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Tuesday, June 27 2017 @ 03:09 AM EDT

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New Colombia Taxes Screw Panama Colon Free Zone

Money MattersFailing to bill around $300 million, because the exportation of footwear and clothing from the Colon Free Zone to Colombia has been affected, because of the authorities of Colombia raising taxes, according to the Minister of Trade and Industry, Ricardo Quijano.

"We have to go to the seventh round of negotiations in June," said Quijano, when he was asked about the Free Trade Agreement in which Panama negotiates with Colombia. He answered "We will see how it goes. We are a little concerned with Colombia by a new law which passed in March,this law has raised taxes on shoes and clothing ranging from FTA to Colombia ".

"We're doing a really hard job and sending a message saying we do not agree with what has been done. We believe it is not fair. We have to put some pressure on the authorities in Colombia to make it as it was before or make them remove this tax, they said they would deduct this tax at the beginning of April and it was not going to stay at this level" said Quijano. (Critica)

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State Debt Is Over $ 15 Billion

Money MattersThe balance of public debt in March amounted to $ 15.031 billion, reported by the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), exceeding the amount the institution had foreseen for 2015.

Since Ricardo Martinelli took office, the debt has increased by $ 4.229 billion, equivalent to all contracts awarded for the Panama Canal expansion.

However, in the public records it shows no balance for pending contracts. This government won more than $ 3.4 billion with this contracting mechanism, which the project company is also responsible for funding.

Before the end of Martinelli's term, this government will have paid most of the commitments made in turnkey contracts, but the next administration should end up canceling projects, such as the third phase of the Cinta Costera, the convention center and others.

Only between March 2012 and March 2013 the recorded balance debt grew nearly $ 1.360 billion. (Prensa)

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New Cases Of Tax Havens Linked To Local Companies

Money MattersPanama is back on the list of tax havens for important figures all around the world.

Several publications, as a result of international journalistic investigation, called 'Offshore Leaks', showed this information.

The publication is about two cases, in Venezuela and Argentina, in which the millionaires, closely linked to the governments of both South American countries, are the protagonists.

La Nación newspaper yesterday published an extensive report which details how the parliamentary secretary, Juan Héctor Estrada, with firms registered in the Virgin Islands, Panama and Uruguay, has formed a network of companies in several countries considering tax havens. He referred to the creation of the company Mirth International Corporation S. A. registered in 1991. The research highlights the work done by the studio to record Kuzniecky & Co Star Corp Morrison society, registered in the Virgin Islands in 1994. Both companies have served as connections to move money in other countries.

The same scenario occurs with the investigation against the Venezuelan government officials and Moris Beracha and Francisco Illarramendi, where the signing of Panamanian former Comptroller, Dani Kuzniecky, appears related to companies which had to do with money movements outside the borders of Venezuela. (Estrella)

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Deputy Violates Law By Raffling Car And Motorcycles

Money MattersThe National Assembly Deputy from Coclé, Dana Castañeda, gave away more than $ 11,000 this year in a raffle that included a car, two motorcycles and cash, violating the law of gambling.

The Gaming Control Board forgave the offenses that could have cost her up to $ 100,000 in fines.

Castañeda says she did the raffle using her own money, although she advertised the raffle on flyers as a government "project" in her circuit.

She has received at least 4 million dollars - or about one million per year - in the four years that the Ricardo Martinelli administration has been in power.

She has also given away building materials purchased from a store owned by her uncle, through the National Assistance Program (PAN), a business which has grown by more than 149% thanks to sales to the PAN. (Prensa)

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Public Transportation Chaos Costing Businesses $180,000 Per Hour

Money MattersPrivate companies are losing approximately $180,000 because their workers cannot arrive to their jobs on time.

This has been happening since 15 March 2013 when the Metro Bus system was introduced in the last nine trunk routes of Panama City.

This was stated to La Prensa by the President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama, Irvin Halman.

"The impact that we calculate at this moment is about $180,000 per hour due to the delays, in costs to businesses. This delay is the concept employees arriving late to their jobs," said Halman.

SOLUTIONS

But how this be fixed?

For Halman, the solution to chaos in the public transportation system does not necessarily depend on the introduction of more Metro Buses, as has been suggested.

Other issues still remain to be resolved, such as the lack of points of sale where bus riders can recharge the electronic swipe cards they use to pay for bus fare, exclusive bus lanes, as well as the frequency and control of street closures being caused by the mega projects currently being built in Panama City, he said.

"Some solutions they are suggesting will not fix the problem, which is why we want the measures that will work be the ones that are implemented to actually solve the problem," he said.

He added that for these steps to be functional, it is required that the Transit Authority take the lead in this situation.

CURRENT REALITY

While the authorities are seeking a solution to a problem that has been going on for almost a month, commuters continue to live an ordeal to get from one place to another in the capital city.

Claudia Barcenas, a resident of El Valle de San Isidro, told La Prensa that leaving her home to go do work has become an "ordeal."

Barcenas said although she is not required to arrive at her job - located in Bella Vista - at a fixed time, she leaves at 8:00 am from her house to board a Metro Bus that uses the corridor, for which "I have to wait about two hours."

"I don't have a fixed time to enter work, thank God, but I leave my house at 8:00 am to get to my job at 11:00 am. I always spend from 45 minutes to an hour and a half waiting for a bus, because there are buses that if they are needed on another route they put up a sign saying they are in transit and they leave you waiting," she said.

Also, another user, but in the sector of Veranillo in San Miguelito, Yesena del Rosario, said in this sector the problem she and her neighbors face is when they are trying to return to their homes.

"I leave at 5:00 pm from my job at Frangipani Avenue, and arrive at my home at 9:00 pm. The traffic jams are endless and the people who are standing on the bus end up sitting on the floor because it's too many hours and they can't take it anymore," she said.

Del Rosario specifically complained about the buses that are on the Tumba Muerto - Veranillo - National Brewery route.

"One gets on the bus out of necessity, in order to not be late for work, but this is a waste of time because you have to get off at some point, and then after that all of the buses are full and they do not want to stop. Therefore, it's not working," she said. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Between now and the next general national elections in May 2014, the administration of Ricardo Martinelli will be doing whatever is necessary to make sure this upgrade to the Metro Bus system is a political positive. Right now, more people are complaining than praising the new system. The good news is that now there is a "system" that can be fixed and tweaked, which in itself is a major improvement.

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HS: Hundreds of Finnish firms operate in Panama

Money MattersPanama, which is known internationally as a tax haven, hosts owners and managers of hundreds of Finnish firms, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

The paper reports that some of the firms were established for normal commercial reasons, or because an owner of the company lived in Panama, but some may have been set up for tax planning purposes.

Finnish firms’ presence in Panama was revealed by a large data set which Helsingin Sanomat obtained from a British hacker, who used it to reveal tax avoidance in Germany, among other countries.

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Foreigners Claim Money Deposited In Coacecss

Money MattersThe liquidation of the Savings and Credit Cooperative Employees' Social Security Fund (Coacecss), has raised the concern of foreign investors who put their money attracted by the offer of interest.

Enrique Arrocha Rubio, the legal representative of foreigners who lost $ 80 million following the sequester of Coacecss, said it was time for the delivery of the money that had been deposited.

Arrocha explained that Coacecss had until February 2013 to return the money to the foreigners and people with some college savings which was $ 32 million. And now they calculate that by April another $7 million would be added to that total.

The lawyer said the corporation has only $ 32 million and they do not have the financial capacity to deal with these payments.

He added if there had not been an investigation and subsequent intervention, demands worth millions of dollars would have been filed by the foreign investors.

A total of 15 cooperatives and more than 15,000 customers had savings with Coacecss. (TVN)

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Fortunes Are Exposed - "Money Leaks" Scandal Splashes Panama

Money MattersThe International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based in Washington DC, revealed how worldwide millionaires use tax havens to hide their fortunes.

The research team, composed of 86 journalists from 46 countries, had access to 2.5 million secret files detailing the management of 120,000 offshore corporations and foundations, and 130 thousand people, in which European and Asian millionaires are recognized.

The Consortium said that the amount of analyzed files is 160 times superior to the files of Wikileaks.

Although most cases revealed yesterday were linked to Islas Vírgenes, Panama is also noted as one of the havens used by these millionaires. (Prensa)

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The Liquidation of Coacecss Will Impact Other Cooperatives

Money MattersA total of 15 savings cooperatives had money on deposit in the Savings and Credit Cooperative of the Social Security Fund Employees (Coacecss), which has been ordered to be liquidated.

According to Ana Giselle Rosas de Vallarino, the Director General of the Panamanian Autonomous Cooperative Institute (IPACOOP) which is responsible for regulating this market, efforts are being made "to ensure the highest proportion of the return of savings" to Coacecss depositors. The liquidation of the fifth-largest cooperative in the country will indirectly and importantly affect the clients of the 15 organizations that invested part of their funds in the Coacecss, which was intervened last year. Coacecss has about 15,000 customers, people who are associated with the CSS who had their savings on deposit, as well as third parties and non-members who have also made deposits. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: They are still trying to figure out exactly how to return what's left to the various customers. Without a doubt money is missing, and no one is probably going to be seeing 100% of the money they had on deposit. I would be alert to the "some pigs are more equal than others" phenomenon which is common in Panama. Meaning, those with political connections or clout might get their money back, while others are screwed out of their savings or deposits. Hopefully, there will be an across the board sum. For example - let's say 70% just to name a number. It would be healthy and sound and honest and transparent if the government would simply announce that all depositors will receive (for example) 70% of what they had on deposit, and all deposits will be treated equally. Thus, the "pain" would be evenly spread among all. However, you and I both know "this is Panama" and the chances are good that some people in privileged positions will walk with 100% (or more) while other will get the shaft. Now, who's making those decisions...

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The PAN Bought Over-Priced Sunlamps

Money MattersThe National Assistance Program (PAN), under the controversial management of Giacomo Tamburrelli, paid $150 for each sunlamp that were given away not only by the current Deputies in the National Assembly, but also by at least two candidates who are running for the position of Deputy and Representative, even though they are not currently serving the public.

The lamps were imported from China, at an average cost of $21 each by the company Chess Development SA, which was created on 21 December 2010.

This company is part of a network of newly created companies that have done million dollar businesses with the PAN.

The current director of PAN, Rafael Guardia, revealed last Tuesday at the Budget Committee of the National Assembly that each lamp cost $150, but he could not remember the number purchased or the name of the supplier.

Guardia distanced himself from any abnormality in these acquisitions, and noted that when he arrived at PAN, in August 2012, after Tamburrelli was removed, the sunlamps had already been purchased.

IMPORTS

Reports by the National Customs Authority say that on 7 June 2011, Chess Development, SA imported 6,800 solar lamps from China, at a total cost of $139,000, including the payment of taxes.

In addition, on 30 November 2011, the same company imported another 2,700 solar powered lamps for $59,000.

Which means, this company imported a total of 9,500 solar lamps worth a little over $ 198,000, which is equivalent to, on average, about $21 each.

If each lamp was sold to the PAN, as revealed by Guardia, at a cost of $150, this would mean a profit for the importer of over 600%, or 6 times the value of its cost.

In Chess Development, SA the dignitaries listed are the sisters Carla and Clarissa Morán Oliveira, both linked to the businessman from Penonomé, Juan Carlos Marciaga.

The only reports of imports that this company has in the National Customs Authority in its two years of existence are agricultural equipment and solar lamps, for a total of $428,000.

And in those two years, the company has managed contracts with the PAN and purchases totaling $2.3 million, according to reports from the Comptroller General, Gioconda de Bianchini.

The company also sold to the PAN triangular reflectors, agriculture equipment, machetes and shovels, imported from El Salvador.

MARCIAGA, IN SILENCE

La Prensa sent a questionnaire to representatives of Chess Development, SA, including Marciaga, so they could explain such a high profit, but with no results.

Last February, Marciaga told this newspaper: "I am a person who works for my homeland ... I have no time for interviews, I am not a civil servant ... I don't have to explain my private activities."

Marciaga and the Morán Oliveira sisters are also linked to companies that managed contracts and purchase orders in the PAN worth more than $25 million.

One of those contracts was to buy rubber boots that deputies give out in remote areas, where they often pose delivering these items and then spread the pictures on social networks.

In the local market, each pair of these boots costs about $10, but the PAN paid $ 25, which means 150% more expensive than what you get them at retail.

One of the companies that provides these boots is Mister Rooster Corporation, SA, which in 2012 also sold 20,000 Christmas bags to the PAN at a cost of $300,000.

State Funded Campaigning

The former Tribunal Electoral judge Guillermo Amado Marquez, warned that "distributing goods purchased with state money for a candidate should be seen as a direct government support, and as an act in which state resources are used to support a candidate for elective office. Both things are forbidden by the Constitution and the laws," he said.

The ex-magistrate of the Tribunal Electoral Gerardo Solis said that "using state resources to fund a political campaign or benefit a party is banned by the Constitution and is a crime."

"The prosecutor has the constitutional and legal authority to investigate such occurrences. This prosecutor, Eduardo Peñaloza, needs to be reminded that his predecessor resigned to make way for him, and it's a shame to have him repeat behaviors that will be judged when a new government takes over," said Solis.

More Campaigning?

The handheld solar lamps add another project of PAN. Last week the institution asked the Budget Committee of the Assembly for an increase in its budget.

Of the $37 million approved by the Legislative Commission, $15 million will go to projects of the Office of Rural Electrification (OER), under the Ministry of the Presidency.

Of that $15 million, $2 million will go to the buying of solar panels (photovoltaic systems) and the rest will be to install power lines, said Alberto Bissot, director of the OER, who accompanied the director of PAN to the Budget Committee of the Assembly.

Bissot, who last year resigned from the commercial management of Tocumen, SA to work in the Ministry of the Presidency, said that solar panels have a capacity of 200 watts, enough to connect three lightbulbs, a radio and three outlets.

The director of the PAN denied when testifying before the Budget Committee that these resources will be used politically, and assured that they will be managed technically, according to social-economic studies of the Ministry of Housing and the OER.

But, contrary to the statement by the director of the PAN, La Prensa had access to a report of the OER in which photovoltaic projects and extension of power lines by province are listed and the people responsible for the implementation are pre-candidates and deputies who are running for election.

The document was delivered by an official source and the names that show are of the deputies Nelson Jackson (Colón), Luis Lay Milanés (Darien), Dana Castañeda (Coclé), Francisco Brea (Veraguas) and Héctor Aparicio (Veraguas).

Also candidates to the legislature for Democratic Change (CD) were listed: Heriberto Yunito Vega (Herrera), the current Budget Director, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Omar Castillo (Coclé), and Porfirio Ellis (Veraguas).

La Prensa wanted to get the version of each of these politicians, but was unsuccessful, the director of the OER also didn't answer.

The representative of Coclé, Dana Castañeda, confirmed that projects listed in the report were asked to the OER and will soon be up and running.

The document states there are 16 projects, including photovoltaic systems and power line extension, requested by Castañeda, in the amount of $1.1 million. The deputy has copies of the same report that the official source handed in, with the difference that it does not show the names of the people responsible.

Meanwhile, Deputy Héctor Aparicio (CD) also recognized that there are assigned projects that have not been executed.

The deputy who has most projects assigned in the OER is Luis Lay Milanés (Molirena), with 71 projects, for $4.6 million, according to the report of the OER.

The budget director and candidate for deputy, Omar Castillo of Coclé, has 19 projects assigned, totaling $2.1 million.

Investigation of Campaigning Using Public Funds

The Electoral Prosecutors in Azuero and Chiriquí began an official investigation yesterday, after publications by this newspaper (La Prensa) which revealed that two pro-government candidates who are running for elected office - without being government officials - were handing out PAN items.

The investigation includes Heriberto Yunito Vega, a candidate who is running for a position as a Deputy in the National Assembly for the Democratic Change in Herrera, and Jonathan Aguilar, a candidate for Representative in Chiriqué for the Molirena party.

Both of them posted photographs on social networks showing them giving away the solar powered lamps purchased with program funds.

The Azuero electoral prosecutor, Dilia Cornejo, confirmed that she will issue questions to different institutions, such as the PAN, and she did not rule out the possibility of conducting an inspection and taking statements from Vega and the representative of Parita (Herrera) Ramón Saavedra, using items transferred by the Government to hire Vega, which runs social projects in their electoral circuit.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor of Chiriqui, José Félix González, confirmed that he opened an investigation that includes Jonathan Aguilar, who is backed by Miguel Fanovich.

"If the people mentioned in the publication are linked to a crime, they will be accused," said Gonzalez.

After appearing at the Budget Committee of the National Assembly last week, requesting an increase of $37 million in the budget of the PAN, the director, Rafael Guardia, said that the average cost of each lamp is $150.

"These lamps have connectors for all types of phones and give light to those communities without electricity, and it helps them to charge their cell phones," Guardia said, while adding that these items were requested by poor people, ONG, churches, representatives, and deputies.

"I have not given these solar lamps to people who are aspiring to be candidates ... The law does not allow me to deliver them to a political candidate," said the director of the PAN.

And so, of the 37 million dollars of funds transferred and approved by the Budget Committee to the PAN, $12 million will be used to purchase construction materials to provide housing solutions for low-income families. (Prensa)

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