmann would win, the CD and Martinelli would lose - and they did not want that. When he refused to decide in the manner they wanted, they demanded his resignation.

Don't trust the Panamanian judicial system for a second, for anything. No matter what happens to you - and especially because you are a foreigner - the Panamanian on the other side of the table probably has more money, and better political connections than you. You will lose your case, regardless of the evidence, testimony of witnesses, or whatever the law might say. Even if they have to remove a judge to get what they want - they will control and manipulate the system to get what they want. Period.

There is no judicial security in Panama. None. Zero. It simply does not exist. Ricardo Martinelli and the CD own it - lock, stock, and barrel. And if (when) Jose Domingo Arias wins the election in May this situation will only become worse. Their control over the judiciary will deepen, as they continue to appoint more judges and to remove those who are not players on their political team. The only way you have a chance of winning is if your case is too small to matter, and if the Panamanian you are up against is broke, dumb, stupid, and ugly - and a member of either the PRD or the Panameñista political party. If that's the case, then it's a lock...

But seriously folks, if you are an English speaking businessman in Panama, now would be a good time to donate heavily to the campaign of Jose Domingo Arias and proclaim your everlasting love for the CD. I think they are poised to retain control of the country, and to keep it for a very long time. Make friends now, if you have not already. Only those gringos who are flat broke (and I mean, penniless) can afford to buck the system. Look what happens to Panamanians who are on the wrong side of the game. Do you think you would stand a chance?

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Panama Relocation Checklist

1. Research Panama Immigration Visas to see which one would be the best fit for your family. Panama has numerous permanent residency programs for entire families including pensioners, investors, businessmen, job offers, and even for citizens of 48 “friendly nations”. While Panama’s embassy and consulate websites can provide basic information, it is better to consulate with a Panama immigration lawyer as the rules and regulations are constantly changing and securing a visa without legal assistance can take a very long time.

2. Research the Types of Vaccines needed to relocate to Panama. The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends contacting your doctor to determine what vaccines are necessary depending on your health, vaccine history and which part of Panama you will relocate to. For instance, make sure you are up to date with routine inoculations for mumps/measles/rubella (MMR) vaccine, poliovirus vaccine, and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine. The CDC website has a map of the world indicating Panama has an intermediate risk of Hepatitis A virus but no risk of contracting Hepatitis B Surface Antigen. Some areas east of the Panama Canal Zone heading towards the border with Colombia may require a Yellow Fever vaccination.

3. Research Customs Duty and Taxes for new vehicles and luxury items being shipped to Panama. As a foreigner on a pensioner visa in Panama, you are afforded special tax incentives when importing a car and household goods. Learn more here.

4. Bringing Pets to Panama requires rabies vaccines and specific forms from your vet and other documents. Learn about the specific steps to take when bring a pet to Panama in our free relocation EBook.

5. Medical Health Insurance covering travel to Panama may be purchased. However if you plan to fly to Panama City’s International Airport (Tocumen), you will receive a brochure explaining the government of Panama’s free medical insurance program covering you and your family for the first 30 days. After that period you can purchase health insurance plans in Panama. For information and contact details on the best hospitals and health insurance in Panama, read more here.

6. Gather Important Documents to take with you and have them Apostilled by your government within 3 months before applying for a Panama immigration visa, a Panama driver’s license, and opening a Panama bank account. These documents include:

  • Marriage and birth certificates
  • Passport, naturalization document, green card, proof of citizenship, etc.
  • Social security cards
  • Vaccinations, dental and medical records
  • Insurance policies
  • Academic records and diplomas
  • Employment records
  • Proof of residency (utility bills with your name and address)
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Original reference letter from your bank (two banks would be better) addressed to a specific Panama bank and signed by a bank official.

An Apostille is an internationally recognized method of authenticating government issued documents such as birth and marriage certificates and driver’s licenses. In the U.S., a state’s Secretary of State Office can do the Apostille.

7. Moving & Shipping: Locate an international moving & shipping company to help facilitate your moving needs. There are many options available, but it is recommended to read some reviews, compare prices, and look for recommendations.

8. Vehicle Insurance should be purchased and used while driving in Panama. Click here to learn more about Panama Vehicle Insurance.

9. Property Insurance is a good thing to have during shipping and relocation. There are international insurance companies who can provide coverage for expats and their relocation. Read this web page explaining Panama Fire Insurance.

10. Maintaining Bank and Credit Card Accounts requires notifying them of your move so they won’t treat you like an identity theft fraudster. Learn more about how to open a Panama Bank Account.

11. Prescription Drugs requires taking a quantity with you and obtaining the pertinent medical records which need to be kept in a safe place.

12. International Driving Permit must be obtained which will be carried with your original driver’s license. Find more information here on how to get a Panama Driver’s License and How to Drive in Panama.

13. Cancel Subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and anything else which will be delivered or mailed to your former home.

14. Hotel & Flight Reservations should be made as soon as you verify your travel date.

15. VOIP Phone Service (Voice Over Internet Protocol) like the free Skype account to make free international calls.

16. Research the culture, neighborhoods, things you need which are not available (so you can stock up), schools, job opportunities, real estate prices, Spanish language schools, and Panama’s expat community groups and forums for networking. Download the EBook explaining all of these in details here: Panama Relocation EBook.

Panama Offshore Legal Services provides first-class legal advice, consultation, and various services to help make relocating to Panama more efficient and less stressful. Visit our website or download the Panama Relocation EBook to learn more.

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Jose Ayu Prado Elected As New President of Supreme Court

Law & LawyersJose Ayu Prado was sworn in Thursday as the new President of the Supreme Court for the period 2014-2015, succeeding Alejandro Moncada Luna this position.

Ayu Prado won the election with five out of nine votes.

The remaining votes went to Judge Victor Benavides.

The nominations began at 2:45 pm and the voting began at 4:45 pm. (Telemetro)

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New Supreme Court President To Be Elected Today

Law & LawyersAt 2:00 pm this afternoon the nine Magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice will elect Alejandro Moncada Luna's successor to be the new president of the Supreme Court.

Moncada Luna, who has been a target of strong criticism from civil society groups due to his recent decisions, gave up his aspirations to be reelected for the period 2014-2015.

Another judge who also declined a possible bid for the presidency of the Court was Justice Harry Diaz. (Prensa)

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Diaz gives up; Ayu Prado is the new favorite

Law & LawyersJust a few days before the date established to elect a new President of the Supreme Court, the current Supreme Court Vice President Harry Diaz - the only pretender for the office - has announced he has given up his aspirations for the position.

Sources within the Gil Ponce Palace of Justice in Ancon said reached his decision after he discovered he lacked the five votes necessary to become the President of the Supreme Court for the next two years.

Those same judicial sources say now Magistrate Jose Ayu Prado is the new favorite to take over the top post in the judiciary after the current president, Alejandro Moncada Luna, decided to not run for reelection. (Prensa)

The nine sitting judges on the Supreme Court will vote to elect the new President of the Supreme Court on 2 January 2014. (Prensa)

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Law 47 Passed: Panama Corporation Bearer Shares to be Restricted

Law & Lawyers

On August 6, 2013, the National Assembly of Panama passed Law 47, which once it goes into effect two years from now, will require that everyone in possession of Panama corporation bearer shares to designate an authorized custodian to take possession of the bearer shares. An authorized custodian could be a licensed bank, a Panama attorney (or law firm), Panama fiduciaries, or brokerage houses regulated by the Superintendence of the Panama Securities Market.

Bearer shares are corporate stock certificates that do not have anyone’s name, but only “bearer”, which means whoever is in possession of the bearer certificate is the owner. This effectively allows for anonymous ownership of a corporation. Similar to government or corporate “bearer” bonds, only the name “bearer” appears on the bond allowing the first owner to pass it onto to anyone who holds it as the new owner.

Law 47 takes effect on August 6, 2015, and from that date on, every holder of a bearer share certificate will have three years to submit the bearer shares to an authorized custodian, along with a sworn declaration providing basic identity information about the true owner and the corporation which issued the shares, as well as its resident agent.

After Law 47 comes into effect, every corporation issuing bearer shares must submit the bearer shares certificates to the authorized custodian within 20 days from the date of issuance, along with the corresponding sworn declaration.

The authorized custodian must provide the sworn declaration to competent authorities who request it while investigating acts related to money laundering, financing of terrorist activities, or other illegal activities in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Panama, or otherwise, to comply with the agreements and international double taxation treaties signed by the Republic of Panama.

Lastly, the new law requires that the Supreme Court keep a registry of the lawyers and law firms that serve as authorized custodians and authorizes the court to apply sanctions for noncompliance with their obligations as custodians under this law.

Please note that this law does not obligate Panama offshore corporations to register the names of the shareholders at the Public Registry. Only the corporation’s officers, directors, and registered agent’s names are registered at the Public Registry.

While the global tendency of other tax haven jurisdictions is to completely eliminate bearer shares resulting from pressures from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), Panama has creatively found a solution to protecting privacy while creating mechanisms to control illegal activities by immobilizing bearer shares instead of eliminating them.

Contact our Panama law firm with any questions concerning this new law and our English speaking staff will gladly answer them for you.

For more information on other Panama legal matters, visit:

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Top 4 Ways to Get Residency in Panama

Law & LawyersIn the past year, Panama has become the easiest nation in the world to obtain permanent residency.

Here is a summary of the four best immigration visas for relocating to Panama.

1. Friendly Nations Visa: Citizens from any of the 48 nations considered “friendly” with Panama can relocate here and obtain the quickest permanent residency visa.  To qualify, the friendly foreigner must either purchase an existing Panama business, start a new business in Panama, or be hired to work as a “professional” for a Panama professional services company.

The 48 friendly nations are: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein,  Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Marino, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States of America, Uruguay, United Kingdom (Great Britain & Northern Ireland).

A big difference from all of the other Panama immigration visas is that the Friendly Nations Visa has a lower solvency requirement.  An applicant needs to only show ownership of $5,000 USD.

Another Executive Decree ordered the Ministry of Labor to fast track Work Permits for these “professional” employees.

2.  Panama Retired or Pensioner Visa: Retired people, and those over 18 years old, with lifetime pensions or annuities of at least $1,000 USD per month qualify.  An additional $250 must be received every month for each dependent.  The pension or annuity can come from government agencies, military, banks, corporations, an insurance company, private company, or a Trust. This residency program offers many discounts from restaurants, pharmacies, movie theaters, hotels, concerts, and domestic airlines amongst others.

Note:  The above two are the only Panama visa options that grant immediate permanent residency.  The visas below require a two year provisional temporary residency period before being able to apply for permanent residency.

3. Panama Reforestation Investor Visa: Invest a minimum of $80,000 USD in a government certified reforestation project by buying at least five hectares (12.35 acres) of titled land with an additional investment of $2,000 for each dependent.  An individual or a Panama corporation can buy the required hectares. There are many government certified reforestation projects in Panama to choose from.

Reforestation is the process of growing trees (teak and mahogany are the most popular in Panama) and replanting after they are cut down and harvested.  It takes 20 years for a tree to mature for harvesting with a thinning down process every 6, 12 and 16 years which produces commercial wood for sale.  After harvesting, the land is replanted with new trees and resold to existing or new investors.

Profitability: Besides obtaining legal residency and citizenship, a reforestation investment is profitable.  At just an average of 2% yearly increase in teak market prices, the $80,000 initial investment can bring a return of $370,586 in 20 years.  That’s a return of 460% in 20 years, or an annual average of 23%.  That’s not bad when compared to the current stock market.  According to Standard & Poor’s the average S&P 500 Index only averaged 7.33% annually from 1990 to 2008.

4. Panama Self Economic Solvency Residency: Three options exist to qualify for this permanent residency in Panama option which was created to attract wealthy foreigners:

a) Deposit at least $300,000 USD in a three year Panama bank CD.  An additional $2,000 deposit is required for each dependent.

b) Invest at least $300,000 USD equity in any Panama real estate with an additional $2,000 USD for each dependent.

c) Combine the first two options by making an investment in both Panama real estate and a Panama bank CD where the equity and cash total at least $300,000 USD (or foreign currency equivalent).  An additional $2,000 USD must be invested for each dependent.

Panama Citizenship is offered by three of the above mentioned visas after being a permanent resident for five years: Friendly Nations Visa, Reforestation Visa, and the Economic Solvency Visa.

Since this is only a summary, consult with our English speaking immigration department to learn more details regarding any of these four permanent visas.

For more information on Panama immigration, visas, and residency, visit or call +(507) 227-6645 in Panama, or from the U.S. dial (239) 206-1955.

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Lawyers Report Issues Regarding The Elections Of The New Directive

Law & LawyersAt least 120 lawyers have complained about not appearing in the register to vote in the elections of the new directive of the National Bar Association (CNA) organized for today, July 12.

Most lawyers, who assure they sent their details by the due date to be registered, belong to the “red” payroll of the candidate Antonio Loaiza.

As explained by Rodrigo Del Cid, Loaiza’s campaign will be affected because "most lawyers left outside were from the red list," he said. He said it is puzzling that lawyers do not appear in the voter registration.

"This situation makes no sense, because all the documents were submitted in a timely manner, we request that our colleagues are allowed to exercise their right to vote.” However, they had to wait for the Electoral tribunal to open a manual table for those lawyers who do not appear in the record to cast their vote. (Prensa)

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Martinelli Passed The Law 44, Increasing The Sentence For Squatters

Law & LawyersThe president, Ricardo Martinelli, passed on Wednesday, June 19, the Law 44 which adds and modifies articles to the Criminal Code and increases the penalties by sentencing squatters with one to three years in prison.

The document states that anyone who promotes, sponsors, finances, facilitates, assists or encourages this type of crime will be punished with three to six years in prison.

This law also protects vulnerable areas prone to the risk of natural phenomena, stating that those who usurp or illegally occupy these areas will have their penalty increased by one third to a half more based on the regular sentence.

The same law applies whenever the scenario of this crime is in areas close to rivers or water sources, also near any area declared as a protected zone or as an environmental and ecological preservation area; basically any area with exceptional attributes that justify its inalienability and unavailability.

All this is contained in the Article 229-A added to the Criminal Code which also includes any area reserved for the construction of public works.

Law 44 also amends Article 356, stating the following: "A public official who illegally refuses, omits or delays any act related to his or her function will be sentenced with six months to a year in prison or its equivalent in days, fine or weekend imprisonment.” (Estrella)

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The European Union Rejects The Law Restricting Foreign Investment On Maritime Services

Law & LawyersThe restriction on foreign investment established in the bill 613, approved yesterday on third debate in the National Assembly and enacted in the Official Gazette within hours as Law 41, could bring friction in Panama's economic relations with the European Union (EU).

The law limits foreign investment by establishing that 75% of the shares of companies engaged in auxiliary maritime services of fuel distribution, provision and transportation of personnel must be owned by Panamanians.

Through a letter sent by the Italian Embassy in Panama, as president Pro Témpore of the EU, they warned they would be violating the commitments Panama made with Europe if the law is enacted under those conditions.

In particular, he was referring to the "national treatment principle" contained in the provisions related to services in the Partnership Agreement US-Central America, ratified by Panama, as well as the terms of some investment protection treaties signed by Panama with different European countries.

Despite the warnings from the European diplomacy, the project was approved yesterday on third debate, and the president, Ricardo Martinelli, passed and signed the law.

All this took place while the president Martinelli was visiting Italy.

In addition to EU’s warning, maritime businessmen have also said they do not agree with this law, which was passed within a few hours. (Prensa)

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Project Governing The Maritime Activity Was Approved in Third Debate

Law & LawyersThe National Assembly approved on Friday, June 14, the Bill No. 613 during third debate, which governs work on the sea and waterways. The Bill received 36 votes in favor and 7 against.

The project says 75% of the shares in the companies providing auxiliary maritime services must be owned by Panamanians.

With the proposal, 90% of the crew of those companies involved with foreign maritime service must be formed by Panamanians.

They also approved Bill No. 612 on third debate, which reorganizes the Board of the Maternal and Child Hospital José Domingo De Obaldía.

The special sessions in the National Assembly are now finalized with the approval of these two draft bills. (Estrella)

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APEDE Warns The Bill Seeking To Nationalize Auxiliary Maritime Services Represents A Risk For Panama

Law & LawyersThe Panamanian Association of Business Executives (APEDA) said the bill 613 "violates international legal security", because it restricts foreign investment in the auxiliary maritime industry. Yesterday, the bill was approved during second reading by a group from the official party, the Democratic Change (CD), and by the Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (MOLIRENA).

"The bill seeking to nationalize auxiliary maritime services is absurd and a violation of international treaties signed by Panama with other countries, and a violation to the participation Panama has in international forums aimed to liberalize global navigation," said the union in a statement.

In addition, the Apede expressed they fear these activities might disappear from Panama if this service is nationalized, as it would affect service providers and the country's competitiveness. (Prensa)

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Amendment On Decree Law 8 Favors Certain Law Firms

Law & LawyersThrough the amendments to Decree Law 8, which governs the work at sea, the operations of some companies providing auxiliary maritime services will be closed, but at the same time they seek to assure the legal business within the maritime industry for some law firms.

The bill, proposed by the deputy Yassir Purcait from the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and adopted by the Executive Branch for special sessions will be discussed today in the first debate in the Committee of Commerce of the Assembly.

Some lawyers will have secured legal transactions in the maritime industry in compensation for clients they will lose with the immobilization of bearer shares project, which is frozen in the Assembly, according to a source.

Since the Bill was shown to the public, the maritime business community has rejected the amendments because it limits foreign companies as 75% of the shares of companies providing auxiliary maritime services must be owned by Panamanians.

For the former secretary of the Maritime Authority of Panama, Carlos Ernesto González De la Lastra, this is a real government orchestrated plan to benefit some companies engaged in the maritime business. "Now I understand why they were not approving the operating licenses for different maritime activities such as barge service," he said. (Prensa)

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Harry Diaz in The Middle Of A Surprise Volley

Law & LawyersIn less than a month Harry Diaz, Vice Magistrate of the Supreme Court became the target of six lawsuits.

The legal community is in astonishment, as for one moment it seemed the situation was taking a turn for the best in the highest levels of the Judicial Branch; however, the six lawsuits took everyone by surprise.

Five of the lawsuits claim Diaz's appointment was unconstitutional, and attack the resolution through which the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, appointed him.

This is the Cabinet Decree No. 68 of April 20, 2011, and the last lawsuit questions the ratification of the position by the National Assembly.


The claims were filed between mid-March and early April. These were 22 days of legal volley. The former Procurator-General, Rogelio Cruz, presented two on March 18, 2013; three were filed 11 days later, on March 29. The lawyers were Rolando Sanchez Nunez, Yamilka Pitty and Melissa Jeanette. The last one was filed 11 days later, on April 9, 2013, by the lawyer Rosendo Rivera. The latter represents the president Ricardo Martinelli and others linked to the government party, in cases of defamation against political opponents and the media.

The essence of the legal resources retake an issue previously raised back in 2011, when the President Martinelli had to seek a replacement for Jose Abel Almengor in the Supreme Court.


The lawsuits are based on the violation from the Cabinet Council of paragraph 2 from the article 203 of the Constitution, which states: 'No person shall be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court who is exercising or has held positions with authority and jurisdiction of the Executive Body during the ongoing constitutional term.'

Both Diaz and the team of advisers from the Executive Branch denied there was any legal offense, however two years later it seems many from the legal community think otherwise.

The argument is based on Harry Diaz appearing in 13 resolutions of the Cabinet in which he was appointed as Deputy Minister of Finance during the administration of Martinelli in May 2010.

This, according to the organizational chart of the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) and judgments from the Dispute Tribunal, would represent the functions of an officer with authority and jurisdiction.


The issue has been in the hands of the group's newest judge, Jose Ayu Prado, who is the rapporteur of the case after the Criminal Chamber of the Court decided to join the unconstitutionality suits.

However, the key of this issue is the time it will take the Court to resolve these mishaps for Diaz. 'It is the responsibility of the plenary to define this as quickly as possible,' says Esmeralda de Troitino, former magistrate of the Supreme Court. 'They should have a priority decision to avoid affecting the image of the judiciary system,’ she adds.

Troitino believes this is not easy for the magistrates. 'These are decisions that sometimes are difficult, but those are the challenges of the position' she says.

The important thing for her is that the Plenary of the Court defines the situation. 'It has to be resolved. It questions the legitimacy of the actions of the judge and there is no certainty of the validity of those actions,’ said Troitino. (Estrella)

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Homosexuals Are Not Included in The Bill 551

Law & LawyersThe Bill 551, on adoption, which was approved yesterday during third reading by the National Assembly, excludes couples of the same sex for the eligibility of adopting children, as confirmed by Gloria Lozano de Diaz, director of the National Secretariat of Children, Youth and Family.

She sustained this measure by pointing out that just as marriage between people of the same sex is illegal, their good practice guidelines bans them from adopting children as well.

The deputy Marilyn Vallarino, advocate of the proposal, said the Act 61 of 2008, which currently governs the topic on adoptions, is very tedious and involves a long process. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: I would like to see this Bill, particularly to learn how it handles adoption of Panamanian children by foreigners.

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Project For The Protection Of Government Officials is Handed To The Executive Branch To Be Enacted

Law & LawyersThe Bill No. 610, which seeks to protect public servants, was passed on third debate, receiving 37 votes in favor from the official party, 1 against it and 1 withheld. It was then sent to the Presidency of the Republic to be enacted.

The vote on third debate was given nominally with all the votes from the official party representatives.

During the debate the ideas of the opposition deputies were swift. The first to speak was the Panamenista deputy Jose Isabel Blandon, who said the project is not fair, because it only seeks to benefit certain officials from the current government while those who were dismissed two years ago have not been paid.

To Blandon, the document itself is not bad. "What strikes me is that a project of this kind is presented a year before the end of this term," he said, labeling the document as "spirit of defeat."

Meanwhile, the deputy from the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Leandro Avila, said this project would have been noble if it entered into effect this year and not on January 1, 2014 as established.

"The government will continue firing officials until the elections come, there is no retro activity of the law. This government has fired over 35 thousand officials," he said.

Hernan Delgado was the only one who decided to defend this document, assuring only this government has decided to help officials.

The document, which will be enacted by the President Ricardo Martinelli in the next few weeks, establishes that any official working for the Executive Branch, in semi-autonomous or autonomous entities, must be compensated by the Government in the case they are fired without justification.

It also adds this compensation will correspond to any employee who was appointed permanently or temporary. These benefits shall be calculated based on the last salary earned, over each year worked at the service of the Government.

It also states that public servants chosen by popular election, ministers, vice ministers, directors and assistant directors of autonomous and semi autonomous entities do not qualify for this compensation. Also, administrators and assistant administrators of Government entities are not subject to this law, among other things. (Prensa)

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In A Second Reading, The Assembly Approved Contracts Between The State And Two Companies

Law & LawyersThe National Assembly approved today, Friday 31 May 2013, at debate II, project of the 607 law, authorizing a contract between the state and society of United Crown Construction, Inc.

The purpose of the project is the granting by the State of an authority through contracts for the construction and management of a container yard and logistics park in Margarita Island, province of Colon.

The project of the 607 law was also endorsed, approving the contract between the state and the Panama Canal Colon Port Company, Inc.

This initiative aims at granting of the state of the authorization for the company to develop, build, manage and run a terminal for handling and transportation of containers.

Both projects were rejected by the opposition, who reported abstaining to vote. (Panama America)

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Technological Failures Affect Criminal Trials

Law & LawyersThe lack of infrastructure to assist judgments of multiple accused citizens and the limitations in the technological system have become one of the main obstacles in the Judicial Branch’s ability to comply with the Criminal Trial Procedure Video.

The first judgment conducted through the Criminal Trial Procedure Video program took place 10 years ago and, since then, it runs depending on the speed and capacity of the data and voice system.

When the program was launched in 2005, the Judicial Branch set the goal of conducting seven hearings per day, 35 every week and 2 thousand 100 per year. However, last year only 835 trials were registered and there are reports showing up to three trials being cancelled per day and, furthermore, sometimes not even one trial is conducted per week.

The program is simple. First, a camera is installed, as well as equipment for the production of evidence, a sound system and a telephone line. All of this assists the criminal defendant to directly communicate with the judge without the need of moving from the prison. The system installed at the prisons is the same used at courts.

Cesar Ruiloba, president of the Attorney’s National Institute, assures the infrastructure issue is the main limitation in the system; i.e., the hearing rooms at prisons have a limited space of one criminal defendant at a time.

Ruiloba also said the rooms at prisons are very small, which makes it difficult to conduct mass trials, due to the low coverage of the camera installed in the technological system. But, this issue is not only related to the capacity at the hearing rooms, the main concern is the security issue, because several custodians are required to take the accused to the hearing rooms to avoid them from harming each other. In some cases, the hearings are suspended because there are not enough custodians available.

This contradicts one of the main purposes of the video hearing because the biggest difficulty arises when there are several accused in the case, as it is complicated to transfer the prisoners to the courts, due to the amount of guards required in this task. This problem aggravated due to recent amendments applied to the Criminal Code, this is when there are gangs tried and several criminal defendants must be at the same hearing. Recently, a group of mothers and wives of about 20 inmates from La Joya and La Joyita Prisons were demanding to have their relatives called to proceedings in trial.

One of the mothers requested to have a video hearing, because she stated there was no need to leave the prison and the process would be faster.

The issue is these relatives have over four years waiting for the trial of these criminal defendants, after they were captured in a police operation in the year 2009 in El Chorrillo.

Regarding the limited space, the director of the Penitentiary System, Angel Calderon, made reference to a project in bidding process for the construction of 15 video hearing rooms in the prisons in the country, in order to solve this issue in the system.

Calderon explained the order to proceed with the works will be issued in 30 days; the goal is to have more programmed hearings than there are at the time.

The problem with this system is not only caused by the lack of space, because the Judiciary Branch has another situation, the rooms are more spacious; only in the province of Panama there are six rooms reserved for these proceedings.

Nevertheless, the system used at the hearings usually goes down. The reason is the technical failures that arise at the last minute and prevent the completion of the trial.

"This is because they have not paid their Internet service and it was deactivated," said a very displeased lawyer, who declined to give his name, after the announcement of the suspension of the trial they had been waiting on for months.

The video system at hearings was applied with ambitious expectations, taking into account that the suspension of trials due to the lack of logistics in the transfer of prisoners was the main headache of the Panamanian justice management.

A study prepared by the Ombudsman shows 70% of the hearings scheduled are suspended because the prisoners are unable to get to the court.

An attempt was made to know through the Press Office of the Supreme Court of Justice about the progress of this system, its obstacles and its benefits, but there was no answer. (Panama America)

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