Described by La Prensa as “the trial of the century” the Oderbrecht case which dates back 17 years and included $10 billion in contracts for a foreign construction company begins next week and, two former presidents could be convicted of laundering money from bribes and campaign contributions.
In Panama, there was no surprise when, in 2014, Operation Lava Jato unraveled the largest corruption network in the region. Odebrecht was an old acquaintance for organizations, journalists, and remote citizens, arrangements under the table that will be exposed in the trial.
Only on the La Prensa website, there are 2,004 articles published with the Odebrecht label from 2007 to the exact moment in which the Brazilian federal police uncovered the scheme of Brazilian companies involved in money laundering, bribery, and illicit financing of campaigns in Latin America Latina. The first of them, dated January 21, 2007, warned regarding a contractual maneuver to guarantee its entry – replacing Pycsa – on the Panama-Colón highway “Odebrecht does not arrive in Panama with a clean record […] it has "has been accused of corruption in Brazil and Peru, and of breaching a contract in Venezuela."
The suspicions were just a sign of the tsunami that would come.
Ten years, the evidence was abundant. From cost overruns that could exceed more than $2 billion in rigged contracts , to the arrest of Marcelo Odebrecht in Brazil, to the denunciations of executives that were leaked by Panamanian media – for example, that of Luiz Antonio Mameri, who assured that there were payments to former Minister of the Presidency Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriou for $4 million – or statements from financial operators, such as Rodrigo Tacla Durán, which attributed the impunity of the case in its beginnings to the friendship between then-president Juan Carlos Varela and the representative of Odebrecht in Panama, André Luiz Campos Rabello. But the control agencies did not react, despite voices from civil society demanding it, and the justice system was reluctant to investigate.
While in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador they opened processes that included former and current presidents and current presidents, in Panama there was institutional silence, and the Brazilian steamroller continued to keep the most important works, such as line 2 of the Metro and the renovation of Colón. Odebrecht seemed more sacred than the Canal.
So far, the company, politicians, businessmen, frontmen, and other intermediaries, as well as lawyers and banks, have managed to avoid the storm.
The only high-profile Panamanians sentenced to prison were tried outside the country, in the United States: Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli, who are also part of the local plot, like their father, Ricardo Martinelli
Panamanian justice will be put to the test starting September 27, when the trial is scheduled to begin, equivalent to the Nuremberg of corruption in Panama: two former presidents, their children, relatives and even the lover of one of them; Six former ministers, their front men, facilitators and foreign operators will be tried for money laundering from Odebrecht bribes.
The evidence against them is monumental. The file has 915,000 pages full of evidence, such as banking and corporate records, official documents with immigration movements and purchase of goods, infinite schemes of the dark money route and the statements of protected witnesses, in addition to those of the accused.
“It is the largest heist of public funds in history,” said prosecutor Mahmad Daud Hasan during the hearings in September 2022, after sharing the findings of the Public Ministry from September 18, 2015, when the investigation began, until September 12. April 2021, when he asked to prosecute 50 people .