Globe, Latin America

The scandalous corruption in Panama under Martinelli (II)

A while after he left his post as president, shocking figures were released revealing the scale of the corruption. There are dozens implicated and the investigations are ongoing.


Luis Manuel Arce


Rafael Guardia, former administrator of the PAN (the Program for National Aid) and another of those investigated for corruption is accused of crimes against Panama’s administration, as is Tamburelli. Between the two of them they handled US$1.2 billion without being able to provide accounts to justify this enormous amount.

Guardia Jaén has had US$18 million confiscated from bank accounts and several extremely luxurious properties have been discovered, one of them valued at around US$2 million. When he took on his post he was a humble resident from one of the capital’s poor boroughs.

A lawsuit filed against Guardia is providing grounds for further investigations on the part of prosecutor Lozano de Coronel, into contracts assigned to numerous firms related with the previous government, allegedly associated with the misappropriation of public funds: 3D & LSA, Grupo HD & L, Construcciones Internacional, S.A., Grupo HDEL, Construcción Internacional, S.A., Constructora Brithany,S.A., Suplidora Osman,S.A., Inversiones Cincuentenario,S.A., Corporación Vulcano,S.A.,and Grupo Exalhe,S.A.

The protected witness mentioned in part I of this article puts the figure of money misappropriated by Guardia at some US$30 million.

Adolfo Chichi de Obarrio, former private secretary for Martinelli appears to be the one who received the backhand payments from the PAN in his bureau in the President’s Office and later redistributed them to those implicated.

He was the key person responsible for administering PAN’s ill-gotten funds.

A witness from the Public Ministry, responsible for overseeing justice in Panama, who is remaining anonymous because of the gravity of his revelations affirms that De Obarrio may have retained 20% of the backhanders, an astounding figure which could even stretch to well over US$100 million.

Guillermo Ferrufino, the former minister for development, is accused of alleged crime against Panama’s administration. He appears to be the owner of an extremely expensive residence in Pyne Hills Albrook Field and has houses and a luxury yacht, despite entering government without declared properties or wealth.

He is also accused of allegedly purchasing a luxury beach-side residence in the exclusive Coronado, valued at half a million dollars. When he entered government he was a simple, rather uneducated television presenter without financial wealth.

Salomón Shamah, former minister for tourism, is singled out as being the creator and manager of a phone tapping centre and accused of carrying out attempts of extortion against Mayte Pellegrini.

According to Victor Ramos, brother of the disappeared Vernon, Shamah threatened the latter’s brother if he refused to drop his investigation into the case.

Shamah is linked with almost all the cases of corruption in the Martinelli government and the smear campaign against other opposition politicians, especially against the current president, Juan Carlos Varela. Tamburelli accuses Shamah of having threatened his family in an attempt to dissuade him from talking about the case involving PAN purchases.

Shamah’s name also appears to be linked to drug dealing, despite this he continued and indeed continues to be Martinelli’s right hand man. The US government has refused him entry to the country.

Frank de Lima, the former minister of the economy and finance, appears in the Finmeccanica case regarding his lack of transparency in relation to funds assigned to the PAN and the Ministry of Health, for the construction of five hospitals which were not completed, as well as a debt undertaken of US$485 million for these turn-key projects.

De Lima, as legal representative for Tocumen S.A., was responsible for granting 62% of the current official commercial government licences that this state company was offering during Martinelli’s administration. And of the 87 that were approved between 2009 and the 30th of June 2014 a total of 78 were granted directly and without public tender.

Juan Carlos Pino, former manager of Aeropuerto Tocumen S.A., is reported to be guilty of shady dealings and over charging with respect to the north loading bay (Muelle Norte) project of the airport expansion and the contracts for the south loading bay (Muelle Sur) . He was one of the first to resign after the current president, Juan Carlos Varela, took office.

Demetrio Papadimitriu, the former minister of the President’s Office, is mentioned in a failed attempt allegedly carried out by his parents to appropriate the beach front areas of Juan Hombrón. He entered into a lawsuit with Martinelli over the issue and resigned from his post as minister.

Enrique Ho, the former director of sanitation, is accused by several MP’s of shady deals and exhibiting little transparency in his handling of annual budgets which exceeded US$80 million and of unnecessarily hiring refuse collection trucks. He has not provided accounts for more than US$300 million of government spending.

José Ayú Prado, former solicitor general and current president of Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), appears to be the main protagonist in the alleged extortion against Mayte Pellegrini : she was leaned on to retract her accusation that Martinelli possessed a code-named account in Financial Pacific, which he used to buy shares in the mining company, Petaquilla.

According to Pellegrini, Prado hid Financial Pacific in the US$14 million embezzlement. In addition, he failed to investigate reports linked with the PAN and had several lawsuits racked up against him in the National Assembly, Panama’s parliament, for alleged crimes of corruption, abuse of authority and breaching duties in public service. However, these were shelved by members of the Assembly’s Accreditation Commission which was at that time dominated by CD (Democratic Change Party) MP’s.

Alejandro Moncada Luna, the sacked judge and formerly the president of the CSJ for a period of two years, is on trial in the National Assembly for the alleged commission of the crimes of seeking illicit gain, money laundering, falsifying documents and corruption of public servants.

He bought two apartments (one of them for cash) in Coco del Mar for US$1.7 million. He is also mentioned in Mayte Pellegrini’s trial as helping to cover up Financial Pacific and Ricardo Martinelli.

None of the reports of crimes of corruption which arrived at Luna’s office when he was president of the CSJ made it to trial.

Regarding Ana Belfon, Panama’s current solicitor general, the pressure group Frente Amplio por Colón has asked for an investigation, when she leaves office on the 31st of December of this year, regarding her decision to close cases and treat with impunity the sale of lands in Colón’s Free Zone : a sale which was illegal.

It appears Belfon has “blocked” all corruption cases which have arrived at the Public Ministry, stifling their rightful progress, including those of Finmeccanica, Financial Pacific, the sale of shares of state owned property and the misappropriation of funds in the PAN and other crimes.

Electoral ombudsman Eduardo Peñaloza appears to have been subordinate to Martinelli turning a blind eye when it came to all cases challenging and exposing the illicit use of Panamanian public funds by candidates at all levels of the CD party.

He is blamed for keeping silent while criminal acts in contravention of electoral law and Panama’s constitution took place during the elections of May 2014.

Official government auditor Gioconda Torres de Bianchini appears to have countersigned, without first investigating, all the purchase orders of the various government bodies, including those for the PAN in whose accounts there was no trace of any auditing or inventory.

Formerly employed by Matinelli’s Super 99 chain of supermarkets, Bianchini took no action and did not investigate any of the reports of dubious investments, purchases or other irregular uses of state funds, happily signing requisitions which arrived on her desk from various government authorities.

She did not question a single distribution of budgetary funds nor any other kind of financial assignment from the Ministry of the Economy and Finance.

Sergio Gálvez, the former president of the National Assembly, spent US$117.2 million on payroll, adding new employees to the permanent staff already there during his two years in charge (2012-2014).

Panama’s La Prensa affirms that there was a shady deal with Martinelli and Frank de Lima in Gálvez authorising this astronomic expenditure, possibly carried out for political ends.

According to reports presented by witness Giancarlo Terán, supervisor of the call centre which Salomón Shamah ran, the telephone spying centre was financed by the National Assembly which Gálvez headed.

There are dozens more implicated according to President Juan Carlos Varela who has authorised the continuation of the investigations. (PL)

(Translated by Nigel Conibear – Email:








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