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Monday, September 23 2019 @ 09:31 am EDT

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Everyone Condemns Supreme Court Ruling Against Two Journalists in Panama

Law & Lawyers The journalistic unions of Panama called for a general assembly to present their position in reaction to the Supreme Court sentence handed down against two journalists, Justino González and Sabrina Bacal, but above all due to the connotation contained in this decision that the crime of libel was allegedly committed. Guido Rodriguez, president of Forum of Journalists, said that this is "a decision without precedent in political and legal history of the country", something that didn't even happen "in the era of the military dictatorship." Rodriguez added that "to publish information on an ongoing investigation against a public servant can not be considered a slur," referring directly to the case for which Gonzalez and Bacal were sentenced to one year imprisonment. The ruling also prevents them from working as journalists for one year.

He also stressed the fact that this decision coincided with the opinion issued by Attorney General Giuseppe Bonissi, on his push to re-criminalize libel and slander. For the guild of journalists this ruling goes against progress made in Panama on freedom of expression, and can easily provoke the country's inclusion on blacklists on this topic. Likewise, they announced they would request a visit from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to assess the issue. For tomorrow they are also organizing a march to the Supreme Court. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Selective enforcement? How come the "justice" system takes action in a case involving real journalists who write about politicians, while it basically ignores a serial slanderer who simply poses as a journalist in order to commit extortion?

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Struggle Over Freedom of Expression in Panama

Law & Lawyers A struggle between the Commentator Juan Carlos Tapia and the Attorney General Giussepe Bonissi highlights a potential threat to the freedom of expression in the country, in that a legal opinion issued by the Chief of the Public Ministry puts them at odds. While Tapia said Bonissi's decision is both illegal and immoral, the Attorney General claims the law says the sanction cannot be applied. This was the tone in which both characters, Juan Carlos Tapia and Attorney General Giussepe Bonissi expressed their differences regarding a legal opinion in a libel case brought by the Secretary of Communication of the State against the boxing commentator. And it is that Bonissi asked the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional a paragraph of Article 196 of the Penal Code, which would allow any public servant to seek criminal penalty for offenses to their honor.

This was in response to a request for an opinion from Supreme Court Magistrate Harley Mitchell over a submission of unconstitutionality presented by Tapia's defense lawyers. The struggle "bounces and extends" when it can be seen as impairing freedom of expression, in the event that any government employee could seek criminal action for any alleged insult to their honor. Aurelia Marin of the Association of Journalists stated that this entity is already concerned about the issue. Now it falls to the Supreme Court to clarify which members of the administration's staff, in addition to the highest ranking political officials already specified in the Constitution, are excluded from being able to seek criminal complaints for offenses against their honor. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: Panama has long struggled with issues of freedom of expression as balanced against attacks against "personal honor." In Panama there are still laws on the books which make personal and public attacks crimes which could potentially result in jail sentences, rather than just civil penalties like fines or other sanctions. The highest ranking members of the government are already prohibited from filing criminal complaints, and at issue in this case are the lower ranking members of the administration staff - in this case the Secretary of State Communications - who filed a criminal complaint against Juan Carlos Tapia, a position that is not specifically prohibited in the Constitution from taking the action. The Supreme Court will break the tie and decide the issue.

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Plan To Collect Nickels To Pay Ana Matilde Gomez's Fine Stirs Controversey

Law & Lawyers
Ana Matilde Gomez
Ana Matilde Gomez
The payment of a $4,000 dollar fine imposed on former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez by the Supreme Court of Panama has generated a clear dispute between her backers, and those who would dismiss it after she said she would not give a penny to the Supreme Court. Panamanian lawyer Miguel A. Bernal is preparing a committee to collect money to pay the fine - a nickel at a time - and Carlos Zabala, a former candidate for mayor of Panama and critic of Gomez, says he and his friends will pay the $4,000 dollar fine to put an end to Gomez's "show." (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: I learned one funny new quirk of Panamanian law thanks to this cluster - apparently anyone can pay a fine that is owed by someone else. Ana Matilde Gomez has been saying she does is not going to pay the fine, indicating she intends to force the Supreme Court to order her to spent six months in prison on her road to self inflicted martyrdom. However others are trying to "help" her - and on the way gain some additional notoriety for themselves. Ironically, they might be hurting her own efforts to bleed for her own cause. Has Ana Matilde Gomez authorized, or does she accept and support, Miguel Antonio Bernal's plan to hit the streets to collect nickels from the public to pay her fine on her behalf? I like the guy who's going to pay the fine, just to shut her up, which would effectively undermine both her efforts and Bernal's. Imagine that - fighting over who gets to pay the fine (or not.) Only in Panama...

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David Murcia - Acquitted of Money Laundering Charges in Panama

Law & LawyersThe "king of the pyramid" David Murcia Guzmán escaped from Panamanian justice in his first trial for allegedly having laundered drug money. The Criminal Court of Appeals decided in his favor with an acquittal, saying there is no evidence linking him to the laundering of the proceeds of drug trafficking. The judge Hermes Quintero determined there were no connections with drug trafficking, and that the Second Anti Drug Prosecutor could not link Murcia to the Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Abadía, "Chupeta." Chargers were also dismissed against Ernesto Chong Coronado, Neda Castillo, Luis Hugo Pinto, Mayra Brown and Joan Ivette León.

The Fourteenth Prosecutor referred the Murcia case file, for the massive and illegal collection of money, to the Fifteenth Criminal Court, asking that the Colombian be held criminally responsible, and that charges should be dismissed against the rest of those accused in the process. David Murcia Guzmán was extradited to New York in January, to be prosecuted for laundering drug money. On 16 December 2009, Murcia was sentenced in Colombia to more than 30 years in prison for illegal collection of money and extradited to the United States to face charges of money laundering. David Murcia Guzmán was the founder of DMG, which brought together more than twenty companies in Colombia and tried to expand into neighboring countries, when it was shut down on 17 November 2008 for being a scam, using the financial pyramid method. (La Critica)

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Debate Starting On New Law Regulating Personal Firearms in Panama

Law & Lawyers The debate has not even started yet in the National Assembly, but already the subject has become a topic of discussion. There are various drafts circulating for a bill that would modify and regulate the possession and carrying of weapons. Members of the Service of Peace and Justice, an NGO with long experience in the subject of firearms - were the first to speak out. They say the proposal is "unconstitutional." The Constitution provides for the keep and bear arms as a prerogative, however the proposal qualifies this as a "right." (La Estrella)
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Dissenting Opinion in Ana Matilde Gomez Decision

Law & LawyersThe guilty verdict against former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez will bring dangerous consequences for the legal security of the country, according to the dissenting opinion of the four Supreme Court Magistrates who do not support the majority opinion. According to the magistrates Jerónimo Mejía, Víctor Benavides, Oyden Ortega and Harley Mitchell, the argument of using a ruling of unconstitutionality as "summary evidence" could be used to bring charges against members of the National Assembly, when they issue laws that are clearly contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.

They also warned that the authorization issued by Gomez to tap telephones in the case of former attorney Arquimedes Saez, in August 2005, was declared unconstitutional two years later, in 2007, so therefore the legal effects of that act should not affect previous situations. They decided that in these cases the Court's rulings are final, obligatory, and have the affect of the annulment of the act declared unconstitutional to the future, something that was not taken into account by the other five judges (Anibal Salas, Alberto Cigarruista, Winston Spadafora, Alejandro Moncada and Wilfredo Saez.), who did sign the ruling that dismissed and ordered Gomez.

Mejia, Benavides, Ortega and Mitchell agree that the proceeding violated the former Attorney General's presumption of innocence and due process. Gomez was notified yesterday of the sentence. She how has one year to pay the $4,000 fine. If she does not pay the fine, she will spend six months in jail. (La Prensa)

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Sentencing Guidelines For Underage Offenders Will Be Modified

Law & LawyersSoon - Law 40 of Criminal Responsibility of Adolescents will be amended through a bill that emerged as an initiative of the civil movement Crusade for Peace. This bill, which seeks to establish guidelines on sentencing criteria to be used in legal processes against young offenders, has already been submitted to the National Assembly by members of the Crusade for Peace, along with the Minister of Government, Roxana Mendez. (Telemetro Reporta)

Editor's Comment: There are currently all kinds of things in existing law which can be used by lawyers to "nullify" legal proceedings against minors, and most of that stuff will be going away if this proposal is adopted.

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Ana Matilde Gomez Notified of Supreme Court Ruling

Law & Lawyers Panama's former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez Ruiloba was notified on Friday September 10, of the sentence against her of six months in prison for authorizing wiretaps in an investigation against former prosecutor Archimedes Sáez, who has been accused of allegedly collecting bribes. The verdict by the Supreme Court of Justice handed down on on 11 August 2010 states the prison sentence was replaced by 40 days' fine, equivalent to $ 4,000, which must be paid to the National Treasury within one year. And although Gomez has one year to pay the $4,000 dollar fine, in previous statements she said she does not intend to pay the fine.

With this ruling, Gomez was finally expelled from her position as the Attorney General of Panama, and the sentence also disqualifies her from holding public office for a period of four years. The case against Gomez was instructed by the Office of Administration that accused her of "abuse of authority and abuse of functions", for having authorized wiretaps as part of the investigation into Saez's actions. Gomez was appointed to office on January 3, 2005, by former President Martin Torrijos, and suspended on 5 February 2010. She had five years to complete her term in office. (La Prensa)

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Bonissi Gives More Importance to Extortion Than To Wiretaps

Law & Lawyers Panama's Attorney General, Giuseppe Bonissi, gave more importance to the extortion complaint filed by the Prosecutor of Administration, Oscar Ceville, than to the allegations of wiretaps and recordings of telephone conversations of government employees in this institution without a proper court order. Bonissi based his position on the fact that the Criminal Code allows for sentences of up to 10 years for the crime of extortion, while illegal wiretaps can be punished with 2 to 4 years in prison. Because of this, Bonissi said that at this moment the Public Ministry will be at the forefront of this investigation, which will be compiled into one single file, depending on the circumstances.

"In that way the corresponding decisions can be taken, because as a part of the overall global situation several crimes might have been committed," he said. He explained that the complaint filed by the Prosecutor Ceville against his former security chief, Jorge Abrego, for the alleged commission of attempted extortion for now will be included in the same investigation.

The former Attorney General Rogelio Cruz, spoke out about the statements made by Bonissi and stressed that the investigations into this scandal can not be mixed in the same file - that is to say - there can be no "accumulation" of processes, cases, or investigations. "This deals with the alleged commission of two different offenses. Although they are related, they must be investigated separately," said Cruz. In fact, the Judicial Code provides in Article 2288 that: "There is room for the accumulation of processes, when faced with the same offense, followed by two or more different and distinct actions. One single summary case file cannot be opened for crimes committed by different people, at different times, and without a prior agreement between them to commit a crime ...".

Investigation: The Attorney General said that from the first day the Panama America released the news about the wiretaps and the recording of the telephone conversations of government employees who work in the offices of the Prosecutor of Administration, they began their investigations. At this moment the investigation is at the initial stage of summary verification. Ceville would be investigated. Bonissi explained that if they uncover an illegal activity in their investigations, then by law it would correspond to him to open a case against Ceville, while at the same time he said that in the future it could happen that he might separate the case and move part of it to a Circuit Prosecutor to address the complaint about extortion. "I first have to assemble the file and then, if I see new elements or if I have to split the case, I will do it," he said. "We must be clear that this type of investigation can take many years, as happened with the case of Ana Matilde Gomez which has been open since 2007," he said. He warned he could not make any comment on an investigation that is just beginning, however, he explained the only similarity he has seen thus far to the case pending against former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez is that this is a case which was presented as a criminal complaint. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: OK, they're going to slow-roll this thing. When Bonissi made reference to the fact that the illegal wire tapping case against Ana Matilde Gomez has been opened since 2007, he was actually sending a message that "we're going to take our time, so don't get all excited." The administration of Martin Torrijos didn't do anything about the allegations against Ana Matilde Gomez because he appointed her. As soon as Torrijos was gone the case was reactivated and Gomez was gone as well (to be replaced by Bonissi.) Apparently thus far it looks like Abrego was trying to extort money from Ceville, and in response Ceville ordered illegal wiretaps of his employees. Does that make sense? I still don't think I'm clear on this one yet...

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Ceville Talks About Attacks; Torrijos Distances Himself

Law & Lawyers The Prosecutor of Administration - through a press release - said the "false and defamatory" accusations made by the former Chief of Security of this entity Jorge Ábrego are part of a campaign to "weaken" their action "within a publicized trial." The statement would be referring to the case against former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez, which begins next Wednesday. Meanwhile, former President Martin Torrijos acknowledged through his spokeswoman that he was informed that someone was "blackmailing" Ceville and left the matter in the hands of the Security Council. He did not say if he also knew about the wiretaps conducted by Ábrego, supposedly ordered by Ceville. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I've been watching this story with just one eye, and to be honest I don't know what the hell is going on yet. I know this is a huge story in the Panamanian press, that it has to do with supposedly illegal wiretaps ordered by the Prosecutor of Administration Ceville, however I'm still confused on the details. It will come with time. So far it sounds like another of these wars of accusations and counter accusations made by a former disgruntled?) employee against a former boss. Still working... If anyone has been following this, by all means please fill me in via comments.

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Labor Commission of National Assembly Wants To Hear From Bonissi

Law & LawyersNational Assembly Deputies from the opposition PRD political party asked for the presence of Attorney General Giuseppe Bonissi in the Labor Committee of the National Assembly that is discussing in the first reading the bill that would suspend three articles of Law 30, known as the "9 in 1" law. PRD lawmaker Rubén De León was one of those who supported this initiative, because, according to the opposition bloc "we cannot continue with the discussion of that project if Bonissi not clarify the scope of the investigation being conducted by the Public Ministry (MP) related to the deaths and acts of vandalism that occurred in Bocas del Toro." According to the opposition lawmakers, Bonissi should say specifically whether or not the Public Ministry has or has not ruled out the possibility of issuing arrest orders against any person who can be identified as having participated in the riots, as advanced by the prosecutor of the First Judicial Circuit of Bocas del Toro. Therefore, committee chairman Raul Carrillo said he would continue the discussion after a break. What's more, the lawmaker repeated that the doors to the Labor Commission are open for the participation of the public. The discussion in the first debate of the bill that suspends three articles of Law No. 30 will continue this afternoon in the Blue Room of the Assembly because it is a larger enclosure and can better accommodate more people, said Carrillo. (La Prensa)
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Two Criminal Judges Resign

Law & LawyersIt was learned that two more Criminal judges, Diógenes Alvarado and Enrique Paniza, submitted their resignations to the Judiciary. La Estrella learned judge Alvarado has resigned in order to accept retirement as of 15 August 2010. For its part, the President of the Supreme Court, Anibal Salas, said "everyone who works in the judiciary has the right to resign." Regarding the designation of Jorge Brown, who until recently was the assistant to the Judge of the Second Tribunal, Joaquín Ortega, as the new judge in the Sixth Criminal Circuit Court, Salas said they are "giving him an opportunity'. Salas recalled that all posts in the OJ must go through a competition and this is no exception. Furthermore, two other judicial officials were dismissed yesterday. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The judicial branch has a tendency to try to clean their own house very quietly...

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Working To Reduce Court Case Backlog in David

Law & Lawyers The four Circuit Criminal Courts based in the "Judicial City" of David in the province of Chiriqui receive between 60 to 80 new cases every week, which exceeds the working capacity of the judges. This was revealed by a report from the judiciary. The situation has forced the implementation of the Judicial Decongestion Program (DPJ), which has been replicated in the civil courts as well. The measure aims to reduce delays of trials in this sector of the country. There is a backlog of more than 100,000 cases, just in the Fourth Civil Circuit Court alone. Judge Dayra Navarro said the purpose of working with assistant judges is to help to get each court caught up and to reduce the backlog of cases, and added they are already seeing the results of the implementation of the DPJ. Meanwhile, the judge Lilibeth Castillo Barraza, who works in the Remedios district but who also works from Monday through Thursday in the area of David, said this initiative is helping the court to respond to the public in a more timely manner.

Goal: The goal is for each of the judges, by late July 2010, to have issued more than 100 decisions each, said Judge Oderay Berastegui, who works in Tolé but who also supports the Second Criminal Court. According to Second Circuit Court, Criminal Branch of David, judge Ariel Alvarez, crimes of domestic violence, crimes against property (theft), and drug related crimes against the collective security have increased in the province of Chiriqui, causing an increase in the number of case files. Currently in his court there are more than 1,900 cases and of those 40% are related to drug trafficking, thefts, robberies, and gang activities. (La Estrella)

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Panamanian Journalist Carlos Núñez Released from Prison

Law & Lawyers Panamanian journalist Carlos Núñez was released from the El Renacer prison facility, after the court issued a document commuting his original sentence to 24 days (fine), and ordered his immediate release. The veteran communicator was arrested on 26 June 2010 due to a pending conviction against him for slander. (Dia a Dia)
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Supreme Court Opens Criminal Investigation Against Ana Matilde Gomez

Law & LawyersIn a split decision, Panama's Supreme Court decided this afternoon to open a criminal investigation against the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez, for the alleged commission of the crimes of abuse of authority and the violation of the duties of a public servant, to the detriment of Archimedes Sáez Castillo. "I did not expect anything different because it definitely is a decision taken by the government a long time ago, to not work with me ... simply because we have a President who does not like being told no," said Gomez said after learning of the decision. Judges Harley James Mitchell, Oydén Ortega, and Luis Carrasco, the replacement for Judge Jerónimo Mejía, voted against the decision. Within the next 24 hours the court should issue the formal resolution with will contain the official call to trial. "Here there is nothing that can be done, Mr. Martinelli said to me, the last time we met, stick to the consequences," Gomez said. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: This was a "party line" vote. The four Supreme Court Magistrates who were appointed to the bench by the PRD voted against. The five magistrates who were appointed by either Mireya Moscoso or Ricardo Martinelli voted in favor. It's pretty clear - Ana Matilde Gomez is (was) the Attorney General for the PRD, and that's why they are getting rid of her. It's a simple as that. They will have their trial, however their investigation will probably take a very long time - like five years. By the time they get around to actually making a ruling, her term of office will have expired. Game, set, match.

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Supreme Court Dismisses Two Cases Against Ana Matilde Gomez

Law & Lawyers The Supreme Court of Justice in Panama dismissed two cases pending against former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez - one for the "corruption of a public servant" and another for the "illegal practice of the profession." The dismissals, which were handed down in an "objective and impersonal" manner, were unanimous in favor of the suspended Attorney General. It was learned that in neither case was found evidence linking Ana Matilde Gomez to the complaints. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: OK, I think these are two "other" complaints that were pending in the system, but not the big complaint over allegations of illegal wiretaps that resulted in her being suspended from her position. I mean, while she was serving as the Attorney General I imagine people filed all kinds of things against her for whatever reason, trying to gain some legal traction for one reason or another. Therefore, I don't think these new dismissals will result in her being reinstated as the Attorney General, but rather this more likely represents the Supreme Court clearing away some older and unrelated case activity against her. That's how I'm reading this right now, anyway. And it I'm right, then these cases didn't really matter all that much anyway. Let's see how this plays out over time.

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Judicial Decongestion Program Hopes to Clear 12,000 More Cases This Year

Law & LawyersThe Judicial Decongestion Program (JDP) of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) has as its goal to resolve approximately 12,000 more court cases by the end of this year. New staff recently joined the JDP, who according to the President of the Supreme Court, Anibal Salas, will be measured and questioned, "because the continuity of the program depends on them." For his part, the Vice President of the Supreme Court judge Alberto Cigarruista, said the new staff provides some hope for the Civil Chamber, where there is a tremendous case overload and in some cases delays of up to 15 years.

Meanwhile, the DPJ's national director, Rodolfo Palma, said they are "starting a new era with the hiring of additional personnel, including civilian judges and their respective assistants, for the criminal circuit courts, family courts, municipal criminal courts, as well as public defenders who will all help with the task of reducing judicial congestion." Palma said that so far, the results can be considered successful because "in five months about 4,700 cases have been cleared." Part of the new staff have already been hired, and more will start working as of 16 July 2010 at their headquarters in the Edison Plaza building. The program is characterized by the mobility and flexibility, because the judges will be able to move around to different areas, using a system of containers that is currently being bid, to any area of the country. (Panama America)

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Judge Orders Change of Venue in Archimedes Saéz Extortion Trial

Law & Lawyers
Archimedes Saéz
Archimedes Saéz
The Second Circuit Court of San Miguelito nullified the proceedings against former prosecutor Archimedes Saéz for the crime of extortion. The decision comes after the defense filed a motion for nullification, in which he claims the court lacked jurisdiction in the process. Judge Eda Cecilia Jiménez agreed, and decided that in fact jurisdiction for this case should rest with the court of the Third Judicial Circuit of La Chorrera. Archimedes Saéz is being tried for the crime of extortion at the expense of Miguel Zambrano, which occurred in 2005. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: The case has not been thrown out. This decision simply moves jurisdiction for the trial from San Miguelito back to La Chorrera, where it should be. I have no idea how this case wound up in San Miguelito - maybe because that's where the complaint was originally filed? The Women's prison is in San Miguelito so I'm guessing that might have had something to do with it. In any case, Archimedes Saéz was a prosecutor responsible for the La Chorrera area, who tried to extort money from Miguel Zambrano, whose daughter was being held in a local jail. Saéz threatened to have her transferred to the Women's prison in Panama City, located on Tumba Muerto, outside of town in San Miguelito. She had a newborn baby and it would have been much more difficult for her family to visit her in that prison. In return for granting the request, Saéz was caught trying to extort $600 from the family, thanks to a wiretap of his cell phone ordered by then Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez. Anyway, that's the background. What matters is that this decision is just a jurisdictional issue, and the case has not been "thrown out' or anything like that - just moved. I would suggest you might want to ignore the screaming banshees, as they are very often wrong, especially on questions of interpretation and analysis.

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Prosecutor Issues Arrest Order for Jean Figali On Money Laundering Charges

Law & Lawyers Panama's Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime ordered the arrest of businessman Jean Figali, in order to question him in a money laundering case arising from a report issued by the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) of the Presidency of the Republic. Prosecutor Jose Ayu Prado said the case has to do with an investigation started by the UAF in September 2009, and their report issued two months later which was forwarded to the Attorney General's office. Now, his office needs to question Figali in order to supplement the findings of the investigation. Only Figali has been charged thus far in this case, but Ayu Prado has not ruled out calling others to testify. Javier Carrillo, head of the Judicial Investigation Department of the National Police, confirmed that his officers have been trying to find Figali since last Friday in order to take him to Ayu Prado's office. Jose Gabriel Carrillo, Figali's lawyer, said his client is outside of the country, and he is not aware what is being investigated. "First let's see the case file," he said. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: In Panama a prosecutor who wants to interrogate someone who has been charged with a crime issues an order for the police to pick the guy up and to bring him in. In Spanish they use the expression "ordenó la conducción" - literally meaning "ordered the bringing of." That doesn't translate very well so I just say they ordered his arrest. Panamanian prosecutors first try to do things the nice way. They issue orders and citations to summon people to their office to be interrogated for crimes. In this case Figali has already been charged with money laundering. Apparently Figali has ignored the citations and summons to appear, so the prosecutor kicked it up one notch, to an order to have him picked up and brought to his office. There is one more level or order, called a "captura" (capture), which obviously means the police should immediately arrest the person where ever and when ever he is found. The difference is - the police will normally only execute an order of "conducción" during working hours and during the week, so they don't have to hold the person either over night or over a weekend. Anyway, this is what happens when you ignore a prosecutor. Eventually they get pissed off enough to have you dragged into their office in handcuffs. As it often happens, once you are in the prosecutor's office trying to answer the hard and direct questions, at some point the prosecutor ends the session and orders your arrest. You are then sent to prison to await trial, maybe two years down the road. The prosecutors have the legal right and power to issue these orders, and that's why I doubt Jean Figali will ever set foot in Panama again. He ran when it became apparent that Ricardo Martinelli was going to tear him down, both literally and figuratively. And, there's someone else I know who has now ignored three citations issued by a prosecutor to appear. Very soon that prosecutor is going to issue the exact same order of "conducción". Any guess as to who I'm talking about? You can run, you can hide, but sooner or later it all catches up with you. Sooner or later.

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National Assembly Debating Bill to Buy Northern and Souther Corridors

Law & Lawyers The purchase of the Northern and Southern corridors by the Government of Panama might go from being an idea to a reality, after the National Assembly declared itself to be in permanent session yesterday to discuss the draft of Law Number 178. This bill would allow the use of up to 35% of the Trust Fund for Development (FFD), or $455 million dollars, to purchase the toll roads operated in Panama by the Mexican companies PYCSA Panama and Ingenieros Civiles Asociados (ICA). Besides the purchase of the corridors and the creation of the National Highway Company (ENA), which is expected to be ready by the end of the year, this bill also includes the introduction of a new Title IV of the Tax Code, by amending 90 % of this. Upon approval of the Bill number 178 Panama would achieve the elimination of international double taxation, and the country would stop being considered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as a tax haven.

DISCUSSION - However, having the right to speak, emotions of the lawmakers got heated as they discussed the majority report. The position of the opposition Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) lawmakers is that they do not accept any of the articles in the draft bill, because they say the law would not contribute any real benefits to the country. Raul Pineda, a PRD lawmaker, said the government has sought the fastest way to discuss the project without first providing a point by point explanation. If this project were approved, he said, the government would be granting a variety of powers "never before seen" to the General Direction of the Department of Revenue, of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. He said "I do not necessarily argue with nor do I object to the current director," but that this position might be filled by another person in the future who would not know how to manage so much power. The lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Change political party Edwin Zúñiga said "bill 178 benefits the country in various points, and we hope it will be approved, God willing, by tomorrow (today.)" Zúñiga understands the stance of the PRD opposition bloc is to not support the bill, but he said it's going to be passed anyway. (La Estrella)

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Translation of Gun Law Proposal

Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - This is a translation of the bill supposedly submitted to the National Assembly by the Minister of Public Security, Jose Raul Mulino, which would regulate private firearm ownership in the Republic of Panama. For the record, I've been reporting on this bill since 1 June 2010 with the publication of the article "Panama To Stiffen Penalties For Illegal Gun Possession". When the publication of that article started a debate on the Panama Laws for Expats Yahoo Email group, I followed up the next day with "Own An Illegal Weapon in Panama? You're Already Looking at 2 - 4 Years in Prison". Both of these articles were based on the draft of this proposal, translated here, which has been available on the Internet for quite some time. It is important to note that this is, at the very best, a working draft. It has not been passed in the National Assembly as far as I know in any of the three required debates. Therefore, obviously the words here are not the "law of the land" in Panama, yet.

Update: I spent a few more hours on the translation this morning, and now it's good through the Article 60. From Article 61 to the end it's just a rough machine translation that still needs to be worked. In most cases you should be able to figure out the spirit and intent anyway, and tomorrow I'll spend some more time on this to finish it off. (more)

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Fiscal Reform Law Passes First Debate in National Assembly

Law & LawyersThis afternoon the Finance Committee of the National Assembly approved in first debate a new law on tax reform. With this bill the Government intends to use money from the Trust Fund for Development to purchase the Northern and Southern Corridors. During the discussion Members agreed to exclude from this project an article that would have permitted Pandeportes to realize direct contracts for everything related to the Bolivarian Games in 2013. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: The "Trust Fund for Development" was created when the government of Panama privatized much of what was formerly public or government owned services, such as the telephone company, the electric company, ports, etc. This bill would allow the government of Ricardo Martinelli to use those funds to purchase the Northern and Southern corridors.

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New Cell Phone Executive Order Draws Criticism

Law & Lawyers A new Executive Order allows for free cell phone service to the Directors, Sub Directors, security personnel, assistants, and even the secretaries of all government ministers. This same benefit was also extended to the Directors and Deputy Directors of all of the decentralized entities - meaning all state agencies. Some Deputies to the National Assembly repudiated the executive order, and they consider it to be an insult to the citizens of the country who live mired in social and economic problems, while some economists call the selective benefit wasteful. Despite the criticism, the Minister of Economy, Alberto Vallarino, defended the Executive Order saying that cell phones are a tool they use to govern. The minimum value of a cell phone contract is $19.95, so this figure would be multiplied by each officer who is now entitled to free cell service, totaling thousands of dollars monthly. (TVN Noticias)
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Panama relaxes environmental, labor laws

Law & LawyersPANAMA CITY, June 18 (Reuters) - Some major Panamanian construction projects could begin without knowledge on how they might harm the environment and employers would gain an advantage in the event of a strike under legislation enacted this week. President Ricardo Martinelli's political allies in Congress passed the reforms in a move that could spur public works and please employers but increase opposition to the government's infrastructure plans. The string of varied reforms include allowing employers to hire non-union replacements for striking workers and requires police to immediately take control of work sites affected by strikes. Martinelli, a white-haired supermarket magnate, took office last July promising ambitious public infrastructure spending but has been criticized for heavy-handedness and centralizing power. The laws enacted this week sparked protests from labor and environmental groups who fear the fast-tracked legislation greatly reduces worker rights and could eliminate key environmental checks for major copper mines Martinelli wants developed.

The controversial reforms were bundled in a bill to increase investment in commercial aviation and were passed by Congress while their chamber was protected by riot police. The so-called "9-in-1" law also increased penalties for human trafficking and false documents, but relaxed sanctions for police officers who commit crimes while on duty. Martinelli has said critics misinterpret the law, which states that developments deemed to have a "social interest" could have relaxed environmental standards. Opponents say they will challenge the legislation in court and analysts expect negative international reaction.

"This may expedite their ability to move forward on certain (development) projects but at the same time it could backfire," said Heather Berkman, an analyst at the U.S.-based Eurasia Group, adding that some multilateral lenders cannot support projects without independent environmental impact studies. Berkman warned the laws could further complicate U.S. ratification of a trade agreement with Panama and imperil Martinelli's mining agenda. "This could bring in international anti-mining groups which have made things quite difficult in other neighboring countries," said Berkman.

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This Is Why The Unions Don't Like Law 30 (9 in 1)

Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - The new Law 30, also known as the "9 in 1" law, passed by the National Assembly on Saturday and signed into law by president Ricardo Martinelli, contains one article that really has the labor unions pissed off. Prior to the passage of this law, workers didn't have any choice over the payment of union dues. Employers had to deduct those dues from their worker's paychecks and hand the money straight over to the unions. The law in Panama has been exceptionally "pro union" for a very many years. Now, with the passage of Law 30, workers have a choice. They are no longer forced to make union dues payments, and the payments of those dues are voluntary. Article 12 of Law 30 reads:
  • Article 12: Article 373 of the Labor Code will read as thus: "Article 373 - The employer is not obligated to deduct from workers in favor of a union ordinary or extraordinary union dues that are established. The worker who wishes to pay the ordinary and extraordinary dues established by the union should pay those voluntarily."

Take That, SUNTRACS: Ricardo Martinelli is a businessman. I spoke to some of the leaders of the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce after this law was passed and asked them what they thought. The answer was "how can we not like it - most of the things in there favor business owners." There was some concern over how the law was passed and the feeling like it was "rammed through" but for the most part they are very happy with the new law. Unions in Panama are basically big business, collecting as much as 2% of workers pay, every paycheck. With this new law workers now have a choice and they cannot be forced to pay union dues if they don't want to. This law is a real kick in the nuts to all unions in Panama so you can expect their leadership to react violently.

Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Ministers Defend Law 177 in Press Conference

Law & LawyersProtests and the march scheduled for tomorrow is not going to stop the government from implementing Law 177, also known as the "9 in 1" law. Yesterday at a press conference Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino, Government Minister Roxana Mendez, and Labor Minister Alma Cortes, defended the initiative which was approved by the National Assembly in the third and final debate last Saturday. "Governing is not easy, and governing includes the great task of deciding," said Mulino. According to the minister, the national government decided to convene meetings to publicize these issues in the National Assembly and did not hide in the Cabinet Council to modify these laws. He argued that the reforms to the labor, criminal, judicial codes as well as environmental and commercial aviation issues did not violate the Constitution, because they did what the Constitution permits.

In referring to a call to strike, protests, or street closures on the part of people who are against the law, Mulino said "there is no valid reason for a strike or street closures, and those who block streets will be arrested, because the current law (which allows the government to arrest protesters who block streets) is not just to do calisthenics, but it will be rigorously applied." Each of the government officials defended the parts of the new law that covers elements that apply to their areas. Labor Minister Alma Cortes was asked that when she was asked by El Siglo on 29 May 2010 if there would be any changes to the Labor Code at the time she denied it, and she accused the labor unions of making it up. Cortes responded yesterday that, since the month of March in the conference of the International Labor Organization, they announced that reforms to the Labor Code would be made in response a mandate from the ILO. The truth is that law 177 will be signed or vetoed by president Ricardo Martinelli today, said Mulino. (El Siglo)

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ANAM Director Defends Law 177 as "Good and Positive"

Law & LawyersThe administrator of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), Javier Arias, again defended the approval of the Bill 177, which regulates commercial aviation and sets out reforms to the Criminal, Labor, and Judicial codes as well as six other laws, despite protests from opposition groups. "I think the environmentalists should learn a little more about good practice guidelines, because it is one of he binding themes in the monitoring of environmental studies. At no time is ANAM putting aside its work and this project is something good and positive," he said. According to Arias, opponents of the "Law Chorizo" are not in favor because there was no consultation on the issue. Today, Tuesday, members of environmental groups and trade unions will march from the El Carmen Church to the Parque Porras at 5:00 pm. (Dia a Dia)
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Environmentalists Concerned Over "9 in 1" Law

Law & LawyersEnvironmental activists Gabriela Etchelecu from the Fundación MarViva and Zuleika Pinzón from the Fundación Natura say no group has yet had access to a copy of the final version of the recently approved Law 177. Both say some of the changes included the law on environmental issues could have serious repercussions. They explained the last changes made by the Deputies of the National Assembly established the elimination of Environmental Impact Studies which applies not only to projects of social interest, but to any project, and that now the only filter would be a requirement to create a guide to good practices. Pinzón explained that although use of a "guide to good practices" is an initiative promoted by environmental groups, it is recommended only for low-impact projects, and not for projects such as hydroelectric dams or major roads. For her part Etchelecu insisted that with the lack of an environmental impact study for projects such as the construction of social housing on sites that are not analyzed if they are susceptible to flooding, situations such as what occurred in Prados del Este could be repeated. On Tuesday, a march for the environment has been scheduled, which will start at 5:00 pm at the El Carmen Church. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: And this is a perfect example of why environmental activists drive me bonkers. This woman Etchelecu points to the problems with flooding in the Prados del Este housing complex, however she fails to point out the obvious - that the Prados del Este project was built under the existing law which required the preparation of an extensive Environmental Impact Study - and that the time and effort it took to prepare that study was a complete and total waste, because the dame place flooded anyway! These people amaze me. Finally, it is now becoming increasingly clear to me that I have been looking at a draft version of the law that has been made available on the website of the National Assembly, and that this draft is different from what was actually passed by the lawmakers on Saturday. I thought I was working off of the final version, but apparently not so.

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Minister Roberto Henriquez Defends "Lobster Law"

Law & LawyersPanama's Minister of Trade and Industry, Roberto Henriquez came to the defense of the bill that amends the Labor, Judicial and Criminal Codes as well as other six laws. In an interview on Channel 2 TVN News, Henríquez said the content of the law will bring "benefits to the Panamanian people." In turn, during the television interview he spoke about the three aspects of the law that - in his estimation - have been the most controversial. The minister said the modifications to the Organic Law will allow police officers who have "fatally wounded" an offender to be transferred to administrative duties until the investigation is complete. He denied that the chances to the law have anything to do with giving the police a "license to kill."

On another part of the new law, Minister Henríquez said the Labor Code was modified so that company owners and workers who wish to continue to work will be allowed to enter the business, even through another group of people remain on strike. In addition, the "9 in 1" law establishes that payments made to labor unions are now voluntary, which up until now have been mandatory, even though the person does not belong to the union and provided that there is a collective agreement in place. The official said these provisions "were not invented by the government of Ricardo Martinelli but come from the International Labor Organization."

In talking about the aspects of the law that deal with environmental issues, Henriquez said the law establishes that an Environmental Impact Study will not be required in cases of a construction project that is in the social interest such as schools, roads, and hospitals. But he said the work "must comply with proper standards."

Rejecting criticism - In the interview, the minister also defended the fact that the bill was discussed during special sessions of the National Assembly. He said that in the regular system this bill would have been delayed many months before being approved by the Deputies of the National Assembly. He further alleged that the Government would have had to wait until July when the Assembly resumes its regular sessions. The "9 in 1" bill was approved on Saturday, 12 June 2010, in the third and final debate by the National Assembly. Forty-two Members voted in favor of the initiative which was put forward by the Executive Branch, while 17 voted against. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Martinelli always sends out Minister Roberto Henriquez to face the cameras on controversial issues. When I was doing my analysis of the modifications to the Labor Code, I missed the part about union dues now being voluntary - I suppose it's either in another Article in the law that I have not gotten to yet, or maybe the version of the law that I've been working from (which came from the website of the National Assembly) is not in fact the final version as passed. Anyway, that explains why Saul Mendez and the SUNTRACS leadership is so upset - they are dipping into their pocket and taking away dues money. Most of the SUNTRACS guys do not support the politics of the leadership however their participation in the union and the payment of dues has been practically mandatory. Good - another change I can get behind. No one should be force to participate in a labor union or pay union dues against their will, in my opinion.

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Panama's National Security Council Now Sharing Intelligence with Airlines

Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Now here's an interesting element that was included in the "Lobster Law" recently passed by Panama's National Assembly. This law allows the National Security Council to share information with airlines on any person, either Panamanian for foreigner, who is wanted by either domestic or international authorities. If the person is "under investigation" or if there exists a "reasonable suspicion" the person has been involved in criminal activity, airlines can prevent these passengers from boarding flights, and alert the authorities. Here is the translated text of the article in question. This is Article 11 of Law 177:

Original Spanish As Adopted: Artículo 11. El Consejo de Seguridad Nacional podrá proporcionar información sobre pasajeros que sean buscados por autoridades nacionales o extranjeras, estén bajo investigación o exista sospecha razonable de que están envueltos en actividades delictivas de cualquier naturaleza, a las aerolíneas panameñas o extranjeras que reciban vuelos en territorio panameño para que impidan que aborden en dichos vuelos. De igual forma, las aerolíneas deberán informar de inmediato al Consejo de Seguridad Nacional sobre cualquier actitud sospechosa de los pasajeros a bordo de sus vuelos, ya sean nacionales o internacionales.

English Translation: Article 11. The National Security Council may provide information on passengers who are wanted by foreign or domestic authorities, if they are under investigation or if there exists a reasonable suspicion they are involved in criminal activity of any nature, to Panamanian or foreign airlines that receive flights in Panamanian territory, so they can be prevented from boarding these flights. Similarly, airlines must immediately report any suspicious attitude of passengers aboard their flights, either domestic or international, to the National Security Council.

Bringing The Airlines On Board: There is already a system in place in Panama through which the local authorities can coordinate with international law enforcement authorities to screen passengers for anyone who is wanted in another country. However, that system as it stands right now is cumbersome, time consuming, and inflexible. Let's say there's a guy in Canada who is wanted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP.) Let's assume they are looking for a fugitve and they don't know where he might have gone. Panama would only catch this guy if there is a specific coordination through Interpol, and if the DIJ coordinates with Immigration to put the guy's name and passport number in their system, manually. Meanwhile, the airlines have invested the money to quickly screen millions of passengers every day. Now with the passage of this law, the National Security Council can legally share any information they obtain from any source on wanted fugitives with any airline that lands in Panama. Therefore, and assuming the information on the fugitive has been passed, if the guy tries to board a flight in Toronto headed for Panama City, he will be prevented from boarding the plane and local Canadian authorities will be notified. I see this as Panama taking a step to become more integrated with trends in information sharing across international boarders. The primary driving factors for this change are obvious - drug trafficking and international terrorism. However, if you're running from something and your plan is to go to Panama to hide, the chances that you will get busted at the airport just increased exponentially.

Copyright 2009 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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