The alternate preliminary hearing in the Odebrecht case began this Monday, September 12, with a list of incidents presented by the defendants’ lawyers, among which the prescription of the crime of corruption of officials was alleged and that exempted three former officials from being tried for this crime: Frank De Lima, former Minister of Economy and Finance during the administration of President Ricardo Martinelli; Jaime Ford, former Minister of Public Works, and Jimmy Papadimitriu, former Minister of the Presidency, all from the same administration.
In addition, the lawyers presented a preventive Habeas corpus at the collective level by means of which the continuation of the hearing to the Third Liquidator Court in charge of Judge Baloisa Marquínez was prevented. However, the judge indicated that she had not received notice in this regard and declared a recess because lunch time was approaching.
The holding of this preliminary hearing puts the Panamanian justice to the test to achieve convictions in one of the greatest challenges in its judicial history. Present in the room were the defendants Alejandro Stanziola, José Domingo Arias (former presidential candidate for Cambio Democrático), Demetrio Jimmy Papadimitri (former Minister of the Presidency), Federico Suárez (former Minister of Public Works), Jaime Ford Castro (former Minister of Public Works), Frank De Lima (former Minister of Economy and Finance), Roberto Brin, the lawyer Evelyn Vargas and José Portas.
Panama is one of the few countries in Latin America that has not yet held a trial in the case of the most complex and scandalous corruption scheme in the region, carried out by the construction company.
The alternate preliminary hearing, stipulated last July after a first attempt was suspended due to the absence of several defenders, took place in the hall of the Second Court of the Gil Ponce Palace, and aims to determine the responsibility of 50 people and the Ricamar company . , SA, accused of money laundering, in said bribery scheme.
Among the defendants are two former presidents of the republic, Juan Carlos Varela (2014-2019) and Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), as well as former ministers of both administrations. Neither of them physically attended the hearing, which is not required by law, but they were represented by their lawyers. The sons of the latter, imprisoned in New York, United States, were represented from that country by their lawyer, who requested permission from Judge Marquínez not to be present at the hearing; she is she granted it.
The Martinelli Linares brothers were sentenced to 36 months in prison last May after admitting their guilt for their role as intermediaries in the payment of $28 million in bribes made by order of the construction company to a high-ranking government official, a close relative of the defendants. , of conspiracy to commit money laundering. During the sentencing hearing, the defense of the Martinelli Linares brothers described as unfair that their clients were tried in Panama for the same case.
“No person can be tried twice for the same cause, it is evident that the facts are the same, how can they be tried for facts that have already been tried in another country?” asked the lawyer Luis Eduardo Camacho González.
The hearing began at 10:30 am with an hour and a half delay. Only in the first hours nine incidents had been presented, among which the annulment of the process was requested, challenges to the judge, annulments due to lack of imputation, by prescription, among others.
Among the arguments presented, it was pointed out that the Third Liquidator Court did not have jurisdiction in the case because it was created in 2016, while the events occurred on earlier dates. They also indicated the absence of notification of one of the defendants and that he has been given time to see the entire file.
All were denied by the judge after the superior Anti-corruption prosecutor, Ruth Morcillo, reminded those present that they had already been resolved on previous dates.
The lawyer Roniel Ortíz, representative of former President Martinelli, argued about the principle of specialty that protects his client. “Martinelli does not waive the principle of specialty that he enjoys, since the exception of the principle of specialty has not been requested,” said the jurist.
Ortíz added that in this process the extradition request for Ricardo Martinelli was not included, “he has not returned to the United States, so the principle of specialty must remain, doing so would violate the extradition treaty,” he said.
For her part, the prosecutor Morcillo responded that this legal figure is not permanent, “but is subject to temporary protection that ends when the case is tried.” He added that the jurisdictional pronouncements have maintained that the exception in numeral 8 of the extradition treaty does not apply and complemented his argument with two pronouncements of courts that have issued the same criterion denying that the specialty principle applies in which the reasons for which the exceptions. are configured.
Most of the incidents were resolved almost immediately by Judge Baloisa Marquínez. However, the requests continued. Then the lawyer Alfredo Vallarino, attorney for Aurora Mudaráz, accused of money laundering, indicated that a preventive habeas corpus had been filed collectively before the Superior Liquidation Court, which prevented the judge from continuing with the hearing because the defendants they were under orders from another office.
Marquínez replied that until then she had not been notified of the appeal, but at 1:00 in the afternoon she declared a one-hour break for lunch and to verify the situation.
Later, at the end of the session, the judge indicated that she had been notified by the court in question that she had requested that the detained persons be made available to that office, however, in this case there are no persons in that condition.
Upon restarting the hearing, the judge ordered the reading of the prosecutor’s hearing, which consists of a thousand pages. She emphatically closed the period of incidents despite the requests of the defenders: no more incidents, the period is closed.
He ordered immediately the reading of the tax hearing that contains a little more than 900 pages, so it is expected that its reading will take about two days.
The tax hearing requested definitive dismissal for eight people, including former Odebrecht executives. He has achieved a conviction with the imposition of fines and the return of funds from the crime of André Rabello, superintendent director of the Odebrecht company in Panama, and with the Norberto Odebrecht Construction Company, who was fined $220 million.
Last May, the Compliance Judge Héctor Zarzavilla Pérez decreed delinquency for non-payment of the fine corresponding to December 31, 2021, plus 5%, and ordered within three months the retention in any account or withheld contract that the investigated companies have in their favor , the sum of $41.6 million being the total of the withholding order.
In front of the judge there was a patio of stacked papers, the 2,194 volumes that add up to almost a million pages in which the chain of events is explained. These contain inquiries from the accused, international judicial assistance, collaboration agreements, statements of protected witnesses, and among other documents, the plea agreements obtained from Odebrecht directors. Among them are those of André Rabello, the manager of the Odebrecht office in Panama, who published this newspaper in its entirety in March 2021.
The Public Ministry also has the story of the man who dealt with the construction company’s secret books, Hilberto Mascarenhas. An executive who worked for 40 years in the company and who knows the movements of the construction company by heart. Mascarenhas was the head of the Structured Operations Department (DOE) from the second half of 2006 until June 2015, when he retired. The DOE used an encrypted mechanism that identified the beneficiaries with nicknames to send bribes from the construction company for the contracts they had obtained in different countries in Latin America and Africa.Payments ordered by Marcelo Odebrecht, founder of the construction company that managed to break through with the politicians of the countries where he was interested in winning millionaire contracts for infrastructure works. in return,
According to sources linked to the investigation, Macarenhas explained to the Public Ministry how the company operated, the compartmentalization that prevailed to prevent information from leaking from one department to another. He also spoke about the purchase of offshores for company use. He explained, according to the source that he requested not to be named, that part of the mechanism used to deliver the payments consisted of the receiver opening an account in the same bank that the company had to receive the money. Thus, withdrawals could be simpler and transfers could be made within the bank, because he accepted it in any way. Once the transaction was completed, the beneficiary could transfer the money, thus avoiding going through the compliance filter of the bank.
The Public Ministry also obtained the denunciations of Luiz Eduardo da Rocha, another DOE executive, who, among other things, took care of setting up operations for high payments. In turn, the denunciations of Olivio Rodríguez, in charge of the bank accounts through which transfers were made to the beneficiaries, and that of Fernando Migliaccio, who was also part of the DOE and described in detail the operation of the Drousys software, an encrypted program that allowed members of the DOE to connect with each other securely.
The content of these denunciations is kept confidential. What is part of the claims of the defense attorneys, who consider that this goes against the rights of their clients.
The events framed in this case occurred between 2009-2012, the investigation was carried out in subsequent years. Ten years later, one of the crimes has been prescribed, at which time the first alternate preliminary hearing is held in the case. Panama is one of the few countries that has not achieved convictions in this case, and due to what dictates the development of the first day of hearing, it is very possible that more than the time scheduled by the Judicial Branch will elapsed, which considered a period of two weeks. before the hearing is over.