The ACP retains one of the Moncada Luna gang on its board
A high profile criminal’s plea gets alleged accomplices off the hook
by Eric Jackson
Former Vice President and ex-banker Felipe ‘Pipo’ Virzi, current Panama Canal Authority board member Nicolás Corcione Pérez Balladares, former presidential inner circle figure Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Calvo Latorraca, prisoner spouse and former government functionary María del Pilar Fernández de Moncada Luna, Julián París Rodríguez, Jorge Espino Méndez, Alberto Ortega Maltez, Felipe Rodríguez Guardia, Humberto Juárez Barahona, María Gabriela Reyna López, Mauricio Ortiz Quesada, Claudio Poma Murialdo Sommaruga, Óscar Iván Rivera and Francisco Filiu Nigaglioni beat the rap on someone else’s plea.
All accused of laundering the ill-gotten gains for which the former presiding magistrate of the Supreme Court, Alejandro Moncada Luna, is now doing time in El Renacer Penitentiary near Gamboa, they had the charges quashed and the investigations forever barred by the Second Superior Tribunal of Justice because the money laundering investigations against them started in the files of the case that sent the former magistrate to prison. That case ended with a plea bargain that had Moncada Luna pleading guilty to forgery of documents and amassing wealth while in public office that could not be explained as coming from a legitimate source. The deal barred any other investigations or prosecutions of Moncada Luna.
The tribunal held that this frees all of Moncada Luna’s accomplices from all of his many criminal activities from legal responsibility for any of their own criminal acts. The specific case is about laundering Moncada Luna’s millions in bribe and kickback money, but those investigations led to several strings of other crimes, the investigations of which are now in danger of being similarly ended.
The three-judge panel that let the alleged members of the gang off was headed by high court magistrate Wilfredo Sáenz, sitting with the lower court. The rationale was that it was double jeopardy for the accomplices, who were not and could not have been parties to Moncada Luna’s case before the legislature, to be tried for their own related crimes. The September 23 decision, written by Sáenz with magistrate Luis Mario Carrasco dissenting and magistrate María de Lourdes Estrada Villar concurring, drew a quick rebuke from Sáenz’s high court colleague Harry Díaz, who called it “disastrous.” Díaz said that he would be looking into possible charges against Sáenz for the ruling, which would have to be taken up by the National Assembly if at all. Legislator and former attorney general Ana Matilde Gómez said that the decision is a sign that Moncada Luna still maintains his “tentacles in the system.”
Some of the criminal cases involve Panama Canal Authority board member Nicolás Corcione’s alleged role in a scheme to skim and launder proceeds from overpriced courthouse construction and renovation contracts. These cases are effectively ended by the appeals court’s decision. Precedent counts for little in the Civil Code family of legal systems to which Panama belongs, but if this ruling becomes a general practice then criminal organizations of all sorts will cover themselves by having one of their members strike a plea bargain, ending the prosecution of all of his or her accomplices, including the main intellectual authors of crimes.
Minister of Canal Affairs Roberto Roy maintains that the Panama Canal Authority does not have the power to remove a member of its board for unethical behavior. President Juan Carlos Varela maintains that the removal of an ACP board member is beyond the powers of his office. However, as the ACP moves to go into the ports business — taking jurisdiction for that away from the Panama Maritime Authority — and get into oil-fired power plants, fuel pipelines and the creation of a regional “coal hub” in Panama, the presence of Corcione on the ACP board may be cited in the arguments against the ACP’s entry into non-canal businesses.
[Editor’s note: So that readers are fully aware of biases, this reporter despises Alejandro Moncada Luna, as do many other journalists in this country. The man was General Noriega’s official in charge of shutting down opposition media in the later years of the dictatorship. Later, as a private attorney after his time heading the Judicial Technical Police and before he was placed on the Supreme Court by now fugitive ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, he was the private prosecutor in a fraudulent and failed attempt against this reporter, wherein Moncada Luna alleged that it was criminal defamation for The Panama News to note that his client, former “patriot” militia shill and expatriate financial hustler Mark Boswell (alias Rex Freeman) had been arrested in Colorado for fraud. But the state records and Boswell’s own boasts revealed that he was not only arrested, but convicted and sent to prison for a year and a half on that charge. (The Panama News only reported the arrest at the time because of uncertainty whether the case was under appeal.) So this reporter has little use for Moncada Luna or his accomplices. Whether some of those who were under investigation actually were accomplices, however, is something that was never proven in court and with this ruling will not be.]
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