Friday 30th June 2023.

June 29, 2023


A civil judge has denied Ernesto Pérez Balladares  the compensation of $5.5 million that the former president has demanded from Corporación La Prensa, SA (Corprensa) for alleged damages for 11 years . In contrast, he has been ordered to pay $581,000 in costs, in favor of the defendant, as well as other expenses derived from this process.

The decision was adopted last Friday, June 23, by the Fifteenth Civil Circuit Judge, Lina Castro de León , who three years ago, at the request of Pérez Balladares, had ordered a sequestering, for an amount of up to $1.13 million, on assets and Corprensa accounts.

Now, Judge Castro has determined that the La Prensa publications that, according to the plaintiff, caused him non-pecuniary damage, were taken from the prosecutor’s hearing on February 28, 2011, prepared by the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Organized Crime , on the funds from gambling halls that were benefited from concessions during the administration of Pérez Balladares.

In the 39-page ruling, the judge refers to the application of the “actual malice” standard, that is, ” proving that the person who spoke did so with the full intention of causing harm and knowing that information was being disseminated.” false or with an obvious disregard for the truth of the facts ”. Therefore, the judge recalled that this standard ” requires those who feel aggrieved to prove serious negligence, a doctrine that is applicable when the passive subject of a defamation through the media is a public official or figures in the public domain, as is the case at hand ”.

As part of this litigation, which spanned 11 years, the seizure of Corprensa assets and accounts for up to $1.3 million was declared. The action was taken in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, in June 2020, despite the fact that La Prensa had not been declared guilty or innocent at that time and the process was stalled in the first instance. The National Journalism Council (CNP) even warned at that time that the civilian kidnapping was a sign of a “failed state”, since it compromised the work and circulation of La Prensa and Mi Diario.. The Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture considered it an attack on freedom of expression and the then rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, of the International Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, assured that the measure was disproportionate, with “impact on press freedom”.

The trial of the Lava Jato case enters the final arguments phase, in the courtroom of criminal judge Baloisa Marquínez .

The Second Specialized Prosecutor’s Office against Organized Crime asked the judge to allow him eight hours to present his allegations. Each of the defendants (and there are 32) will have one hour.

This Thursday, at noon, the witness presentation phase concluded. In total, there were 15 who paraded through the podium, by the prosecution and the accused.

Among those who testified this Thursday morning is Humberto Arcia, a Panamanian public accountant and banker, who assured that local banks maintain security mechanisms to prevent money laundering, which is the crime being investigated in this case.

Arcia, who was adduced by the lawyer Claudio Francis McDonald , lawyer for the defendants Hilda Soto, Rubén Hernández and Ernesto González , all former employees of the extinct firm Mossack Fonseca , recalled that through Law 23 of 2015 the application of new regulations for the control of possible activities related to money laundering.

He explained that the banks have created executive departments to prevent activities related to money laundering and stressed that any suspicious operation causes the banking authorities to ask the account holders for information on activities outside the declared profile, a situation known as due diligence. These alerts can be sent to the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) for follow-up. He also explained that the Superintendency of Banks exercises permanent control over possible anomalous activities.

The next witness to take the stand was the translator Zaletti Barrios de Campos, who was asked by the Public Ministry to translate a series of judicial assistances answered by the Brazilian authorities, on the investigations related to the Lava Jato case.

Didier Santamaría, director of the Instituto Superior Aeronaval, located in Sherman, province of Colón, was removed from his post.

This, in the midst of the internal investigation that is being carried out in the case of the seven young people who, after starting the course to be air-naval agents, presented physical discomfort and had to be hospitalized.

“The National Aeronaval Service (Senan) has to give a report on what happened and clarify this fact, because we know that this is not normal,” said the Minister of Public Security, Juan Manuel Pino.

The official said that he is waiting for the report from the Internal Affairs of the Senan − the entity in charge of Eliécer Cárdenas Quintero − and there he will take “the measures that must be taken.”

“Something had to have happened… If there are faults, logically you know what my line is, that I am not going to accept any type of irregularity… if it happened,” he added.

Pino explained that he is awaiting the medical evolution of the young people. Two recruits who had been hospitalized have already been released and two more were expected to come out in the next few hours. The rest of them continue to evolve positively, he explained.

The Budget Commission of the National Assembly approved on Wednesday a transfer of items for five million dollars to the Ministry of Health (Minsa) and which will be destined to the National Oncological Institute (ION).

After the support before the legislative commission, the head of the Health portfolio, Luis Francisco Sucre, said that these five million will allow the ION to meet its commitments until the end of the year.

The official recalled that the ION had requested a total of 8.8 million dollars to precisely meet the needs of this institution, and that 3.8 million dollars had already been advanced in previous sessions (which happened on June 14).

“So therefore the other five million that were needed then became a reality,” said Sucre, who stressed that the approved resources will allow the ION to operate calmly and for patients to have their medications.

“Next year we will work with the 2024 budget, but at this moment we have the necessary resources for what is needed between now and the end of the year and to be able to care for our patients as they deserve,” said the minister.

It must be remembered that in view of the criticism received due to the absence of medicines and supplies for the treatment of cancer patients, President Laurentino Cortizo announced on his Twitter account that the ION “will receive the necessary funds”.

Last Sunday, June 18, a group of pre-candidates for different popularly elected positions, through free application, issued a statement to demand that Cortizo hand over the funds.

“In 4 months we will see all the State agencies, its more than 91 institutions, including secretariats, directorates and ministries, dressed in pink and blue, public events, millions in advertising campaigns, it is completely ironic, a mockery for the people. We emphatically demand the Executive to reassess its budgetary priorities and attend to the pressing needs of the many Panamanians who depend on the Oncology Institute”, they warn.

Eleven Capira community boards, which received funds from parallel decentralization, refuse to provide information on how they invested those items. Instead, they answered generically and with exactly the same answers.

Last May, when La Prensa announced that local governments of Capira received $3.3 million from the National Decentralization Authority (AND), outside of the two programs indicated by the norm, lawyer David Montenegro asked the Cirí Grande, Villa Rosario, Santa Rosa, Campana, Lídice, Cirí de los Sotos, La Trinidad, Capira Cabecera, Ollas Arriba, Cermeño and Caimito boards the details of the amounts and the number of checks of all the programs that were drawn by the entity state from January 1 to May 15, 2023.

All these local governments are controlled by representatives of the corregimiento that respond to the political line of the deputy Yanibel Ábrego, general secretary of the Cambio Democrático (CD) party.

Ábrego will dispute the presidential candidacy of CD with Rómulo Roux, president of that group, in the primaries that will be held on July 11.

The money from parallel decentralization arrived in Capira in the middle of the internal tournament that CD held to choose the party’s conventional members who will be in charge of electing a new board of directors.

As if it were a carefully rehearsed script, the response of the aforementioned community boards was the same: ” The checks drawn by the community board are divided into various items and they refer to management expenses and administrative operation (salary each month), social and community assistance projects, in addition to infrastructure programs, among others, the latter in particular require reports, approval of items and control mechanisms. Of the aforementioned items, we appreciate specifying the required information and thus being able to provide it in accordance with the parameters of the law .

Political sources from the Capira district assured that the response was drawn up in the district’s Mayor’s Office, an institution that is in the hands of Jorge Ramos, cousin of deputy Ábrego.

In September 2021, La Prensa reported that Ramos was listed as a driver on the National Assembly payroll , and although he was on leave, he enjoyed a salary of $3,000, since it was paid leave.

“What a coincidence that they all answer the same thing. Even those who did not receive the request at the time answered me. They made a machote, the same wording, they all answered the same”, said the lawyer Montenegro.

Montenegro insists that “the inhabitants of these communities have the right to know what so many millions of dollars have been spent on.” He mentioned some of the needs in the area: roads, health centers, recreational areas, schools, potable water.

At first, the representative of Cirí Grande, Paula Alonso de Mejía, refused to receive the note from Montenegro, however, this commune is on the list of those that responded in a generic way.



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