Cleaning Up Deep Rooted Corruption I The National Immigration Service of Panama

Cleaning Up Deep Rooted Corruption In The National Immigration Service of Panama

Monday, October 04 2010 @ 09:38 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Views: 123

María Cristina González – Director of National Immigration Service
The transparency of the National Immigration Service (SNM) is in doubt again. In the first 14 months of Ricardo Martinelli administration there have already been five investigations opened for cases of alleged corruption, exploitation, human trafficking and other crimes. There are a total of 18 immigration officials under investigation. And what’s more, of the total number of public servants who are under investigation, five hold positions of leadership. Eight have been arrested and fired, and the rest have been separated from their positions until the investigations are completed. With regards to the five investigations, three are being managed by the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, one is in the office of the Superior Prosecutor of Chiriqui, and the last case is being investigated by the Auxiliary Prosecutor. (more)
The Start – The first case was initiated in October 2009 when two people were arrested, both Chinese nationals, for being allegedly linked to a human trafficking network from the Asian country. The Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime Jose Ayu Prado said at the time the couple had a business in Panama City, and was linked to the sending of two packages containing work permits from the Panamanian Labor Ministry to the United States.

Local investigators were alerted about the package by the federal authorities of the United States, which contained 59 work permits for Chinese citizens who entered Panama at an unspecified date. The cards had their pictures, supposed Cedula numbers, as well as the number of the resolutions and the date that the permits were issued. The two packages were sent from China, with a stopover in Alaska, where they were detected by U.S. authorities. The file was transferred this year to the Eleventh Circuit Court.

The second investigation was opened two months later, in December 2009, also by the same Office of the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime. This time there were a total of 22 defendants including foreigners and Panamanians. The network was linked to the counterfeiting of identity documents to smuggle people to the United States. In this case several former immigration employees are under arrest, as well as employees of the Electoral Tribunal, the office of the Public Ministry in Colon, the National Direction of Passports, and the Direction of Judicial Information of the Panama Canal Authority.

According to the investigations, the counterfeiters – who were based in Panama City – had among their clients Dominicans and Colombians, for whom they created fake driver’s licences, identification cards (cedulas), and phony passports with photos and official stamps, but using the identities of Panamanians, specifically ACP employees. With these adopted identities, the foreigners applied for and obtained visas from the US Consulate in Panama and traveled to that country illegally. The counterfeiting group charged as much as $5,000 dollars for the whole package, cedula, driver’s license, and Panamanian passport.

The third case is also being managed by the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime. It involves a group of immigration officials who allegedly penetrated the computer system containing the requirements for impediments to leave the country more than 15,000 times. The group was discovered, dismantled, and three of its alleged members have been arrested. According to the investigation, which took place from January 2009 to January of 2010, the group illegally “nullified” Interpol requests on people who are wanted in other countries. Among those who were arrested are Boris Baúles, Vladimir Ruiz and Héctor Casas. Also linked to this case are María Deriaus, Librada Aguilar, Kathia Botel and René Aguilar, but they were not arrested. All worked in the National Immigration Service.

The fourth case was developed in Chiriqui and the case file is being managed by the Superior Prosecutor of the province. Five officials of the regional headquarters of the SNM, including the manager Adriany Hernandez, were dismissed when it emerged they took advantage of the “Melting Pot” fair – a program of mass legalization for foreigners who have been living in the country for more than two years – to commit crimes ranging from embezzlement to misuse of state funds.

The last case was opened in July 2010 when another network dedicated to the trafficking and exploitation of Chinese citizens was discovered. There are seven people involved, five of whom are Immigration employees, including the security chief of the entity, Rolando Taboada. Four of these officers have been arrested. The case is being managed by the Auxiliary Prosecutor.

María Cristina González, the Director of the National Immigration Service, continues to enjoy the full backing of president Ricardo Martinelli, who through his spokesman denied that she would be dismissed from office. That came at the end of last week, after Gonzalez was questioned and called to the attention to the Supreme Court of Justice, the National Bar Association and Movement of Lawyers Union.

Gonzalez said her administration will not give in to the corruption, and that she will continue to clean house. “Our motto is to work for the welfare of the country, and since my arrival to this post I decided to clean up the institution,” said González. She also said the the allegations being investigated by prosecutors on the possible existence of networks dedicated to the international trafficking of Chinese nationals arose precisely because of the information and complaints which started internal to the institution.

Meanwhile, president Martinelli said recently the National Immigration Service will be converted into an “Authority” with a mixed board of directors.

During the past four administrations (1990 – 2009), 54 officials were dismissed from Immigration for various crimes, especially corruption. Under President Guillermo Endara, 7, under Ernesto Perez Balladares, 14, under Mireya Moscoso, 18, and Martín Torrijos, 15. (La Prensa)

Editor’s Comment: You can’t clean up corruption without talking about it, investigating allegations, and prosecuting the suspects. Panama has long been used as a “lily pad” for illegal aliens to eventually travel to the United States. When the investigation into the package of documents related to the ACP employees and false identifies first came up, Panamanian investigators made requests for information to the US Consulate regarding specific employees, because apparently the traffickers had instructions to ask for a couple of individuals by name at the Consulate to get their travel visas approved. I submitted a request for information to the US Embassy, which was ignored. Whatever – eventually this case will go to the courts where it will become public information. At the time, the Panamanian prosecutors were complaining in the press that the US officials were not cooperating with their investigation. I have no idea (yet) if that ever changed.

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