Viewing cable 05PANAMA2351

05PANAMA23512005-12-02 17:10:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Panama
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958:N/A 
¶1.  (U) In a decision that surprised no one, on November 29 
the National Assembly Judicial Affairs Committee decided to 
dismiss Alianza Pro Justicia's criminal complaint against 
eight Supreme Court Justices.  November 29, the Panamanian 
press was quick to point out, also was the day that the U.S. 
Embassy informed Supreme Court Justice Winston Spadafora 
that his U.S. visa had been revoked.  A December 1 editorial 
cartoon showed two gangsters ("National Assembly" and 
"Supreme Court") deep-sixing accusations of corruption 
against the Court in the deep of night.  Civil society is 
disappointed with the Assembly's dismissal of the complaint, 
yet not surprised.  President Torrijos, who commented only 
that he respected the decision of the USG to revoke one of 
its visas, has appointed a Committee to screen candidates 
for two upcoming vacancies at the Supreme Court.  End 
¶2.  (SBU) On November 14 Alianza Pro Justicia (the 
"Alianza", comprising 15 civil society organizations), 
submitted a criminal complaint against eight Supreme Court 
Justices based on an independent legal audit of six cases 
regarding narcotrafficking.  The audit was sparked by and 
referred to a denunciation made by former Chief Justice Adan 
Arjona last March against eight of his colleagues for what 
he considered questionable rulings (to say the least), 
related to notorious narcotics cases, in which known 
criminals were freed on apparently flimsy pretexts. 
Alianza's audit alleges "serious concerns" about the rulings 
in two of the six cases.  (See Reftel.) 
A Committee Deliberates 
¶3.  (U) After meeting initially on November 22, the 
Assembly's Judicial Affairs Committee (comprising PRD 
legislators Freidi Torres (Chairman), Juan Hernandez, Marina 
de Laguna and Jerry Wilson, and opposition legislators 
Argentina Arias, Ruben Beitia and Hector Aparicio), finally 
voted to dismiss the complaint on November 29, citing lack 
of evidence.  Right after the complaint was submitted 
Legislative President Elias Castillo and the Committee 
Chairman Freidi Torres (a former majority leader) publicly 
stated that unless the complaint was accompanied by strong 
"evidence" the National Assembly would not admit it. 
"None of Your Business" 
¶4.  (U) Commissioner Jerry Wilson (former Assembly president 
and former Supreme Court justice under the Noriega military 
regime) also publicly criticized the complaint and claimed 
that the Alianza had no right to submit such a complaint as 
it was not a party affected by any of the rulings.  (Note: 
Panamanian law specifically permits any individual to submit 
complaints against Supreme Court Justices before the 
National Assembly.)  Moreover, current Chief Justice Jose 
Troyano, a former member of the governing PRD, and one of 
the eight Justices accused, sarcastically stated in public 
that "whoever wanted his job would have to wait until his 
term was over (in December 2007)" as he had no intention to 
resign or any expectation that the complaint would prosper 
at the National Assembly. 
Where's the Beef? 
¶5.  (U) In an interview broadcast live, Chairman Torres 
talked without restraint against the criminal complaint and 
called it "imprudent and too vague," arguing that it did not 
comply with Panamanian law.  The Committee members 
unanimously agreed that the complaint had to be dismissed 
immediately as it was not accompanied by solid evidence 
("prueba sumaria," essentially a smoking gun).  (Note: 
Panamanian law specifically calls for evidence to accompany 
criminal complaints at the moment the complaints are 
submitted.  Alianza considered that they had provided enough 
evidence when they filed the complaint.  See Reftel.) 
Torres went further, saying that the Assembly could only 
admit the complaint if it was accompanied by evidence "that 
the Justices had received money for the rulings they issued" 
and defended Supreme Court rulings as "final and 
unchallengeable."  (Note: Torres has requested a meeting 
with Ambassador Eaton to explain his committee's decision.) 
¶6.  (SBU) Alianza Executive Director Magaly Castillo was 
upset by the decision, though in private she had confided 
that she had little reason to expect the National Assembly 
to take action against the Justices.  Castillo argued that 
corruption does not leave evidence behind and therefore is 
very difficult to prove to the standard that Torres 
demanded.  "The least the National Assembly could have done 
was to summon Justice Arjona to ask for more information on 
his public denunciation against his colleagues," Castillo 
said.  Alianza will focus on pushing for penal laws to make 
it easier to convict people for corruption and to require 
less evidence in the presentation of a complaint. 
¶7.  (U) Transparency International Executive Director 
Angelica Maytin stated that the Assembly's position showed 
"complicity between the Justices and the legislators," as 
Panama's constitution establishes that the National Assembly 
can impeach justices and the Supreme Court may investigate 
and try legislators.  Catholic Church Peace Commission 
Executive Director Maribel Jaen also was disappointed but 
said that the decision "will encourage civil society to keep 
close watch on public servants." 
¶8.  (U) More dispassionately, Methodist Bishop Pablo Morales 
of the Ecumenical Council, a member of Alianza, said that 
the complaint did not charge the Justices specifically with 
corruption but raised serious questions about certain Court 
rulings that should have been clarified for society's 
Evaluating Committee 
¶9.  (U) On November 23, nine days after the Alianza's 
criminal complaint was submitted, President Torrijos issued 
a Cabinet Decree establishing an "Evaluating Committee" 
(Comision Evaluadora), following the recommendation of the 
Commission for Judicial Reforms, to help the GOP screen 
candidates for the two upcoming vacancies at the Supreme 
Court.  (Note: Justices Arturo Hoyos and Jorge Federico 
Lee's terms both expire on December 31, 2005).  The 
Committee is formed by seven members from civil society. 
¶10.  (SBU) The National Assembly's decision surprised no 
one.  On the contrary, the Assembly would have shocked 
Panamanians if it had accepted the complaint.  Nonetheless, 
Panamanian skepticism regarding the country's judicial and 
political authorities to take ethical actions increases by 
the day.  Civil society leaders made passionate public 
declarations that signaled their deep disappointment at the 
Assembly's decision to dismiss the case but privately they 
were reconciled that "nothing would happen."  In Panama, the 
PRD-controlled Assembly in fact has little independence from 
the executive.  The Assembly's dismissal of the complaint 
against the magistrates rather reveals the Torrijos 
administration's reluctance to pursue high-profile 
corruption cases against the Court.  Is that because several 
cases before the Court, which either have been dismissed or 
remain pending, allegedly link administration officials to 
corrupt acts?  Is the executive as afraid of the Court as 
the Legislature? 
Arreaga #