Varela: What belongs to Panamanians must be returned to them

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Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela expressed his opinion on the court’s decision about denying the two month-extension period of the investigation for alleged money laundering, involving the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht in Panama.

"Interests unrelated to those belonging to the state should not avert justice," Varela said in an official message.

"As President of the Republic, I advocate the separation of powers and due process.

However, as a Panamanian, I cannot remain silent," said the President. He added that these kinds of decisions reinforce the view that state institutions are "paving the way to impunity in corruption cases."

He also urged that investigations into corruption cases should continue; "The fight against corruption cannot cease," Varela said. "The people have a right to the truth," he said.

"Those who were wrong must accept their faults and compensate for damages and return to the Panamanians what belongs to them," Varela said.

The decision

Judge Twelfth of the Circuit Judge of the First Judicial Circuit in charge, Lania Batista, rejected the extension requested by the anti-corruption prosecution and ordered them to send the file in order to "not to violate the principles of legality and due process."

The magistrate recalled that last July 3 granted an extension until the investigation will be exhausted, as long as there was no person arrested, because in that case the term of two months to send the file with the fiscal hearing would begin from such arrest. 

On August 17 the Public Prosecutor's Office (MP) ruled the arrest of the former director of the Financial Analysis Unit of Panama (UAF) Amado Barahona, which, according to the court, "constitutes a deprivation of liberty."

"Therefore, the term of two months to send the file, with its respective fiscal hearing, began from that resolution (of
precautionary measure), having to deliver the file to the competent Court on October 17 of this year," said the judge.

Porcell condemns rejection of extension
Panama’s attorney general, Kenya Porcell, has accused the court of provoking “impunity,” after a court refused to approve a new extension to the alleged money–laundering investigation involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
“This last decision completes the warning I informed the country, when I stated that through judicial decisions impunity would be provoked in emblematic cases such as this one,” Porcell said.
The prosecutor refuts in an audio distributed to the media the court’s arguments to deny the extension of the investigation that, she said, “is highly complex, transnational in nature and has been developed in all countries without time limits and without judicial strangulation to the investigating authorities”.
The official stressed that in other countries the research has been developed “without time limits and without judicial strangulation to the authorities of investigation”. “Panama can not be the exception,” said the attorney general.
Porcell answered that “to argue that the refusal to grant more investigation time is due to the fact that there are people currently detained for two months ... limits the constitutional power to prosecute crime and violates the principle of segregation of duties.”
She reiterated that the Odebrecht case involves multiple investigations, “the most well–known” related to the “Constructora del Sur, which is developed with the collaboration of the authorities of Switzerland.”
“There are 63 defendants, including 5 former ministers and 2 relatives of a former high–ranking official linked to the receipt of at least 60 million in public money. There are 3 red alerts for pending fugitives” and “57 judicial assistances” have been given, in addition to “7 plea agreements and collaborations that were in development,” he said.

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