Although the purchase of radar installations that he allegedly knew would not work is what has him in jail, people in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca will tell you that this was one of José Raúl Mulino’s lesser offenses. In 2012, Ricardo Martinelli had a scheme to illegally sell Cerro Colorado, the headwaters for most of that indigenous commonwealth’s drinking water, to a foreign government to be strip mined for copper. To further this plan Mulino oversaw an assault that included blocking telecommunications to a large part of Panama, police opening fire on unarmed protesters and this attack on the hospital in San Felix.
Mulino points at others, but it’s his signature on the radar contract
by Eric Jackson
After a three-day interrogation punctuated by complaints of illness and an examination by physicians from the Institute for Legal Medicine, former Security Minister José Raúl Mulino was ordered held without bail in preventive detention for his alleged role in the purchase of 19 radar installations from the Selex division of the Italian state-controlled aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica. The deal was a part of the business conducted during a 2010 visit to Panama by then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (now under house arrest) and an entourage that included fixer Valter Lavitola (now in an italian prison) and a mysterious “woman in white,” cocaine smuggler Federica Gagliardi. The two biggest problems with the transaction were a 10 percent kickback to Agafia, a front company for Ricardo Martinelli, and the inability of the radar system to pick up smugglers’ small speedboats operating off of Panama’s coasts, which was the stated purpose for the equipment in the first place. Then there is the matter of Panama paying a higher price for the same equipment than other governments paid.
Lavitola’s trial for bribing a foreign official — Ricardo Martinelli — had been scheduled to be taking place in Rome right now, but Berlusconi’s former bag man has been on trial nearly continuously for several years and is serving multiple prison sentences. On this matter, arising from the same contract that has Mulino in trouble, the Italian judges granted Lavitola a delay until early next year.
Mulino’s defense — pointing to others and pleading that he was just the one who signed the papers on a deal that other people made — is most probably a stronger political argument than a legal excuse. He claims that President Varela, then foreign minister, negotiated the bilateral defense agreement with the Italian government, Martinelli and his cabinet approved the contract in question and after Mulino signed the papers the matter was turned over to then National Security Director Alejandro Garuz for implementation, with Garuz reporting back to Mulino about any problems. Garuz is in prison awaiting trial on a variety of charges, one of which cases arises from this radar contract. According to the testimony of Garuz and other evidence, both Mulino and Garuz knew at a very early stage that the radars would not pick up small speedboats.
Shortly after Varela took office, the government paid Finmeccanica for radar installations received, halted any further work on the transaction and sued to get the radar contract revoked. This past August Panama’s Supreme Court suspended the radar contract, a decision which Italy might theoretically appeal to an international panel if and when a final decision is rendered. Panama has paid more than $60 million of the $125 million radar purchase price and the allegation is that Mulino is a party to defrauding Panama of this amount.
The former security minister is also under investigation for the purchase of a large arsenal of riot control weapons and munitions ahead of the 2014 elections. The allegation there is not that this was in anticipation of troubles in the wake of a stolen election — although it probably was part of such a plan that was aborted — but that like so many other Martinelli administration contracts the order was overpriced, with kickbacks built into the purchase.