Former SPI chief and arms importer jailed

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SPI
Martinelli’s SPI: practicing marksmanship and racism with Israeli advisers. But was the SPI also selling guns on the side? Photo by the Presidencia.

Former SPI chief and gun importer jailed in weapons case

by Eric Jackson

Jaime Trujillo, whose path to command the Institutional Protection Service (SPI, by its Spanish initials) went through heading the security guards for Ricardo Martinelli’s Super 99 grocery store chain, is behind bars. On June 28 he and arms importer Ricaurte “Pochi” Grajales were ordered held in preventive detention and at last report were being held at the DIJ lockup in Ancon.

It’s part of a long-running investigation that had both of them brought in for questioning several times earlier, along with several dozen current or former law enforcment personnel. It has been reported in La Estrella that an undisclosed number of other people have been charged. The gist of at least part of the case is an allegation that notwithstanding a ban since 2010 on the importation of weapons for anyone but police agencies, Grajales, the owner of Armas y Municiones Nacional (Armunal), the exclusive importer of Glock pistols, had been privately selling weapons to individual law enforcement officers.

From the time that Juan Carlos Varela assumed the presidency in mid-2014 it has been noticed that many arms imported for the SPI were not in that agency’s possession. Earlier this year it was reported in Ricardo Martinelli’s media that 23 Glock pistols that were supposedly imported for the SPI had been confiscated from criminal gangs. The insinuation, not outright alleged, was that those weapons went missing on Varela’s watch. But now it seems that arms privately sold to law enforcement officers were resold to gangsters.

The SPI includes the Presidential Guards but also includes an espionage outfit. Under the Martinelli administration it was trained by veterans of Israel’s Shin Bet. One of Martinelli’s national security directors, Gustavo Pérez, is serving a six-year term for possession of a machine gun and several other illegal or unregistered weapons.

While the arrests have been the occasion for complaints by a few gun enthusiasts, Panama has nothing comparable to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, nor does it have political organizations like the National Rifle Association that are largely financed by gun manufacturers and sellers. We do get some of the North American gun culture through movies and television shows and there are Panamanians who believe that a firearm in the household makes its members safer. By and large, however, Panamanian law and popular culture favor fewer rather than more weapons in circulation.

 

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