Prosecutors go after sports money diversions to politicians

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Franz Wever, secretary general of the National Assembly, former legislator, bus driver syndicate goon before that and long-time beneficiary of Panama’s sports budgets even though he’s not an athlete. As the head of the baseball federation he notoriously asked sportswriters if they wanted to see his dick — and elicited the also notorious response of “Sorry, I don’t have a microscope handy.” In the wake of that got thrown out of the legislature by the voters. An attempt to get back into elected office in another circuit met with rejection, as have efforts by his son with a similar name. But he has kept himself on the National Assembly payroll, and also on the sports dole, now as head of the swimming federation. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Prosecutors to probe sports
spending on politicians

by Eric Jackson

Most of the members of the National Assembly, in violation of laws and popular demand, have concealed their officeholder payrolls from public view. The few whose payrolls have voluntarily come to light have mostly shown that they had relatives picking up government paychecks, or had employees of their private companies being paid by the legislature rather than the companies. The vague and more legitimate sounding things that have turned up on many of the payrolls are people on salaries as “sports aides.” But now this long-running and fairly well known arrangement is getting some justice system scrutiny for a change.

Everyone who pays attention knows that FEDEBEIS, the national baseball federation, is dominated by legislators and has been for years. After Wever the presidency of that organization went to then-legislator Wigberto Quintero and now it is in the hands of PRD legislator and party president Benicio Robinson. But the big scandal was always thought to be a federation that paid too little attention to developing baseball talent and lavished too many funds on its leaders’ luxury travel.

A La Prensa investigation led by Mary Triny Zea has revealed that it’s way worse than that. As in, million-dollar appropriations to Guna Yala, which doesn’t even have a baseball federation. Of funding supposedly for baseball making circuitous routes through the neighborhood councils of certain corregimientos — which by law don’t get audited by the Comptroller General — and into the pockets of politicians, often via the some of these “sports aides.”

The hue and cry merges into the public movement to vote out all incumbent legislators. If somebody wants to diagram conspiracy charts there are fingerprints of independent forces aligned with businesspeople like Roberto Eisenmann and Stanley Motta. Both prominent athletes and the nation’s major business groups are complaining. The incumbents will have you believe that it’s all a sinister political plot, but like the business community turning against Ricardo Martinelli, this latest turn against the political caste in general is more a matter of small-c conservative estimates that what’s going on is unsustainable and damaging to the national economy as a whole. (And yes, if you are Stanley Motta a lame sports scene also means lost business opportunities for Copa Airlines.)

Comptroller General Federico Humbert, once a director of La Prensa, has been investigating legislative payroll corruption for some time and has referred a few cases to the Supreme Court for possible criminal proceedings. Now the tax prosecutor and the special anti-corruption prosecutor say that they are investigating as well. Just in time for an election season. The anti-corruption prosecutor is looking at the Panamanian Sports Institute (Pandeportes) in general — which of course has some folks like the Panamanian Olympic Committee and the Panamanian Football Federation protesting their innocence and profession support for a clean-up. The tax prosecutor, also with a mandate to track down misappropriated public assets, is following money trails where the comptroller is ordinarily not allowed to tread.

Stay tuned. It’s likely to be a big campaign issue, affecting the major parties and incumbent politicians and perhaps boosting the fortunes of outsiders of varying descriptions.

 

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