PANAMA’S unique system of providing at least temporary asylum from prosecution for those suspected of involvement in crimes so long as they are running for election, even for a low-level office within a political party has reached the stage of black farce.
It has been used by defense lawyers and the likes of former vice-president Pipo Virzi to dodge court appearances, hoping perhaps that in time a pliant judge will rule that the prosecutor has run out of time to pursue the investigation. Virzi, literally minutes before the closing date put his name on the ballot for a post in the PRD hierarchy even though his attachment to the party founded by military dictator Omar Torrijos was clouded by nefarious dealings with ex-president Ricardo Martinelli.
Martinelli, like other authoritarian, would be rulers had founded his own political party, Democratic Change (CD) to reach the reins of power, and with his populist “in the shoes of the people” rhetoric, the multi-millionaire swept into office, after using the “art of the deal” to block the ambitions of Juan Carlos Varela.
The rest is history. After boasting on CNN that the success of his administration was because it was a government of businessmen, it soon became apparent that it was a government of unconscionable thieves robbing the people they had been elected to serve. Alongside them were unelected “businessmen” including the two sons of Martinelli, who. according to André Rabello the former director of Odebrecht in Panama, approached, the company even before the capo took office and became the de facto administrators of a criminal network, that helped distribute over $90 million of Odebrecht bribes, including at least $50 million to themselves. Theirs arrived in the Swiss bank accounts of newly created shell companies.
All this was spelled out by a trio of former Odebrecht senior managers on November 9. Case closed? Not yet. Here’s the rub:
The brothers Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique who have long since fled the country have electoral criminal jurisdiction after they participated in the CD internal elections on October 15.
Apart from the Martinelli brothers, the list of those dodging the bullet with electoral m maneuvers includes the former president of the board of Caja de Ahorros state Savings bank Riccardo Francolini and the former Minister of Public Works Federico José Suárez,
Meanwhile, Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor Zuleyka Moore is battling a substitute judge’s refusal to grant extra time for her investigation of 63 former high rollers in the criminal network.
A twisted black farce indeed, but what is it going to take to bring down the curtain?