PRESIDENT Martinelli's "political mentor and great friend" Samuel Lewis Galindo was sentenced for theft this week to 44 months in jail and payment of $64,000,000 to Mexican national José Pineda Trinidad. Also convicted were Eduardo Masferrer and his wife Maura. The case offers a fascinating insight into how Panama banking is managed by mobsters, their ties with the Cuban Miami mafia and Panamanian government officials and diplomats.
The Miami Herald in 2001 offered a great timeline of events that led to this conviction:
1985: Eduardo Masferrer, general manager at Banco del Istmo, currently the largest bank in Panama, meets Mexican pig farmer José Pineda Trinidad in Panama City. Pineda opens three separate accounts at bank.
March 3, 1988: Letter signed by Pineda authorizing transfer of funds from Banco del Istmo to the United States. Pineda says his signature was forged, a point supported by a Panama court ruling.
March 3, 1988: Funds transfered from Banco del Istmo to First Interstate Bank International, into the account of Banistmo Financial Services, a company controlled by Masferrer and his wife Maura.
March 21, 1988: Masferrer and Miami banker Andres G. Gomez-Mena, president and managing director of Hamilton-Lombard & Co., sign agreement to purchase shares of faltering Alliance National Bank.
March 30, 1988: Ownership of bank is transferred to holding company, Southern Bancorp, where Gomez-Mena and Masferrer are directors. From March 30 to Sept. 29, Gomez-Mena is the sole shareholder.
April 22, 1988: Southern Bank & Trust was incorporated in Montserrat on behalf of Southern Bancorp, whose directors were Masferrer, Maura A. Rojas (Masferrer's wife) and Andres Gomez-Mena.
May 15, 1988: Pineda says the Masferrers traveled to Guadalajara to pick up $10 million he claims was used to capitalize Hamilton Bank. The money would give Pineda a 5 percent stake, he says.
May 25, 1988: Pineda says he flew to Miami on May 25 to celebrate the closing of the deal that created Hamilton Bank.
May 26, 1988: Funds transferred from First Interstate Bank International in Miami to three trusts and a certificate of deposit Pineda opens in Southern Bank & Trust.
June 16, 1988: Pineda arrested in Guadalajara, Mexico, on charges of drug trafficking, illegal weapons possession and conspiracy. Masferrer's brother, Miguel Angel, and sister-in-law are also detained.
July 27, 1988: Masferrer, on advice of legal counsel, meets with members of a multi-agency task force on money laundering in Miami. (Pineda says contact with U.S. authorities was initiated prior to his arrest and is supported by a sworn affidavit from a former Mexican federal agent who participated in the detention.)
April 28, 1992: Pineda released from prison.
December 1998: Pineda travels to Panama, seeking funds at Banco del Istmo.
March 1999: Pineda's first lawsuit filed in Panama calls for $10 million to be returned.
Aug. 24, 2000: Panamanian judge rules that Banco del Istmo owes Pineda $10.2 million, plus $11.2 million in interest and costs. The bank has appealed the ruling.
May 2000: Pineda files suit in circuit court in Miami, against Hamilton Bank, Masferrer and his wife, Maura, alleging they failed to account for or return his $10 million.
Feb. 14, 2001: Masferrer files motion in a Miami federal court to dismiss Pineda's lawsuit. A judge has not ruled on the motion or whether to admit a second amended complaint.
So who is Eduardo A. Masferrer?
He's a cousin of Cuban capo Rolando Masferrer, an accomplice of Jorge Mas Canosa, money laundering specialist and former star of the Miami pro-Batista circles. He was found guilty on 16 charges of fraud and convicted to 30 years in prison in Miami, related to his activities with Hamilton Bank.
In March 2002, the OCC prohibited the bank from engaging in new transactions with 33 companies or persons… including Manuel Salermo Cohen, the consul general of Panama in Miami and former director and president of the Alexander H. Cos company, owned by Masferrer, who controls or signs 26 different accounts in the bank.
So, logically, then President Mireya Moscoso had already given Masferrer Panamanian nationality in 2001. Moscoso was (and is) firmly embedded in circles of Miami Cubans: On the last day of her failed presidency she pardoned notorious terrorist Posada Carriles and the first person she told about it was former US ambassador Ferro.
While in Miami the authorities were closing down and prosecuting the Hamilton Bank and its penetrating smell of money laundering, Masferrer and his wife became directors of Banistmo in Panama. Here in Panama, the mobster ties are almost similar with family ties: Samuel Lewis Galindo is the father in law of Alberto Vallarino, the current minister of economy and finance. Lewis Galindo and his gang accumulated their fortunes during the military dictatorship - we all know what "financial business" really meant in those days - and there is a trail of scandals ranging from fraudulently selling the National Brewery to shaking down the Shah of Iran who, on the run from the ayatollahs, sought refuge in Lewis Galindo's beach house on Contadora and reportedly paid $14 million for that favor.
Banistmo was later taken over by HSBC in a highly dubious transaction, facilitated by a special law that cost the Panamanian state about $400 million in lost tax revenue - that amount stayed with the Banistmo shareholders instead. Masferrer, Lewis Galindo, Vallarino and Martinelli were all shareholders of Banistmo.
So, after over a decade of legal procedures, José Pineda Trinidad finally has a conviction that will get him his money back. Or has he? Do you really think this clique of mafia bosses, some of them now members of the government, will let this happen?
And, how eager are you to deposit your money in a Panamanian bank or sleazy credit card scheme? Open your account now!