The Transparency International (TI) chapters in a dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean asked Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to veto two articles of an anti-corruption law approved by the Parliament because, in its opinion, "they diminish the tools for the fight" against that scourge.
In a letter dated April 10, 2018 and released today by the Foundation for the Development of Citizen Freedom, Panamanian IT Chapter, organizations refer to articles 3 and 4 of Law 514, approved on April 3 by the National Assembly (AN), of 71 seats, the great majority in the hands of the opposition.
IT chapters stressed that "articles 3 and 4 (...) reduce two tools for the fight against corruption: they permanently disable companies that have accepted to subject themselves to effective collaboration in corruption cases to contract with the State, and they exempt from sanctions the legal persons that serve as intermediaries in the commission of these crimes if they do not receive direct benefits".
If this bill is passed, "Panama, which is already suffering the consequences of a justice with serious dysfunctions and limitations, will have an increasing disadvantage to fight against the great corruption", the ONGs warned.
They assured that law in the terms in which Panama's capacity "to assist and be assisted multilaterally by the countries of the region in the investigation and discovery of the schemes of great corruption" will be diminished, and that "exonerating from sanctions to the companies that played passive roles would in turn generate impunity."
"Pretending to punish effective collaborators with the prohibition of entering into contracts for life with the State means eliminating the incentive for collaboration," said the organizations.
They added that the "effective collaboration (or plea bargain) in the investigations of the Lava Jato case, has allowed to break a tradition of impunity in the region and, thanks to it, emblematic arrests and convictions have been achieved, the recovery of billions of dollars has been possible and the collection of vital evidence, which in other circumstances would have been impossible to achieve".
The TI chapters explained that "the indispensable international cooperation between the justice systems of our countries is included, which, in spite of its setbacks, is allowing to share evidence and make a joint effort so that justice is done in a so complex case".
They also stated that "various Panamanian legal entities, including some from the banking system, were used in active and passive roles within the corruption structure of the case and to arrive at the truth, their investigation is indispensable, even if they did not benefit directly."
The letter with the request of the partial veto of the law is signed by the IT chapters in Panama, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Chile, Brazil and Costa Rica.
Bill 514 was introduced by citizen initiative and originally provided only the non-applicability of the statute of limitations for corruption offenses with a reform of Article 116 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, but during its long discussion in Parliament amendments related to the law of recruitment public were added.
Panamanian Vice President and Chancellor Isabel De Saint Malo was on day 5 in favor of vetoing the article of that law that prohibits companies entering into contract with the State if they have acted as effective collaborators in corruption proceedings.
"The non-applicability of the statute of limitations for crimes represents a step forward in the fight against corruption, and the contradiction represented by the attack towards effective collaboration is very striking, and its approval would be a step backwards for that country," wrote De Saint Malo that day on Twitter. ACAN-EFE