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Cablegate: National Assembly Dismisses Criminal Complaint

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 002351

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR WHA/CEN AND INL
SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR SNAR PM POL SPECIALIST
SUBJECT: NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DISMISSES CRIMINAL COMPLAINT
AGAINST EIGHT SUPREME COURT JUSTICES

REF: PANAMA 2294

Summary
-------
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that his U.S. visa had been revoked.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
Summary.

Background
----------
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.)

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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.)

Reactions
---------
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
"tranquility."

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.

Comment
-------
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 #

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