Drug Trafficking in Panama’s Presidency, Abdul Waked spikes story, fires journalist

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Panama's National Assembly

In June of this year, security people working for the National Assembly were arrested because they had turned Panama's legislature into the epicenter of drug trafficking. The case was quickly covered up, and those who were really responsible have never been caught. We reported about it here and here.

This week, it was revealed that at least one member of yet another security detail, that of President Martin Torrijos, is up to his neck in the drugs business as well.

To be more specific, the security person, one Juan De León, specialized in narco rip deals, similar to those that president Martin Torrijos was involved in himself in the eighties, which we reported exclusively here.

The story was broken last Monday by journalist Rafael Antonio Ruiz of El Siglo. Ruiz was subsequently fired together with El Siglo's sub-director César Iván Castillo. President of the paper, Nivia Rosanna Castrellón, presented her resignation saying that the affair was the result of "political pressure."

The dismissals are the decision of El Siglo's main shareholder, entrepreneur Abdul Waked (Update 2016: Waked and his family stand accused of massive drug money laundering and have had to rescind control of their businesses, including a bank and newspaper El Siglo) In our opinion, this response to a piece of investigative journalism gives credence to the allegations presented in Ruiz' article. Thus, we are quoting it here in its entirety, with permission, in an English translation.

Presidential Security Investigated for Drug Trafficking

by Rafael Antonio Ruiz
Originally appeared in El Siglo here.

The detention of the former chief of the Narcotics Division of the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ), Rogelio Harris, supposedly connects one Juan De León, a/k/a "Poroto," member of the personal security staff of President Martin Torrijos, with the seizure on October 3rd of 995 kilos of cocaine that were transported in a van driven by Esteban "Bolongo" Ruiz.

A source close to the investigation affirmed that De León communicated with "Bolongo" Ruiz, using mobile number 6608-7120, which number also appeared in the memory of the cellular phone of Rogelio Harris. This came to light after the anti-drugs operation that allowed for the intercepting of the van with the drugs close to Howard.

According to the source, De León supposedly used this mobile phone for intelligence purposes and to stay in touch with Harris, the reason being that presumably inside the PTJ nobody could be trusted because its boss, Jaime Jácome, was appointed by the former administration.

The source assured us that "Bolongo" Ruiz worked in an semi-official capacity for the government paid from a budget of $11,000 reserved for intelligence and anti-narcotics purposes. However, he added that De León used these resources and intelligence contacts to set up drugs rip deals or robberies from criminal groups operating in Panama.

The source stated that it was learned from the investigation that the seized drugs from Ruiz were product of a robbery on order of De León of a group of drug traffickers which brought the merchandise into Panama through Río Hato.

He also mentioned that the calls that appeared in the cellphone of Harris concur with the communication he maintained with "Poroto" De León and not with Ruiz because, supposedly, the ex anti-narcotics chief of the PTJ did not want to even know the latter personally.

Our informer sustained that Ruiz identified himself as a government official when he was arrested with the 995 kilos of cocaine and that after his arrest "intelligence agents" went to the Don Bosco area where they searched the house of De León and seized his car, finding 5 kilos of cocaine inside. It appears that this was a white Suzuki 4-door sedan, which was rented in the name of the Presidency of Panama.

The source remembered that after this operation, the presidential bodyguard was held in the offices of the National Security Council, supposedly to file a report about his involvement in the case. This is the only sanction that he has so far received and he has been working normally with Torrijos' personal security team since.

Our source indicated that "Poroto" De León is someone who has worked for Torrijos since he was vice-minister of Government and Justice in the government of Ernesto Perez Balladares. However, it could not be confirmed if Torrijos had knowledge of his involvement in drug trafficking. Another important element, according to our informant, is that this is not the first time that De León is involved in criminal activities related to drug trafficking, since in the past he was investigated by DEA agents in relation to a shipment of cocaine found aboard a yacht.

El Siglo contacted the secretary of State Communications, Jorge Sánchez, to ask for him to verify with officials of the National Security Council or the presidential security force SPI if De León had been reintegrated with the presidential security team. However, Sánchez declared that today, Monday, he would be able to offer more details about the issue as on Sunday it was difficult to obtain the required information.

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