Former police chief gets five years and four months for unregistered guns

The prosecution had some controversial claims about what are proscribed “weapons of war” but the judge ducked those and based the verdict on the guns being unregistered. Photo by Policia Nacional.

Judge makes a simple point about Panama’s serious gun laws

by Eric Jackson

The defense was appalled at the charges. How could a prosecutor call a submachine gun an illegal “weapon of war” if, as was claimed, it’s ability to fire on full automatic had been disabled? How can 9mm pistols be called “weapons of war” just because of their large caliber? How can a former National Police chief and national security director, working as head of security for Panama Ports when his house was raided, be denied guns? How can a man be penalized for having weapons inherited from his father, also a former National Police chief? Judge Oscar Carrasquilla held that it did not matter who the defendant is or whether the arms in question are inherently proscribed for persons other than the government to possess. Gustavo Pérez could not show any permit for any of the arms that were seized during a January 12, 2015 wee hours raid on his home that was about illegal electronic eavesdropping during the Martinelli administration. Police and prosecutors didn’t find any spy equipment but they had a warrant for Pérez’s arrest and while executing it they found two 9 millimeter pistols, a .38 revolver and a submachine gun imprecisely described by prosecutors as a Minimax. One of the pistols was registered as National Police property. Pérez had no permit for any of the firearms, so he was charged with that.

Had the judge decided to throw the book, as prosecutors had asked, the former chief could have been handed a 10-year prison sentence. The judge took into account that Pérez had not lied, stalled the case or otherwise been less than a gentleman about these charges and made the sentence 64 months instead. That’s conveniently long enough to keep him off the streets and one might presume out of police politics for the duration of the Varela administration. When one considers the extensive purge that Pérez and Martinelli carried out — more than 2,000 cops forced out, including many in the upper ranks and almost all of the nation’s homicide detectives, and the promotion of people whom the thuggish Martinelli liked to key posts — one might infer a political motive for removing Pérez from circulation.

If the judge declined to classify the weapons, he also declined to get into the motives of the acccused. A person has to have a permit for a firearm in Panama, Judge Carrasquilla ruled in a written opinion that was made public on December 2. The laws about gun registration and permits apply “even when a person holds high positions in the field of security and public order.”

Pérez also awaits trial on invasion of privacy charges and has been under investigation for some arguably improper purchases when he was police chief and later national security director. He is incarcerated where Manuel Antonio Noriega and several other politically connected prisoners are held, El Renacer Penitentiary near Gamboa.

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