Friday 16th September 2022.

September 16, 2022

The preliminary hearing held in the Third Criminal Court of the First Judicial Circuit of Panama for the Odebrecht case continued this Thursday, on its fourth day with the reading of the content of the tax hearing. Up until, Wednesday, 410 pages had been read. The tax hearing of this case consists of 810 pages (931, with the annexes). At the recess of the hearing, the superior prosecutor Ruth Morcillo indicated that the reading was advanced up to page 520. The prosecutor considered that the day has been “productive”, since it has been possible to know about the cost overruns, where up to three to five times more than what it actually cost and, in the end, the work was not carried out. “The Panamanian State paid for nothing, but it was necessary to be able to make up for the payment of bribes,” she added. At the beginning of the day, Morcillo said that it must culminate with the reading of the fiscal hearing where it is established how the punishable act is verified. According to Morcillo, for this day the reading on the links of the accused began. “The tax hearing narrates and supports the work carried out, indicates whether an official or former public servant was linked, the reasons, how it is verified that they commited these crimes and the evidence we have in the file,” she explained. The hearing, in charge of the third judge liquidating criminal cases, Baloísa Marquínez, began last Monday, September 12.

At this moment, a hearing is being held that “all the citizens said or bet” that it would not take place and it is being carried out. This is how the presiding magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice, María Eugenia López, expressed herself when referring to the preliminary hearing for the Odebrecht case , cataloged as the most emblematic corruption process of recent times. “They are complex cases, very voluminous, we did not have the structures” to carry them out, said López, in an interview on TVN Channel 2 . “Panama was not prepared to deal with such high-profile cases,” she acknowledged. The magistrate pointed out that the institution has made efforts to support the judges, by providing them with the personnel they required. “Files of a million pages. How humanely does a judge review a file of that volume? ”, She commented. “High-profile cases are very complex cases,” she remarked. In the interview, the magistrate referred to the poor perception of citizens about the justice administration system in the country. “Certainly the public perception that there are cases of corruption, we cannot deny that,” she said. However, she affirmed that the institution has been cleaning up when these misconducts have been detected. “The plenary session of the Court is committed to improving this public service,” she assured. On other issues, López announced that the first steps have already been taken to specify what will be the Judicial City, which will be located on donated land behind the Technological University of Panama. The official explained that the Inter-American Development Bank will support with the loan –whose amount she did not specify– and that the project will be developed through the Public-Private Partnership system. She also referred to the accusatory penal system, which she said does work, but “requires procedural changes.” María Eugenia López Arias was appointed as a magistrate of the Supreme Court by President Laurentino Cortizo; She was ratified by the National Assembly on December 4, 2019. She replaced Judge Jerónimo Mejía in the Second Criminal Chamber, whose period expired on December 31, 2017.

The State has just scored a point in the battle declared by the merchant Abdul Waked Fares against the National Bank of Panama (BNP), from which it claims compensation of $1,268.7 million, for alleged damages related to the transfer of what was once his, Soho Mall . On September 7, the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice granted an appeal filed by the Attorney for the Administration, Rigoberto González , and the lawyer Nelson Rojas, on behalf of the Ministry of the Presidency, against the decision of that same chamber. to admit Waked Fares’ claim for compensation. The decision was adopted by the magistrate Carlos Vásquez Reyes and now it will be up to the other two magistrates ( Cecilio Cedalise and María Cristina Cheng Stanziola ) to issue their opinion regarding the appeal of González and Rojas. With Cedalise, it is unlikely that something favorable to the interests of the BNP will happen. In fact, the attorney González already tried to remove him from the case, by presenting a recusal incident based on the fact that Cedalise has issued “critical value judgments, of clear and sufficient forcefulness”, in relation to the case. The challenge was rejected, on June 22, 2022. This case is four years old. On August 23, 2018, the Third Chamber admitted Waked’s lawsuit, in which he argues that he was pressured by the BNP when signing the trust to which he voluntarily transferred Soho Mall in July 2016, after being included in a sanction list of the US Department of the Treasury, on activities linked to money laundering and drug trafficking. Waked, his son, and several of his partnerships are still on the so-called Clinton List . Before, the merchant tried a similar maneuver, but regarding the trust to which he transferred the Felix chain of stores. However, that claim was rejected on July 3, 2017, because then the Chamber considered that it did not have jurisdiction to settle this conflict, as it was a private and commercial transaction. On that occasion, Cedalise saved his vote for disagreeing with the decision of the rest of the magistrates since, according to him, that trust “is of an administrative nature . ” It is for this reason that the prosecutor challenged him, alleging that he already has a definite opinion on a case that is still under discussion. In both trusts ( Felix and Soho Mall), BNP acted as trustee, at the request of Waked himself and his creditor banks. Felix and Soho Mall were removed from the Clinton List, as they were transferred to the trust.

It took 22 months for Copa Holdings, holder of the shares of the airlines Copa Airlines and Wingo, to report data higher than that obtained prior to the respiratory pandemic of the coronavirus (covid-19). In its monthly report for August, the company announced that the RPM, an indicator used in the aviation industry to measure an airline’s real demand or revenue per passenger, increased 2%. This is the first increase reported by the company since October 2020, when it resumed its regular business operations, after a break of more than six months caused by the mobility restrictions implemented to combat covid-19. “The increase was slight, and we have been recovering much earlier than expected,” the company said. In its second quarter report, the aeronautical group had indicated that it expected to return to 2019 levels during the July-September period. Pedro Heilbron, executive president of Copa, points out that they continue to see an environment of recovery in demand in the region and healthy booking trends, which allows us to anticipate an increase in revenues for the third quarter.

Through Executive Decree No. 122 of September 14, the Government of Panama eliminated some health provisions established around the management of covid-19 in the country. As of the promulgation of this decree, physical distancing is eliminated, as well as the capacity in places of great attendance. In addition, the QR code and swabs will no longer be requested from travelers entering the isthmus. However, the Ministry of Health reiterated the call for the population to maintain self-care measures and the use of masks in crowded places as a preventive measure. This mainly applies to people over 60 years of age and those with chronic diseases. The Minsa urged the population to complete their anticovid vaccination schedule and apply their booster doses, since the vaccines have proven to be effective and safe.

Air operations to and from Panama are beginning to become more dynamic and airlines announce new flights and more frequencies in response to passenger demand, in addition to the arrival of more players in the market:
The airline Air Transat of Canada , which operated only charter flights, received the definitive operating certificate, which now allows it to make regular flights 4 times a week from Montreal to the Scarlet Martínez International Airport, in Río Hato. Turkish Airlines announced that from October 30, it will operate three direct round trip flights between Panama and Istanbul, for a total of 10 connection frequencies. Currently the flights are made in a shared way between Istanbul, Panama and Bogotá. “It is an honor to share the news that as of October 30 we will have 3 new and direct frequencies between Panama and Istanbul, in addition to the 7 weekly flights on the Istanbul-Bogotá-Panama-Istanbul route.  AirFrance, for its part, will increase flights to Panama to a daily frequency from December, announced Antoine Cros, AirFrance KLM sales manager for Panama, Costa Rica, Central America and the Dominican Republic, noting that an agreement is being worked on with Promtur to reinforce the promotion of the country in France and other destinations. Air Europa will be another of the European airlines that will add new frequencies on the route between Madrid and Panama. From December it will have 5 flights a week. In June of this year, it had already increased weekly flights from 3 to 4 due to the increase in passenger demand between both markets. Wingo , which recently returned to operate from the Panama Pacific Airport, also maintaining operations at the Tocumen Airport, announced that from October 6 it will operate a new route between Barranquilla and Panama.  Copa Airlines, from September 26 of this year, will add three weekly frequencies to the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA), which is the new alternative air terminal in the Mexican capital, to the offer of flights to Mexico. These flights will operate on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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