Saturday, May 7, 2016

 

A new money laundering scandal affects the credibility of Panama.

The arrest of one of the accused of the biggest operations of money laundering in the world, member of a prominent family living in Panama, further affects the country's image, damaged by the papers of Panama, a few days after new revelations about paradises prosecutors.

The businessman Nidal Waked, a member of one of the wealthiest families in Panama, was captured this week in Bogota (Colombia) for being, according to US authorities, one of the world's largest operators in laundering drug money.

"This is like an earthquake 10 degrees for the economic system and Panamanian society, but this should not be a surprise," he told AFP Miguel Antonio Bernal, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Panama.

Waked, 44, was arrested when he came to his native Colombia on a flight from Panama, where he is with his family origin-of libanés- numerous businesses ranging from shopping malls, hotels, newspapers, companies in free zone and up a bank. The employer is required by the US Southern District Court of Florida for "conspiracy to commit money laundering."

"The country's image has been damaged by these scandals," he told AFP Francisco Bustamante, former official of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Concerns about the image of Panama have reached the government itself: "We are very concerned that the country's reputation will not be affected by this situation," he said the channel TVN-2 Milton Henriquez, Minister of Government.

Scandals, far from being reduced, could even increase, since Monday the International Consortium of Journalists Research (ICIJ) fully publish the 'Panama Papers', which could trigger an informative storm worldwide at a time when Panama takes an offensive diplomatic to defend its financial center.

In April, the revelation of the roles of Panama highlighted how the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca created countless companies offshore for celebrities from around the world, with the alleged purpose of evading taxes.

- "We can not be pirates" -

Since then, the Panamanian government has committed to the international community in the fight against money laundering and created a committee of experts, which the Nobel participates in Economics Joseph Stiglitz, to bring its financial system transparency standards required by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

With a canal by passing 5% of global maritime trade, plus free zones, ports, tourism and robust logistics and banking system, Panama has achieved an economic growth of over 6% annually in recent years, one of the largest in the region.

However, it is considered by some countries as a tax haven, despite reforms that eliminated the use of bearer shares, the creation of a public body to prevent washing in 16 economic activities and signing thirty bilateral treaties on information financial.

The lack of speed to lift banking secrecy and the automatic exchange of information has led to remain in the crosshairs of Europe, the United States and the OECD. "We can not go out there like we were corsairs or pirates of the eighteenth century," Bernal said.

For academics, the Panamanian financial center must be reformed to prevent money laundering, "but the government can not do it because most of those who integrate with interests in the same type of operations."

Entrepreneurs have also shown their fear: "There can be situations that people start to question whether you invest or not," the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Jorge Garcia lamented.

- "Golden Opportunity" -

Analysts also believe that scandals can be used by the Panamanian authorities to consolidate the reforms of the financial system and homologate with the transparency requirements of the international community. They also believe that new international requirements will test the Panamanian justice and enforcement of laws against money laundering.

"This is a golden opportunity that has the government of Panama. Not to mention, you must demonstrate that the law exists, it works, applies, period," Bustamante said.

"Panama will have to contribute their share of sacrifice to prevent the continued use of our institutions to these crimes," he told AFP Annette Planells, leader of the Independent Movement for Panama. However, they recognize the weakness and shortcomings of Panamanian institutions, often permeated by corruption, and the justice system.

"We must ensure as a state and as a country that investigations are given until the end," said the president of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives, Morabia Guerrero.

"Panama has to adapt to this new global reality and we can not isolate ourselves," he added Planells.

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