ONE DOWN IN PANAMA CORRUPTION TRAPEZE CIRCUS ACT
Imagine a country where the former president is on the run for the law and hiding in Miami, the former police chief is in jail for illegal wiretapping and waving unlicensed guns, a plethora of former government officials sits in jail as well or has hurriedly left the country, former ministers are under investigation for corruption as well as the inevitable members of Panama's business community and can't cross the border - imagine that.
In Panama, that circus scenario is the current reality. There are new scandals popping up every day. Usually it's something along the lines of kickbacks on overpriced contracts that went through without any oversight, using corrupt entrepreneurs (enough of those in Panama to choose from) and a string of front companies which down here are very easy to anonymously set up and own. No doubt the local banks have been massively involved in the Great Looting of government coffers - estimates run into the billions of dollars - but nobody has looked into them so far.
Then there is also the illegal wiretapping, in which 150 people had their phones tapped on orders of Martinelli, and then the equipment went missing when Martinelli left office.
The latest is that Alejandro Moncada Luna, the former president of Panama's Supreme Court, has pleaded guilty to illicit enrichment and falsification of documents and will have to serve five years in prison. The plea agreement was his only way out: He faced up to twelve years in the pokey.
Dear readers, if anyone deserves to be locked up for a very long time it is this peace of slime called Moncada Luna.
He was Noriega's special prosecutor to shut down opposition media, using the dictatorship gag laws. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was then recycled into the head of the PTJ, Panama's then equivalent of the FBI, until being unceremoniously removed from that position for abuse of power and unethical conduct. In Panama this is actually a qualification, and so Mr. Moncada Luna popped up again as Martinelli's choice for Supreme Court magistrate.
In between feeding off the tax payer while organizing his corrupt schemes, Moncada Luna ran a private law practice, unsuccessfully representing bottom-feeding clients like fraud artist Marc Boswell against Eric Jackson of The Panama News, for example.
As a magistrate, he sat for three years on a case filed by Paco Gomez Nadal, a Spanish journalist who had been expelled by president Ricardo Martinelli for being too friendly with the Ngobe population. By not deciding on the legality of the expulsion - which was clearly illegal - he prolonged the exile of Gomez Nadal and his partner.
Moncada Luna's downfall came after a number of scandals, and when his former partner in his law firm turned evidence against him. La Prensa then reported how the magistrate owned several apartments and other assets that he could not possibly afford from his salary. Investigations were launched, assets and bank accounts were seized, and it finally rested on the National Assembly to prosecute and judge Moncada Luna. The three appointed judges still need to ratify the plea agreement.
Is our Supreme Court now clean? Not by any standard. But for a while, the remaining magistrates will maybe be a bit too scared to pull off any major heists or engage in massive bribery. Or they simply charge more, that is also a possibility.
The deal between Moncada Luna and the prosecution has received a lot of criticism, but it is historic nevertheless. Not even a notoriously corrupt sleazeball like Winston Spadafora, who lost his visa to the US over just one of the many shenanigans he was involved in, has ever had to face any serious legal trouble.
Big question now is: What will his fellow inmates make of his nickname, Mr. Blower?