Third witness says Varela took money from Odebrecht

President Juan Carlos Varela had previously denied that he took money from Odebrecht. Now the specific allegation is that his party’s 2009 campaign — which was dropped after an alliance with Ricardo Martinelli was formed at a meeting at the US ambassador’s residence — got $700,000 from Odebrecht via a US foundation. Varela’s response to this latest twist is that all of his 2009 contributions were duly reported to the Electoral Tribunal. However, Panama had campaign finance secrecy so there is no press or public access to those records. Photo by the Presidencia.

Another witness says that Varela got Odebrecht money

by Eric Jackson

In the October 30 online edition of La Prensa, it was reported that former Panamanian ambassador to South Korea and Panameñista Party activist Jaime Lasso told anti-corruption prosecutors that the Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht gave $700,000 to President Varela’s 2009 presidential campaign. The money, Lasso said, was from Odebrecht through a US bank account in the name of a foundation called Fundacion Don James to the Panameñista Party. That presidential campaign was cut short by a last-minute alliance with Ricardo Martinelli that was brokered at the US ambassador’s residence and the money formally flowed into Varela’s vice presidential campaign. In contrast with previous categorical denials that he took money from Odebrecht, Varela’s response was that all donations were duly reported to the Electoral Tribunal. As these files are closed by law, there is no good way to check that claim.

There are gray areas of the law when it comes to donations by the Panamanian subsidiaries of foreign companies. Campaign donations from foreign interests via foundations to conceal the source might be interpreted to be both a violation of election laws and money laundering. The current political situation in the National Assembly is such that Varela is unlikely to be called to account for any violation of such laws.

Varela was first accused of taking Odebrecht money by his erstwhile chief of staff, Minister Without Portfolio and Panameñista Party vice president Ramón Fonseca Mora (of Mossack Fonseca notoriety). That allegation was repeated by Rodrigo Tacla, an “outside counsel” for Odebrecht who set up chains of shell entities and bank accounts to launder the bribes and kickbacks that the Brazilian company paid to officials in a number of countries. The Public Ministry says that 63 people have been implicated in Odebrecht bribery in Panama, but won’t publish the names of who they are.

Did Varela anticipate the latest testimony? In an October 26 address to the nation he said that “When I assumed the Presidency of the Republic, I made it clear from that moment that nobody would be above the law and it has been that way.” He said that he respects the separation of constitutional powers but also opined that the Odebrecht investigations that a judge has ordered halted must continue.


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