Feb 2, 2015

Juan Carlos Navarro Files a Criminal Complaint against Ricardo Martinelli

Just in from TVN news:

Ex-presidential PRD candidate Juan Carlos Navarro has just filed a complaint with the office of the district attorney specializing in organized crime.  The complaint is against ex-president Ricardo Martinelli for illegal association for the purpose of committing crime, crime against personal freedom, abuse of authority and infractions in  fulfilling the responsibilities of public servants.  

He commented that for 5 years Panama was governed by a group of organized criminals whose sole aim was to plunder the coffers of the Panamanian state.  He urged all Panamanians to contribute, as he was doing today, their "grain of sand" to dismantle the criminal framework  and allow the full power of the law to fall upon the guilty and help recuperate stolen funds that need to be returned to the Panamanian people in order to construct social works that are so lacking in the country.  

Feb 1, 2015

What Will It Take to Criminally Charge Martinelli ?

I've been watching a lot of Panamanian TV lately hoping to get clear on what is being done to address the accusations against ex-president Ricardo Martinelli.  It seems there's a lot of talk and mud-slinging, but little definitive action. As it's all been occurring, Mr. Martinelli openly announced he would be leaving Panama on a world tour to present his complaints against Panama's current president, Juan Carlos Varela. 

Following the announcement, journalists inteviewed various public figures, among them the mayor of Panama City, Jose Blandón, and PRD national assembly representative, Zulay Rodriguez, for their thoughts.  Both expressed their opinions that Mr. Martinelli was fleeing.  Yet, despite the obvious, politicians, judges, lawyers, and the police all just stood by and let it happen.  The ex-president first flew to Quatemala, then to Miami, then Canada, Ireland, and now his plane has been tracked to Bologna, Italia.   It hasn't been corroborated whether or not Martinelli was actually aboard the plane when it headed to Italy, but apparently he does have residency in Italy.  Of note is that Ireland does not have an extradition agreement with Panama...A few months back Martinelli was refusing to go to Italy because that country wanted to question him regarding extortion scandals involving Valter Lavitola and construction contracts with Panama.  Martinelli could have been detained had he gone as a witness.  So there is room for doubt regarding his physical presence in Italy at this time.  (But perhaps he has some wheeling and dealing to do there...??)   In any event, while Martinelli is playing his own version of "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego",   the rest of us are wondering if anything will be done to officially charge him for even a small part of the voluminous irregularities and corrupt governance for which he's currently being signaled out.

Thanks to  the national news channel's website, TVN, the following information surfaced in varied articles.  I've gleaned from them the following explanation of the steps required to possibly charge the Panamanian ex-president.

Because Mr. Martinelli has diplomatic privilege as a member of Parlacen, as well as an electoral privilege for being the head of the Cambio Democratico political party, he has the right to be investigated and tried by the judges of the Panamanian Supreme Court of Justice, instead of an ordinary electoral tribunal.  The electoral privilege (fuero) decrees that directors and subdirectors of the Electoral Tribunal cannot be detained, arrested, nor processed without authorization of the Electoral Tribunal, except in cases of "flagrant crime".   The validity of this privilege extends up to three months after the close of the election process.  Although President Varela was elected in May, the electoral process has been ongoing due to the repeated and contested elections of multiple diputados in various regions of Panama.  The Electoral Tribunal officially closed this process on January 30th, which technically gives Mr. Martinelli three months of electoral immunity beginning on this date.

On Jan. 28, 2015, in a special session, the Supreme Court approved the opening of an investigation against Ricardo Martinelli. This was done in response to a complaint filed against him by the Public Ministry after he was linked to irregular contracting practices regarding the purchase of dehydrated food through the Programa de Ayuda Nacional (PAN) in a testimony by Giacomo Tamburelli, ex-director of that same organization.  At the time the decision was reached, two judges were designated to oversee the investigation---Oydén Ortega as the prosecutor and Jerónimo Mejía as the "guaranteeing judge"  (Juez de Garantía.  There is no direct translation in English for this function, but from the definitions I've been given regarding the role of the Juez de Garantía, it would appear this person is the presiding judge.   He is responsible for assuring the accused's rights are protected, intervening in the hearing as indicated, and determining if the evidence presented is convincing enough to go to trial.)  

According to article 491-A of the Panamanian Penal Code, once CSJ [Corte Suprema de Justicia] approval of an investigation is made, the parties have only two calendar months for preparation and investigation before going to hearing.  Martinelli would still be under electoral privilege at the time of the hearing, since the "fuero" extends to April 30th.    

The CSJ has been under criticism by public leaders for not having submitted a petition for the lifting of the electoral privilege in the case of Ricardo Martinelli up to now.  According to most recent reports, however, the CSJ will submit this petition on Monday, Feb. 2nd.  

If the electoral tribunal decides to lift the "fuero",  then the prosecuting judge, Mr. Ortega, will have two months to gather sufficient supporting evidence to present a a case against Martinelli. When Mr. Ortega's evidence is presented, the Juez de Garantía, judge Mejía,  will make a ruling as to whether or not the ex-president should be charged.   If the supporting evidence is acceptable to judge Mejía, then  Mr. Martinelli will be considered "imputado"  (accused) and his case will be tried by the nine judges of the supreme court in a regular court session.   If judge Mejía determines that the evidence presented by the prosecuting judge isn't strong enough, it's possible Martinelli's  case will be dismissed.   

I'm still unclear on what would happen if the Electoral Tribunal refuses to lift the electoral privilege.  I would imagine the complaint filed by the Public Ministry would be moot and a subsequent one would need to be filed at an appropriate time.

According to reports I've been given,  five of the current nine supreme court justices were appointed by Ricardo Martinelli during his administration.

Note: The captioned cartoon above was taken from the internet.  It is a spoof on a local news conference that ex-president Martinelli held in late January, where he commented on national television that he hadn't stolen a "f--king real" (nickel) from Panama.