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News > Latin America

Panama: Odebrecht Corruption Triggers Probe into Ex-President

  • Juan Carlos Varela served as Panama's president from 2014 to 2019.

    Juan Carlos Varela served as Panama's president from 2014 to 2019. | Photo: EFE

Published 18 July 2019

The ex-head of state is being probed for crimes of money laundering, illicit association, corruption of public servants, among other criminal acts.

Corruption allegations linking Panama’s former president, Juan Carlos Varela, to the international Odebrecht scandal have triggered a criminal investigation into the ex-leader, say state officials. 

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On thursday, Panama's Public Ministry Secretary-General Rolando Rodriguez said the ex-head of state is being probed for crimes of money laundering, organized crime, illicit association, corruption of public servants, among other crimes. Varela fell under suspicion after a team of legal professionals filed a complaint against him and requested that the former official be held in provisional detention during the investigation.

Lawyers Miguel Antonio Bernal and Sidney Sitton asked the Public Prosecutor's Office of Panama to seize money and property deposited by Varela in Switzerland, Brazil, the United States, China, Hong Kong. The pair also requested the Prosecutor’s Office petition “judicial assistance” in these countries “in order to determine and identify people linked to accounts or deposits linked to Odebrecht or any of its companies related to the Holding Company." Sitton is on the defense team of former president Ricardo Martinelli, himself being held since last year on corruption charges.

The sweeping Odebrecht corruption scandal—first revealed in 2014—has implicated dozens of high-ranking officials across Latin America accused, and many convicted, of taking bribe money in exchange for public works contracts that add up to more than US$9.3 billion.

In 2017, Varela admitted Odebrecht had partially funded his 2009 campaign for vice presidency via a third party, but that they were political donations and “not bribes,” the ex-official said.

“The excuse or pretext has served as part of a cover-up,” Bernal told TVN Wednesday.

The lawyer added: “In Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, the United States, Spain, ... everywhere people are being investigated for (links to) Odebrecht and every time they find more evidence. The former president of Peru has just been extradited and here in Panama there is nobody. Absolutely no one is subject to the law for all the things that Odebrecht practiced.”

In Panama , there are more than 76 pending charged in the case of Odebrecht, while officials there have managed to recover about US$255,123,484 in embezzled funds.

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