The shenanigans of our beloved president Ricardo Martinelli, in his indefatigable drive to promote Panama as a business heaven for financial shysters, have reached yet new levels of - yes, of what exactly?
Here's the brief version. There is this brokerage firm here, Financial Pacific. Financial Pacific is in trouble, because they did shady deals. It started with an investigation into their forex trading. An amount of $9 million had disappeared. That turned into $15 million of funds which were, to use an understatement, unaccounted for.
It then turned out that the Financial Pacific investigation dovetails with the COACECSS investigation, a crooked credit union where regulators have intervened because of irresponsible fund management. COACECSS maintained extensive business relationships with such financial crooks as Monte Friesner and Gilbert Straub. Straub was selling CD's of COACECSS, similar to what Financial Pacific had apparently been doing. Funds placed in these deposits were then systematically "mismanaged" by the COACECSS management, according to the regulators.
Even though this may already sound serious enough, for Panama it isn't really that much out of the ordinary. Bankers and financial hustlers are routinely caught with their fingers in the cookie jar or laundering dirty money, and all one really can say is that at least they make for more colorful scandals than their more sophisticated counterparts up north. Smart people who need serious financial services instead of the isthmian vaudeville had abandoned Panama already long ago.
But that was before Martinelli joined the show. One of the employees of Financial Pacific, one Mayte Pellegrini, resigned and started cooperating with the investigating authorities. And one of the many things she told them - under oath - was that Financial Pacific managed an account for a company called "High Spirit", of which Ricardo Martinelli is the owner. That account was used for trading shares in the controversial Petaquilla open pit gold mine (PTQ), using insider knowledge to make profitable trades and/or manipulate the price of the stock. That is illegal, even in Panama, so naturally the president, his cronies in the public ministry, his governing accomplices and probably even his maid immediately denied any wrongdoing or that Pellegrini had even said anything worth investigating.
The financial regulators, business organizations and stock market principals all demand explanations and investigations to safeguard the integrity, such as it is, of Panama's financial sector. But there won't be any meaningful investigation, because Martinelli won't allow it. What other countries - where PTQ stock is traded - do remains to be seen. Martinelli is already under investigation in Italy for massive corruption in the ever-widening Finmeccanica scandal.
Meanwhile, there are many loose ends. We wonder, for example, if Martinelli's involvement in PTQ trading has anything to do with the fact that the godfather of Petaquilla, the drug dealer Richard Fifer, seems to have moved to Spain?
What to make of a rumor that the equipment purchases of Petaquilla do not jive with the production of that mine?
And will this scandal, as Inca Kola News wonders, be of consequence for the First Quantum attempts to take over Inmet, which earlier this year tried to buy out Petaquilla?
Did, dare we ask, Financial Pacific assist a consortium which includes Petaquilla and Ricardo Martinelli in setting up and maintaining a massive money laundering infrastructure? It would, after all, not be the first time Martinelli and his political operation are caught pumping drug money around.
In other words, our financial sector may be a joke, but Panama can't be beaten where it comes to casino style investment gambling. At least down here you'll have fun losing your money!