Former police chief testifies in Vernon Ramos probe
by Eric Jackson
On November 16, three years to the day after the disappearance of Securities Markets Superintendency (SMN) senior analyst Vernon Ramos, former police chief and national security director Julio Moltó testified before special organized crime prosecutors for more than three hours. Moltó was not charged with anything and left after giving his testimony.
Ramos was investigating wrongdoing at the Financial Pacific brokerage house, which is now in the process of liquidation, when he disappeared. The most controversial of the matters he was looking into were allegations that then-president Ricardo Martinelli was using the brokerage for insider trades in Canadian stock shares of the parent company of the now closed Petaquilla gold mine. Shortly after Ramos disappeared the corrupt former Supreme Court magistrate Alejandro Moncada Luna cut off the investigation with a spurious ruling that notwithstanding Panama’s money laundering laws, illegal transactions with respect to shares not traded on Panama’s Bolsa de Valores are legal here. That not only stopped the investigation into Martinelli’s transactions, but paved the way for a sale to a group formally headed by Brazilians but including silent shareholders that included both Martinelli and former tourism minister Salomón Shamah. Just the Martinelli administration was voted out of office in 2014 the analyst who succeeded Ramos in the Financial Pacific investigation, Gustavo Gordón, was stabbed on the street near the brokerage’s office but the investigation was closed when Gordón survived, an assailant could not be identified and a judge treated it as a simple assault with no possible obstruction of justice component. Investigations since then have uncovered a vast criminal enterprise at Financial Pacific, along with the now intervened Banco Universal a clearinghouse for crimes and particularly the laundering of the proceeds of public corruption, both foreign and domestic. One man, Ignacio Fábrega, is in prison for acting as a mole inside the SMV, reporting to Financial Pacific management about the ongoing investigations. There is a related insider trading and money laundering investigation of Ricardo Martinelli pending before the Supreme Court.
So, if one goes by the indicia of means, motive and opportunity is there a strong circumstantial murder case? Probably not. No body has been found or identified and all along people aligned with Martinelli have suggested that Ramos was corrupt and fled into hiding. Earlier this year a purported witness claimed knowledge of Ramos’s death and how the body was disposed of, but the claim could not be verified. Thus for more than three years now the SMN analyst’s family waits with dread and uncertainty for word of what happened.
If Moltó’s interrogation is a set of messages rather than a sign of a break in the case, the two clearest messages would be that the matter has not been forgotten and that it’s being treated as a part of the financial crimes investigation against the brokerage house. Considering that there is no statute of limitations for either murder or forced disappearance and that for a middle aged adult the maximum sentence would in effect imprison somebody for the remainder of his or her life, this case may be one of the stronger reasons why Martinelli remains in Miami.