Prosecutor gets 5 months to close Panama’s biggest corruption probe

Zuleyka Moore

1,148Views 0Comments Posted 08/01/2020

Prosecutor Zuleyka Moore has been granted five more months to complete investigations into the Odebrecht bribery scandal after a Superior Court unanimously overturned a ruling by Judge Oscar Carrasquilla that denied her request for an extension.

Panama remains the only country where no one has been punished, although at least $90 million was paid in bribes

Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, sons of former president Ricardo Martinelli the former Minister of Public Works Federico José Suárez, and the businessman Aaron Mizrachi Malca were constituted as third parties.

Brazilian construction company Odebrecht has been the largest contractor of the Panamanian state in history. Through three governments obtained contracts that included an irrigation project, three stages of the Cinta Costera,  highways, the bay sanitation project, the expansion of the Tocumen International Airport, the reconstruction of the city of Colón, an electrical interconnection line, the expansion of the Pan-American highway and two lines of Panama Metro.

The size of the projects and the amount of the contracts only are dwarfed against the complex plot of corruption and international bribery that should be investigated reports La Prensa.

It is  the most complex criminal investigation of recent times in Panama.

According to the ruling of the First Superior Court of the First Judicial District, of January 3, 2020, collecting the data provided by the Public Ministry, the Odebrecht case has 600 volumes, , 122 people related to the investigation, 495 banking accounts analyzed,, 416 companies used for money laundering, all of which required 123 requests for international assistance.

The investigations faced multiple obstacles that included, to date, 184 incidents, 14 constitutional guarantees, and 10 criminal electoral jurisdictions, all of which delayed the investigation and made it difficult to obtain evidence in Panama and other countries.

The investigation faced its biggest obstacles in the repeated refusals of Judge Oscar Carrasquilla, of the Twelfth Circuit Court

. Carrasquilla denied the first request for extension made by prosecutor Zuleika Moore, in  October 2017. The prosecutor appealed to the Second Superior Court, where for months the file was paused, until April  2018 when the court granted the first extension for a term of one year.

In the meantime, between appeals for the defense of the 82 accused and the electoral process, the case slowed down.

 Prosecutor Moore requested a new extension in March 2019, but was again denied by Judge Carrasquilla,. The prosecutor again appealed to the Second Superior Court of the First Judicial District, which decided, On August 2, 2019, reiterate the refusal to extend the investigation.

 It was at that time that prosecutor Moore had one last option: the protection of constitutional guarantees.

This extraordinary resource seeks to restore the legal order recognized by the Political Constitution and international conventions ratified by the country, and that has been violated by an order to do or not to do, issued by a public servant. Moore attacked Judge Carrasquilla's refusal to extend the term of the investigation. Her arguments were: the violation of the constitutional right to due process, and the impact that it would have on the Panamanian people ‘s right to the truth.

Within the process of constitutional guarantees, 4 of the 82 defendants were constituted as intervening third parties: brothers Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, represented by the firm of lawyer Carlos Carrillo; former Minister of Public Works Federico José Suárez, represented by lawyer Rosendo Rivera; and businessman Aaron Mizrachi Malca, represented by the firm Guerra y Guerra. The court found no greater merit in the allegations and arguments presented by these parties that, however, as third parties involved may appeal the decision of the First Superior Court to the plenary of the Supreme Court.

The investigation still faces major risks says La Prensa. With the arrival of the new Attorney General. Eduardo Ulloa, there could be a situation where prosecutor Moore was transferred, and a rookie prosecutor would l handle such a complex case. Another threat is that the National Police does not assign the appropriate number of quality investigators to accompany the prosecutionPanama would remain the only democratic country in which the Odebrecht case goes unpunished.