Navarro’s alleged crime isn’t taking millions from
Odebrecht, but talking about how Varela did that
by Eric Jackson
At first there was flat-out denial. A Spanish-Brazilian witness who had played a key role in laundering the funds for Odebrecht’s international bribery and kickback operation, Rodrigo Tacla Durán, said that millions had been funneled from that notorious company to Juan Carlos Varela’s political apparatus. The president first denied it, but more witnesses and paper trails were uncovered to corroborate the story, so late last year the president changed his story. The money from Odebrecht was not a bribe, he said, but a campaign contribution.
Was that so? Foreign contributions in Panamanian election campaigns are still illegal. But if a Panamanian subsidiary of a foreign corporation and duly reported?
What actually happened was that the Brazilian construction-based conglomerate, through a bank that it controlled, Meinl Bank, sent millions to an Uruguayan company with a similar name to a North Carolina seafood company, Poseidon Enterprises. Odebrecht set up the Uruguayan Poseidon in the name of Varela’s cousin, sometimes diplomat and businessman Jaime Lasso. The money then made its way into a foundation that Lasso controls, the Fundacion Don James. From the foundation it went in to Varela’s Panameñista Party.
On January 30 of this year in a TVN interview, former Panama City mayor and two-time presidential hopeful Juan Carlos Navarro said that the Fundacion Don James “laundered money.” By all appearances that is what was done, but the Public Ministry takes the position that Ricardo Martinelli’s last attorney general, Ana Belfon, “investigated” the foundation for that and did not bring charges so any further proceedings are barred. And Lasso is taking the position that since he can’t be charged it never happened.
To falsely accuse somebody of a crime is half of the double offense of “calumnia e injuria.” It’s the calumnia part, to which the truth is a defense. But the gist of injuria is that, regardless of the truth, somebody’s reputation has been damaged. Lasso charged Navarro with calumnia e injuria and Navarro is blaming Lasso’s cousin, the president. It’s one of a series of charges being brought against Navarro, mostly under the election laws for things non-financial. It’s about Navarro attacking Varela, who beat him in 2014.
Navarro’s position in his party and public life was in shards after his 2014 defeat, but in the twists and turns of political fortune he may be moving toward the front of the pack running for the 2019 PRD presidential nomination. Most probably he trails legislator Zulay Rodríguez, who would turn the party into an anti-foreigner organization much like Donald Trump has changed the Republican Party in the United States, and former agriculture minister Laurentino Cortizo, who resigned from the Martín Torrijos administration over the damage he foresaw that “free trade” with the United States would do to Panama’s farmers. We don’t really know how things stand in the race because the Electoral Tribunal has forbidden the publication of public opinion polls. By most appearances, the charges have sparked new vigor into Navarro’s fortunes. Trying 12-year-old offenders as adults and taking a strong stand against same-sex marriages or any other rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered people did not seem to be generating much enthusiasm for Navarro on the campaign trail. The possibility of being the only person convicted in the Odebrecht affair — for denouncing what was done — is a much safer political position to occupy, so it would appear.