Panama’s tourism minister implicated in arms trafficking by Colombian authorities

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From Indymedia

Salomon Shamah (left) as found in a Colombian case file, and Ramón Martinelli, the president's money laundering treasurer and cousin.

One of Martinelli's closest collaborators figures on a photograph in a Colombian judicial file and is supposedly part of a group that traffics arms.

The picture of Salomon Shamah, who was born Colombian and naturalized Panamanian and is now minister of tourism and a key figure in Panama's relations with Israel, is part of documentation revealed by Colombian sources in which also other members of Martinelli's government are exposed. It is not clear when Colombia's security service DAS pinpointed Shamah as part of the trafficking network that supplied Colombia's various armed groups with weapons.

Shamah is one of the four people that form the nucleus of power surrounding Martinelli. The others are minister of the presidency Demetrio Papadimitriu, minister of labor Alma Cortés, and the administrator of the Maritime Authority, Roberto Linares.

Super-minister Papadimitriu is responsible for bringing on board figures from the ultra-right wing of the US Republican Party. Both US president Obama and secretary of state Hilary Clinton are reportedly "not amused" by this alliance, which they see as a ploy to disturb the relations between the two countries, according to diplomatic sources.

Cortés worked as a lawyer for the businesses of president Martinelli and is involved in the defense of Martinelli's cousin, Ramón Martinelli, currently in jail in Mexico on charges of money laundering, and Davíd Murcia Guzmán, who operated a string of illegal businesses in Panama.

Linares, founder of governing party Cambio Democratico, operates Panama's shipping registry and as such receives millions that are put to work to bribe opposition figures and buy civic conscience.

Martinelli recently appointed Shamah as the head of a new entity in charge of collecting garbage in Panama City - a business steeped in corruption as it represents more than $300 million in annual income. Analysts estimate that a good part of the funds used in blackmail by the government comes from the garbage business.

Shamah also played a dubious role in the distribution of  the $40 million budget for tourism promotion, which he removed from the advertising agency that had previously won the official bid, to then hand the contract to a company with various ties with the government - the director is an advisor of Martinelli and his son is director of the civil aviation authority.

Media in Panama earlier reported that Shamah was an intermediary in obtaining funds from David Murcia Guzmán for the election campaign of Ricardo Martinelli. An amount of $800,000 was reported, supposedly in loans, and copies of two cheques made out to Shamah were removed from the Murcia case file in the Public Ministry by then drug czar Jośe Abel Almengor.

Subsequently, Almengor was removed, by Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez, from his post for violating legal procedures in the Murcia case, and then rewarded by Martinelli with the job of Security chief. Not much later, Martinelli appointed him as a magistrate in the Supreme Court, despite protests from civil society and the opposition.

Murcia Guzmán was arrested in 2008 and extradited to Colombia where he was convicted to a 30 year prison sentence for money laundering. He was then extradited to the US to face similar charges.

However, in Panama the newly appointed Attorney General - Martinelli's ally Guiseppe Bonissi -  recently dismissed the case against Murcia, saying that no illicit activity had been found despite ample evidence to the contrary. Analysts interpret this as an attempt to cover up the relations of Murcia with government figures, Alma Cortés among them.

Shamah's brother, Alberto Shamah, was pilot of Murcia Guzmán's private jet, according to Panamanian news sources. This aircraft has been under surveillance by the US drug enforcement agency DEA as they suspected it was flying cash between Colombia, Panama and Mexico, Panamanian intelligence sources claim.

The plane was owned by Waipunalei Inc., a company set up in Panama in 2005. Its dirctors are front men.

Shamah's father, Gonzalo, also of Colombian origin, used to be an insurance broker and was involved in laundering drug money, Colombian judicial sources confirm. A case in Colombia is still pending against him.

The extradition of Murcia from Colombia to the US, where he stands accused of laundering $150 million, happened at the same time the Mexican ex-governor of Quintana Roo, Armando Villanueva, was also extradited. Villanueva was a fugitive hiding in Panama, where he maintained extensive business relations with Panamanian entrepreneurs in Soná, a town in the province of Veraguas.

Antonio "Tony" Dominguez, a leading figure in the Panameñista Party, at the time accused Martinelli - who had not been elected yet -  of being associated with the governor, Armando Villanueva. The accusation was widely reported in the media.

DEA agents told Panamanian officials that Villanueva was in the Veraguas area for at least one month, before heading to Belize and then to Mexico, where he was eventually apprehended.

(This article was translated from its Spanish original, which can be found here)

5 thoughts on “Panama’s tourism minister implicated in arms trafficking by Colombian authorities

  1. Antonio “Tony” Dominguez is one to accuse any one?

    What about all the dealings with the Chino’s here in Panama?

  2. Wow, Great read! Okke where do you get this stuff? Fact being stranger than fiction, your recent reports are better than a Le Carre novel. It is sad how so few people know, or want to know the truth about Panama. But with so much foreign investment and interest now in Panama, this site is vital to those thinking of coming here. All the other blogs( Jackson excepted) were or have become seriously misleading or at best just fluffy.

  3. Pingback: Tourists evacuated from Bocas del Toro, Red Cross denounces police brutality | Bananama Republic

  4. Seriously, thanks for reporting what others are either to scared to report or that also have interests involved. My family has invested a lot of money in Panama (unfortunately), and lost quite a bit also. Mostly due to incompetent and corrupt politicians like these. Martinelli is just keeping the cycle going by appointing people who have absolutely no experience for the position they have. I worry about Panama, and I hope someday Panamenos will pull their heads out of their asses and create a country where someone like myself would feel safe investing their money. But right now I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. So much for unete al cambio. What a bunch of bs.

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