Varela and others damaged by a political bombshell in Spain

The Public Ministry — Panama’s Attorney General and prosecutors — were accused of non-cooperation with Brazilian investigators in the Odebrecht scandal, allegedly at the behest of President Varela, who allegedly took bribes from that company. Here the Public Ministry responds by saying that it has asked Spanish prosecutors about what they know.

Former Odebrecht lawyer says that Varela, Martinelli and Mimito were bribed and that at Varela’s behest Panama’s prosecutors avoided Brazilian justice’s requests for help

by Eric Jackson

It’s big. It’s bad. And if Panamanian public institutions, politicians and judges are notoriously unmoved by such things, the president will be left without the public support he will need for his party to fare well in 2019 or for any of his political projects to prosper between now and then. But it’s not just Juan Carlos Varela who is affected by the allegations of former Odebrecht attorney Rodrigo Tacla, who is facing bribery and money laundering investigations in Brazil, Switzerland and Spain.

Out on bail in Spain, Tacla talked to what many consider the Spanish-speaking world’s newspaper of record, the Madrid daily El Pais. In that interview the Spanish-Brazilian dual citizen, who will face criminal charges in Spain instead fo being extradited, made some remarkable allegations. Had they come like a bolt out of the blue, without any previous indications, they might easily be dismissed as a pack of lies — which is more or less President Varela’s response.

Tacla said:

  • The Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht bribed more than 1,000 public officials around the world.
  • In Panama, Odebrecht paid bribes to President Juan Carlos Varela, former President Ricardo Martinelli, and Martinelli’s 2014 proxy presidential candidate, former Housing Minister José Domingo “Mimito” Arias.
  • Varela is close friends with Odebrecht’s erstwhile director in Panama, André Rabello, and did him many favors.
  • Among the favors done for Odebrecht by Varela was Panama’s scant cooperation with Brazilian authorities in their investigations of the Odebrecht scandal.
  • Among the favors showered by Odebrecht on Panamanian politicians were the services of Brazilian prostitutes at parties in Panama.

These allegations came less than a week after the Public Ministry had announced that although dozens of people were being investigated with respect to Odebrecht-related corruption here, on the names of those convicted of crimes — that is, in unprecedented secret corruption trials if there were to be any trials at all — would be revealed to the public. The Public Ministry, headed by Attorney General (Procuradora General) Kenia Porcell, is constitutionally supposed to be independent of the presidency, adding extra gravity to Tacla’s charge that her office dragged its feed in responding to Brazilian requests for judicial assistance at Varela’s behest. The complaint of non-cooperation was made by Brazilian authorities long ago and was not something shockingly new from Tacla.

Varela categorically denied having taken any bribes but otherwise declined to answer questions, saying that he is not under investigation and can not comment on a matter that is under investigation. Porcell’s office issued a statement that did not include any sort of forthright denial.

Will the small anti-corruption protests that have been ongoing for months now pick up momentum? The next test of that will be a gathering starting at the El Carmen Church on Via España on Tuesday afternoon.

Will the legislature act? Consider that ordinarily the person in immediate charge of that is Jorge Alberto Rosas, president of the Credentials Committee. He’s just off of a noteworthy performance in which he invented a new rule that complaints against high court magistrates are invalid if they are made by anyone who is affected by the complained-of actions. (But then of course, those unaffected would likely be held to lack standing to complain.) Rosas himself has been the subject of criticism for months because his law firm set up a mechanism by which Odebrecht could make cash payments to people without a paper trail, via a Panamanian subsidiary called Constructora del Sur. This past week other lawyers in that firm alleged that the legislator personally handled that Odebrecht account and was paid $2.3 million. Shortly before these words were written, Rosas said that he would recuse himself from consideration of any Odebrecht matter. However, at last count the Public Ministry was talking about 43 people under investigation with respect to Odebrecht, with that and long-standing rumors that other legislators would also be implicated. Thus it is unclear that a committee led by anyone else would act.


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