Government Defends Former Director of Land Titling in Cocle Scandal

Government Defends Former Director of Land Titling in Cocle Scandal

Monday, October 17 2011 @ 02:20 PM COT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Views: 43
#Panama – “They’re trying to put something under the magnifying glass that’s completely legal.” With those words summarized the manager of the Tourism Authority of Panama, who has served as advisor to the National Authority of Land Management (Anati), Salomon Shamah, his “personal” position in response to the investigation carried out by the La Prensa newspaper. The investigation notes the former Director of Land Titling of the Anati, Anabelle Villamonte Murgas, gave – for free – 54 hectares of ocean front property located in the community of Juan Hombrón, in the province of Coclé, to twelve corporations and two individuals who claimed to have rights of possession.
The investigation also revealed that Villamonte was the lawyer for the companies and then later (as an employee of ANATI) issued titles for the land, lots that turned out to be parallel and consecutive (side by side) to complete a 54.3 hectare parcel of uninterrupted land in an area where each square meter of land has a market value of between $150 to $250 dollars. Nine of the companies have already sold the newly titled land.

The Arguments From The Government: “It means that [a lawyer] has to give up the right to carry out processes with the state, because at any given moment (the person) who is now a director in the past worked as a lawyer for the company. Therefore, no one who is a lawyer can serve in posts of command and jurisdiction, or any position where your signature is needed for the approval of any process,” said Shamah during an interview on the channel 2 TVN morning news broadcast.

And later he added: “Anabelle was a lawyer of for these companies and she resigned when she was named (to work for ) Cadastre.” The government spokesman (Shamah) denied that the former official has been declared impaired in these titling processes (due to conflict of interest.) He also denied that anyone close to the government or the Cabinet has any interests in the titling of lands located in Juan Hombrón.

He argued that La Prensa has said many untruths: First, this is not real. Second, anyone, either rich or poor, from whatever area, from whatever economic status, has the same rights to be a land owner as anyone else. The law can not differentiate between whether you are a (government) Minister, if you’re rich or poor, or if you’re white … That is not happening. But what happens if a person who is a minister or who is close to the government has rights of possession lands? Can this person title their lands? (Asked Shamah)

As for the possibility that several people can come to an agreement and then after they have been granted a free title, then later turn around and sell those properties at very high prices, Shamah said this is the spectacular part of this law, because what it does is distributes wealth. “If you have a right of possession, and then you obtain title on your land and then sell it for three million dollars, you become a millionaire overnight, and God Bless You,” he said. Finally, Shamah said there is no difference between a peasant land owner who inherited land or a corporation. “(There is) no (difference). The social interest is there, titles are being issued to everyone. Why are you going to stop the owner who is a corporation?” (La Prensa)

Editor’s Comment: Anabelle Villamonte Murgas was the Director of Land Titling for the newly created Autoridad Nacional de Administración de Tierras (National Authority of Land Administration) (ANATI). She promptly resigned when the scandal over a parcel of land in Paitilla broke out a couple of months ago. There was a parcel of land in Paitilla that was supposed to be turned into a park, but it was given away (for free). Meaning, it started life as state lands, but then was passed to a private individual. Obviously, this person was going to sell it to someone else, who would then make millions of dollars by building a tower or something. In any case, Anabelle Villamonte resigned when the Paitilla scandal broke in the news. Now, over the past two days the La Prensa newspaper has published articles about more land titles issued by Anabelle Villamonte in the area of Juan Hombrón, in the province of Coclé, near Rio Hato. This is close to the Decameron resort and the place where the new International Airport is going to be built. Ocean front land worth millions upon millions of dollars to a developer. The law says any person who has rights of possession on land up to five hectares or less can be given the land for free. Meaning – free title from the government. In the case presented by La Prensa today, Anabelle Villamonte first served as the lawyer for a string of companies who presented documents to prove the existence of their rights of possession of these lands, and then she was appointed as the new Director of Titling for the ANATI. She basically approved her own requests. Titles were issued in record time, like six months. I personally have friends who have been trying to get land titled for years, with no success. And then here comes Saloman Shamah on television – to defend her actions. It’s a blatant abuse of position and authority, and apparently the government has been making these sweetheart deals left and right, for the right people with the right connections. Listen – if someone gets caught doing something wrong you fire them (or let them resign) and then say you will be opening an investigation. And then move on. Coming out to defend a corrupt former government employee is a political mistake. But you know what? It’s a mistake Ricardo Martinelli has repeated, time and time again. He’s loyal to his followers. Even when he should cut them away, he sticks by their side, despite the political damage. Anyway, ANATI is the scandal of the week.

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