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  HOME | Central America

Court Provokes Impunity in Odebrecht Case, Panama Prosecutor Claims

PANAMA – Panama’s Attorney General accused the judiciary on Wednesday of provoking impunity, after a court decided not to approve further investigation into the alleged money-laundering case involving the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and its Lava Jato corruption scandal.

“Today I have been informed that the Judiciary decided to prevent further investigation and obliged the Public Prosecutor to remit it. This last decision completes the warning that I reported ... when I stated that through judicial decisions, impunity would be provoked in emblematic cases like this,” Kenia Porcell said.

The Panamanian Attorney General, in an audio file distributed to the media, rejected the decision of the court to prevent the investigation which, he said, “is highly complex, transnational in nature and has developed in all countries without time limits and without judicial strangulation of the investigating authorities.”

The attorney general said that in other countries investigating the Odebrecht corruption plot, “the judicial system, the courts and prosecutors have united against impunity,” and added “Panama cannot be the exception.”

The judiciary reported Wednesday that the twelfth Judge of the First Judicial Circuit of Panama, Lania Batista, rejected the new extension to the investigation of the Odebrecht corruption case requested by the anti-corruption prosecution.

Judge Batista ordered the Public Prosecutor’s Office to cancel the inquiry “so as not to violate the principles of legality and due process.”

She recalled that the court had already granted an extension to the investigation on July 3, which was valid until authorities were able to detain a person related to the crime, and said that the two-month period in which the Prosecutor had to send the inquiry to the court would start on the day of the arrest.

On Aug. 17, as part of the investigation, the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced the detention under house arrest of ex-economics official Amado Barahona.

According to the court, his arrest marked the beginning of the two-month period that the prosecutor had to send the inquiry to the court, which terminated on Oct. 17.

Porcell responded that to argue that the reason why the court refused to approve further investigation into the case was because there were people detained two months ago limited the constitutional power to prosecute the crime and violated the principle of separation of power.

She also reiterated that the Odebrecht case involved multiple investigations into the best-known construction giant in South America, which are carried out in collaboration with the Swiss authorities.

“There are 63 defendants, including 5 ex-ministers and 2 relatives of a high-ranking ex-official linked to the receipt of at least 60 million in public money. Three red alerts of fugitives are pending,” she said, adding that there were 57 legal assistance and seven agreements of punishment and collaboration in development.

Among those charged in the Odebrecht case are two children of former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), for whom a search and capture order has been issued.

Former President Martinelli is currently detained in the United States, and is waiting to be extradited to his homeland Panama on illegal wiretapping charges.

The investigation into the Odebrecht case began with a complaint lodged by Panamanian ex-comptroller Alvin Weeden on Sept. 18, 2015.

Weeden requested a probe into whether the Brazilian construction giant committed a crime against the economic order that caused damages to Panama, since a company allegedly linked to Odebrecht used the country’s financial system to carry out suspicious money laundering operations and bribed senior executives of the Brazilian company Petrobras.

On Jan. 10, 2016, a Panamanian court ordered the reopening of the investigation, provisionally dismissed in October 2016 in the case known as “Lava Jato.”

 

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