“Organized crime” — the prosecutors’ own stall card?
by Eric Jackson
La Prensa reports that the Superior Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office has asked a judge to declare an investigation that began against Constructora Internacional del Sur SA and now, among others, involves 2014 Cambio Democratico presidential candidate José Domingo “Mimito” Arias to be a “complex” case of “organized crime.” Acceptance of that designation could create a sea change in the legal status of high profile cases, perhaps including some not yet formally incorporated into this investigation.
It is said that Constructora Internacional del Sur was a shell created by the criminal Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht as a part of an international money laundering chain to conceal illegal payments made to political figures. Already named in the case are Odebrecht, the Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras, executives of both Odebrecht and Petrobras, dignitaries of record of Constructora Internaacional del Sur, and lawyers with the Panamanian law firm Rosas & Rosas who are accused of setting up the scheme.
The probe has developed to involve Brazilian political consultants João Santana and Mônica Moura, husband and wife, who were hired to run the 2014 Ricardo Martinelli proxy re-election campaign, formally the ticket of José Domingo “Mimito” Arias and Marta Linares de Martinelli. Arias is under criminal investigation for receiving illegal foreign campaign contributions by way of Odebrecht paying for the services of Santana and Moura, and for participating in a money laundering scheme by which the provenance of the money used in this transaction was concealed. Arias, a barely known and undistinguished man with an aristocratic surname, denies the charges. After questioning, however, prosecutors are unconvinced of his explanations of how the money for the campaign managers came from a legitimate source.
If the investigation is certified by the courts as a complex organized crime case, then the time limits on the investigation come off. Sop long as the call to bring the case to trial has not yet been made, the ongoing investigation could lead to other defendants being added.
Now incarcerated former president Ricardo Martinelli and his accomplices have been trying to run out the calendar on the many corruption investigations against themselves by interposing many motions for delays. At the moment the Public Ministry has no jurisdiction over Martinelli because he is a member of the Central American Parliament, which gives the Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction over him. But if he is extradited from the United States and convicted on warrantless wiretapping charges, the high court would surely remove him from PARLACEN as part of the sentence. Then he would be subject to a Public Ministry probe.
If it’s a complex organized crime case against the full panoply of Odebrecht corruption here, a convicted Martinelli might well be haled into court as a defendant in such a case. But if the courts decline to certify the case against Mimito et al as a complex organized crime matter, then the chances become good that statutes of limitations or time limits on investigations may be run and even the most egregious cases of corruption could be barred from ever coming to trial.
In a sense, Martinelli’s stall tactics are now being called by prosecutors playing a stall card of their own. It’s likely to become the subject of feverish litigation all up and down the Panamanian court system.
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