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Cablegate: Panama Hearing in Aleman Case Postponed As Defense

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 002292

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN AND INL/LP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SNAR PGOV PREL PM NU NAS
SUBJECT: PANAMA HEARING IN ALEMAN CASE POSTPONED AS DEFENSE
LAWYERS CALL IN SICK

REF: PANAMA 2020

1. (SBU) Summary: Panama,s November 23 hearing in the
money laundering case against former Nicaraguan President
Arnoldo Aleman and cronies was postponed until March 30 after
defense attorneys failed to appear due to alleged health
problems. The next step in Panama will be for prosecutors
to request arrest warrants against the accused to compel
their attendance at the next hearing. Panama's Public
Ministry remains committed to seeing justice done in this
case. End Summary.

Aleman Attorney Calls in Sick
-----------------------------

2. (SBU) Panamanian judge Giniva Ladron de Guevara postponed
the scheduled November 23 hearing in the case against former
Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman and cronies after defense
attorneys informed her that they were unable to appear for
health reasons. This comes after Aleman co-accused Flores
Lovo unexpectedly changed lawyers on the eve of the hearing.
The hearing has been rescheduled until March 30 in order to
give court appointed public defenders time to prepare for the
case, in the event that the defense attorneys again fail to
appear. In moving to appoint public defenders the judge is
signaling that the defense cannot adopt the same stalling
tactics in March.

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3. (SBU) A DHS/ICE S/A who attended the hearing reported
that Panama,s anti-corruption prosecutor Mercedes de Leon,
who had been working diligently with U.S. assistance to
prepare the case, was noticeably disappointed with the
postponement. De Leon later told us that she had spoken with
the judge, who has also lost patience with defense maneuvers.
In the days leading up to the hearing, De Leon had been vocal
in countering efforts by the defense to argue their case in
the media. Nicaraguan Attorney General Novoa and Prosecutor
Lara, in Panama for the hearing, had nothing but praise for
their Panamanian counterparts. The case has attracted
widespread media coverage in Panama.

Next Steps: Prosecutors May Seek Arrest Warrants
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (SBU) Aleman and his cronies may have unwittingly
strengthened the ability of prosecutors to successfully argue
for the issuance of arrest warrants in the case. Aleman and
his cronies have exhausted their legal appeals in Panama to
avoid the hearing, and the stunt that they pulled in
postponing today,s hearing can only be used once. The Public
Ministry appears inclined to seek arrest warrants, and we
will follow up with the anti-corruption prosecutor's office
(Note: It is not clear whether Mercedes de Leon will continue
to manage the case or whether it will revert to Prosecutor
Cecilia Lopez when she returns from vacation November 30.)

5. (SBU) In recent days, the judge had indicated publicly
and privately that she sees merit in the case going forward.
During a November 16 roundtable on financial crimes sponsored
by DHS/ICE and NAS Panama, the judge stated her view that the
existence of a crime according to Panamanian law negated the
need to show that the predicate offense had taken place
elsewhere. For her part, AG Gomez has consistently stated
her view that it is important for countries in the region to
demonstrate that political figures are not immune from facing
justice.

Panamanians Ask About U.S. Prosecution
--------------------------------------

6. (SBU) While making it clear that they will continue to
pursue their case against Aleman, Panamanian officials
regularly ask about the status of U.S. efforts to bring the
former Nicaraguan President to task for crimes committed in
the United States. Embassy Panama City DHS/ICE S/A will
travel to Managua the week of November 28 to debrief
potential witnesses and develop information that could be
used in a future U.S. prosecution of Aleman.

COMMENT
-------

7. (SBU) From the Attorney General down to the prosecutors
and investigators, everyone in Panama's Public Ministry
involved in this case is committed to seeing Aleman face
justice. While this latest postponement is a disappointment,
we do not anticipate that there will be any lessening of
Panamanian resolve. Panama also remains willing to cooperate
with USG officials in the event of a decision to prosecute
the Aleman case in the U.S.
EATON

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