Ana Matilde’s bombshell
by Eric Jackson
Of all the many scandals swirling around the former president, Ricardo Martinelli, it’s the one about illegal electronic surveillance that has landed him behind bars. For how long, we know not.
On June 21, the day after Martinelli’s bail hearing in Miami, independent legislator and former attorney general Ana Matilde Gómez went on channel 2 (TVN) and talked in public for the first time about Ricardo Martinelli’s wiretapping. The gist of her statement in a long interview was the it was an ill-kept secret that Martinelli was engaged in massive illegal wiretapping. Morover, that from her personal dealings with the matter, one of the people who knew about it and was assigned a task related to it was now President Juan Carlos Varela, then vice president and in an alliance with Martinelli.
Recall that Gómez herself was convicted of illegal wiretapping and removed from office on that pretext. It was a maneuver orchestrated by Ricardo Martinelli and his appointees on the high court. A prosecutor had been shaking down an incarcerated woman’s family, threatening a transfer to more hellish conditions if payments were not made. The target of this extortion scheme appealed to Gómez and requested a tap on his own phone in order to catch the corrupt prosecutor. She did that, caught, arrested and fired the guy, and was in turn charged with a crime for wiretapping without a court order. (But of course, had she gone to court the odds were great that the extortionist would have been tipped off — such are the ways of the criminality ingrained in Panama’s judicial system.) At the time of her prosecution, she did not raise the “but THEY do it” defense. It would not have helped. Martinelli wanted his people — first the embarrassing Giuseppe Bonissi, then after another scandal, José Ayú Prado, the latter who now presides over the Supreme Court.
Martinelli, Gómez recounted, wanted someone from the Public Ministry to be part of the National Security Council’s wiretap team. Would that be to get a prosecutor’s permission for such things as recording domestic arguments of his political foes? In any case Gómez took the position that any prosecutor who took such a job would have to resign from the Public Ministry and take a job with the National Security Council. She said that “Martinelli used the Security Council system and all of the apparatus, mechanisms and technological tools to be able — according to him — to know everything.”
While at the United Nations calling for more electronic surveillance to fight crime and terrorism, and for more governmental powers to censor the Internet, Martinelli briefly called Gómez and said that Varela would speak to her about the subject of wiretaps. That he did — “timidly” according to the legislator. Varela, she said, relayed Martinelli’s request for the assignment of a certain person in the Public Ministry to duties with the president’s security team. Gómez says that she told him that could only happen if the person resigned from her ministry.
Wouldn’t you know that Gómez’s PRD demagogue colleague and high-profile victim of Martinelli’s eavesdropping, legislator Zulay Rodríguez, would say that this justifies the start of impeachment proceedings against Varela? With Varela’s popularity slipping it may have been an obvious thing to say, but it seems not to have caught on with the public imagination. The deputies of Martinelli’s existentially threatened Cambio Democratico party asked for a clarification. There have been more calls, from reasonable and unreasonable voices, for further explanations from Gómez.
It’s Ana Matilde’s record in public life, however, to be sparing and disciplined in her public statements. Most likely she said what she wanted to say and nothing more. That what Martinelli was doing was pretty well known has been documented that much more by the former attorney general, whom pollsters say is the most popular possible independent candidate for president in 2019. President Varela has reason to be annoyed. But Gómez did not directly accuse him of a crime, and probably won’t.
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