THE U,S Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigation of one of Panama’s most economically powerful families began seven years ago and has culminated in the arrest and planned extradition to the US of one of its key members and exposure of links to an international network of drug trafficking and money-laundering.
The Waked family led by Abdul Waked and Nidal Waked, was named on Thursday May 5 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the DEA and U.S. authorities placed nine people and 68 companies on the Clinton list, calling the operation the Waked Money Laundering Organization.
According to US authorities, the family used its businesses to launder money for drug traffickers by using false invoicing and other methods. The U.S. has frozen the family's assets in that country through the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).
The family controls Latin America's largest duty-free chain and imports some of the most prestigious luxury brands in the world.
Its holdings in Panama include Soho Mall, Millennium Plaza, Hometeck and recently purchased Felix B. Maduro, as well as estate projects. Also included on the list is Balboa Bank, where Nidal Waked is treasurer. He was arrested in Colombia Wednesday and is facing extradition to the United States.
Tocumen International Airport Manager Joseph Fidanque III reported on Thursday that he has requested the resignation of José Frade from the board of directors of the terminal. He represented Waked.
U.S. Embassy senior official Kevin O'Reilly met Thursday with officials from Panama’s Public Ministry, including Attorney General Kenia Porcell.
The Waked family controls about 100 duty free stores at airports, border crossings and ports, and has 133 retail stores across Latin America reports La Prensa. It also owns La Estrella and El Siglo.
The other individuals named by the U.S. government were Abu Dawud, and Ali, Gazy and Jalal Waked Hatum, the last three being brothers of Nidal Waked. Also named was Mohamed Abdo Waked Darwich (aka Hamudi Waked), the son of Abdul Waked.
The other two people named were Norman Douglas Castro Montoto and Lucía Touzard Romo, who were part of the organization.
Official sources in Colombia said that the arrest was made by a special command unit of the police anti-narcotics squad, together with the DEA reports La Prensa.
According to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, the investigation dates back to 2009 when the DEA and the Treasury Department began working with their Colombian counterparts to clarify movements of money from members of the Waked family.
Last year, Guatemalan authorities ordered the closure of 10 duty free shops linked to the family for customs fraud.