Tuesday 2nd April 2024.

April 1, 2024


The General Directorate of Revenue (DGI) declared the seizure of movable and immovable property, accounts, securities and fixed terms in the name of Importadora Ricamar, SA (Irisa) , operator of the Súper 99 chain , owned by the family of former president Ricardo Martinelli.

The retention is for a concurrence of up to $21.1 million. This is stated in notes sent this Monday, April 1, to the majority of Panamanian banks, in which the DGI requests that the retention order be executed immediately.

Two of these banks would be the National Bank of Panama (BNP) and the Saint Georges Bank , since their relationship with Irisa is public.

Previously, this newspaper has published that Irisa has at least two bank accounts in the state-run BNP, according to information from the United States Department of Justice.

Regarding the other bank, it is known that the machines used by the Super 99 chain in the transactions of those customers who pay for their purchases with credit cards are from Saint Georges Bank.

La Prensa tried to expand this information with the DGI, but the entity warned that the law prevents them from disclosing any data or document about the tax situation of taxpayers, unless that information is required by some competent authority.

The information about the seizure of the bank accounts and other assets of Importadora Ricamar was obtained from banking sources and the Superintendency of Banks of Panama (SBP) , which, however, did not provide details about the measure.

The seizure of the accounts by the DGI occurred shortly after the head of the DGI, Publio De Gracia , and a team of officials attended a work meeting in Washington, in response to an invitation made by the Division. of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS-CI), from March 18 to 22.

That was the second time that the IRS-CI invited DGI officials, since last December the first meeting was held – also in Washington – with the head of this division, James Lee , to address issues related to the investigations they carry out jointly on possible tax crimes.

Martinelli has been in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama since February 7 , where he sought refuge five days after the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice dismissed the appeals against his conviction (given last July) of 128 months in prison. prison for laundering the funds used to acquire the shares of Editora Panamá América, SA (Epasa) , in the so-called New Business case .

The sentence is already enforceable and there is an arrest warrant against Martinelli.

Next November, Martinelli will be tried for another case, that of Odebrecht, also involving money laundering. In this case, Irisa’s participation was investigated and even the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office requested the indictment of said company, but criminal judge Baloisa Marquínez did not accept said request.

The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice did not admit an appeal presented by the defense of the former mayor of the district of Panama (2009-2014), Bosco Ricardo Vallarino, convicted of the crime of embezzlement to the detriment of that capital commune.

Through edict No. 62 – posted on the afternoon of this Monday, April 1, 2024 in the Criminal Chamber of the Court and with the presentation of Judge Ariadne García – the parties of the process are informed of the decision made by the judges. of the Criminal Court.

The appeal had been presented by the firm Bonilla, Bonilla Abogados against ruling No 55-SI of August 21, 2023, by which the Superior Court for Settlement of Criminal Cases confirmed the sentence of 12 years in prison applied to Vallarino for embezzlement , following the award of two consulting contracts for the management of sanitary waste in the district of Panama.

The contracts were awarded to the companies Juelpa SA, and Consultoría y Asesoría de Panamá to manage sanitary waste in Panama City.

The investigation into this case began in 2013 following an audit report from the Comptroller General of the Republic, in which anomalies were detected in the contracts.

Once the notification of this sentence is final, the First Criminal Cases Court, where the process is filed, must order Vallarino to be taken to a penitentiary center in order to serve the prison sentence imposed.

Vallarino maintains a previous sentence of 48 months in prison for the crime of corruption of public servants.

In this case Vallarino was convicted after receiving a bribe of $6,000 from Brazilian businessman Alexandre Ventura Nogueira in exchange for a contract for the construction of an underground parking lot in the Belisario Porras park.

In 2015, during a television interview, Vallarino admitted having received the money from Nogueira, which led to the opening of a criminal investigation.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) was authorized by the Cabinet Council to present to the National Assembly a project that modifies an article of the law that created the Panama Savings Fund (FAP) .

This is article 3 of Law 38 of 2012 that creates the FAP, which refers to the resources that constitute that fund. For the moment the MEF has not revealed the modifications it intends to bring to the Assembly, which ends ordinary sessions on April 30.

The fund created in 2012 has the objectives of managing a long-term savings system for the Panamanian State, as well as being a stabilization mechanism in cases of state of emergency. One of its sources of income is contributions from the Panama Canal. It also receives funds from the Government.

However, the Government continues to accumulate debt in this fund, which reached $970.2 million at the end of 2022.

The Vice Minister of Economy, Carlos González, expressed that it is unusual for risk rating agencies to issue opinions or changes in the grades they grant to each country, considering that it is a “reckless” practice, which can positively or negatively influence the election results.

His comments came in response to the Fitch Ratings report that reduced Panama’s rating from BBB- to BB+ on March 28.

For Fitch, Panama has not done enough to reduce government spending and limit the size of public debt, while facing less recurring income from the cessation of Minera Panamá’s activity.

Precisely, regarding fiscal management, González stated that “Panama has been meeting its fiscal goal and this has been recognized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the rating agencies S&P and Moody’s, and investors.

The fiscal deficit of the non-financial public sector at the end of 2023 was $2,462.5 million. This figure, as the official says, is equivalent to 3% of the nominal gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at $83,486 million for 2023.

The investment bank Morgan Stanley published a brief report in which it indicated that after the downgrade of Panama’s rating from BBB- to BB+ and the consequent loss of the investment grade granted by Fitch, it would expect that the rating agency Moody’s would also lower the rating of the country in the second half of the year.

For Morgan Stanley, the rating given by Fitch is “not a surprise,” although they acknowledge that it was sooner than some expected.

The investment bank warns that the conclusions and arguments used by Fitch, to remove Panama’s investment grade status, are in line with its opinions.

In this sense, they consider as part of the “contagion effects” or risks of Panama, the weak fiscal situation, with an increase in public debt and a strong dependence on external markets.

“Governance challenges are another obstacle, as evidenced by the closure of the Cobre Panamá copper mine, which could also impact Panama’s medium-term growth prospects,” Morgan Stanley said, citing Fitch in the letter that send to your clients.

In October of last year, the rating agency Moody’s downgraded Panama’s sovereign rating from Baa2 to Baa3, while adjusting the outlook from negative to stable.

Moody’s position from a year ago coincides with the arguments that Fitch now considered to downgrade the country and leave it in what is known as speculative grade.

At the moment, Moody’s has not commented on this issue.


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