Then US ambassador Jonathan Farrar listens to one of then Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli’s rants. What a job! The partial record we have is of an Obama administration that didn’t much like Martinelli but took few overt steps against him, and a Trump administration generally annoyed with all Panamanian presidents for failure to jump for him when commanded, while down the ranks of the Justice Department prosecutors had other notions about doing their jobs. US Embassy photo.
Trial of the century? We shall see
On March 19 Senior Organized Crime Prosecutor Emeldo Márquez announced that he had petitioned the judges of oft-delayed, generally politically connected cases, the Third Liquidator Court, to bring 25 people to trial and drop charges against nine others, in connection with a series of 2010 transactions wherein it is alleged that Ricardo Martinelli bought control of the EPASA newspaper chain (El Panama America, La Critica and Dia a Dia) in large part with money derived from a series of overpriced government contracts in which part of the surcharge was kicked back and then laundered and transferred to an enterprise named New Business, which acquired the media company. The investigation, which has been ongoing for at least six years, has been delayed by a wide variety of obstacles interposed by phalanxes of lawyers and by the flight of several of the principals. A number of parties have turned state’s evidence. Márquez said that 30 percent of EPASA shares have been sequestered and deposited into the national treasury.
After the purchase of these and other media businesses, the Martinelli administration bolstered the properties’ value by way of large advertising purchases by government agencies. When the voters rejected his proxy re-election bid in 2014, that income source dried up and it’s believed that the EPASA papers are not very profitable now. But El Panama America and La Critica are central tools in Martinelli’s bid to be elected president again in 2024. This case could not only determine his eligibility to run for office, but also his ownership of a media empire.
Moussa Daniel Levy
Tse Yum Ling
Felipe “Pipo” Virzi
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