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Cablegate: Panama Moves Closer to Naming New Supreme Court

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #2463/01 3552041
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 212041Z DEC 05
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7074
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 2095
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0894
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 0573
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 0787
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//J5/J2/POLAD//

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 002463
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/20/2015
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA MOVES CLOSER TO NAMING NEW SUPREME COURT
NOMINEES, MORE ON SPADAFORA
REF: A. PANAMA 2294
B. PANAMA 2351
Classified By: DCM LUIS ARREAGA FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

SUMMARY

1. (C) As a civil society evaluative commission released its
December 19 report on 72 selfnominated candidates for two
highcourt vacancies, Supreme Court Magistrate Adan Arjona
predicted that President Torrijos probably would choose
"serious" people for the job. (See para 4.) Torrijos is
expected to announce his choices as early as December 22.
Arjona told POL Counselor December 9 that three close
presidential advisors Jorge Ritter, Ubaldino Real, and
Hugo Torrijos are vetting nominees for two high court
openings that Martin Torrijos must fill by December 31.
Arjona added that Torrijos "probably will fail" to remove any
magistrates from the high court. Nonetheless, saying that
fellow magistrate Winston Spadafora is much affected and
depressed by the lateNovember revocation of his U.S. visa
under INA section 212(f) and might decide to step down,
especially if further damaging allegations about his conduct
appear in the press. Separately, former presidential
secretary Ebrahim Asvat contended that Torrijos favors the
"status quo" with respect to the Court and would not be
likely to request USG evidence on Spadafora's wrongdoings.
End Summary.

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Court Nominations Expected Soon

2. (SBU) In the coming days, President Torrijos is expected
to nominate replacements for two Supreme Court magistrates
whose terms expire on December 31, 2005, perhaps following a
December 21 cabinet meeting. (Note: The retiring Justices
are Arturo Hoyos and Federico Lee.) Although Torrijos is not
bound to heed a report submitted by his own evaluative
committee of legal experts, he has signaled his intention to
choose from among the 72 names of selfselected individuals
that the committee has evaluated.

3. (C) (Note: The culmination of the selection process comes
amid heightened public expectations and media attention
following the lateNovember revocation of Magistrate Winston
Spadafora's U.S. visa, under the anticorruption provisions
of section 212(f), and a National Assembly decision,
announced the same day as the visa revocation, to take no
action on separate civil society criminal complaints against
eight magistrates on the ninemagistrate Court. Those
complaints, in turn, were sparked by a public fracas in March
2005 of accusations and counteraccusations involving
longtime Embassy contact Magistrate Adan Arjona and three of
his Court colleagues, who included Winston Spadafora. See
Reftels A and B. End note.)

Torrijos To Name "Serious" Candidates

4. (C) In a December 9 meeting with POL Counselor, Arjona
predicted that the threeman committee of Jorge Ritter,
Minister of the presidency Ubaldino Real, and Hugo Torrijos
would recommend former Partido Popular activist and former
Solicitor General Aura Feraud and former legislator, now
National Assembly director for legal affairs Harley James
Mitchell for the Court short list, along with Gustavo
Paredes, director of consumer advocacy group CLICAC. Feraud
and Mitchell are "serious" people and would make capable
justices, Arjona said. Arjona claimed that Real is backing
Paredes, who has no prior judicial experience. According to
Arjona, H. Torrijos has an interest who will replace Hoyos,
whose office controls the PECC case. Arjona said the
departure of Hoyos, who he said acts as "advisor" to a deeply
corrupt Court, is a good thing for Panama.

5. (C) (Note: Ritter was foreign minister under Ernesto
Perez Balladares and is widely seen within the ruling PRD as
a discreet defender of the former president's interests,
although he denies it. Hugo Torrijos is former Maritime
Administration director and has been accused, along with
Perez Balladares, of involvement in the PECC scandal, which
surfaced amid embarrassing accusations of wrongdoing in 2003,
although the Court finally quashed the Comptroller's
investigation. End note.)

Spadafora "Depressed"

6. (C) Speaking of Spadafora's visa revocation, Arjona said
that despite his cool, "calculated" public front, the
Panamanian magistrate is much affected and depressed by the
action. That the USG has announced that it has information
about Spadafora's corruption is a signal to the Panamanian
people that Spadafora should leave the Court. Arjona
predicted that Spadafora might resign, especially if the
media publishes any more damaging revelations about him, as
he predicted might well appear concerning the case of Sea
Heritage, a U.S. company whose underwater exploration
contract was cancelled by Spadafora's deputy ("suplente"),
Jacinto Cardenas. (Comment: Spadafora has told whoever will
listen that he believes that his visa was revoked because of
his action against Sea Heritage. End Comment.) Arjona also
predicted that Torrijos and Lewis would fail to convince any
Supreme Court magistrates to resign, as they have often
suggested to EmbOffs.

Spadafora "Deeply Hurt"

7. (C) Separately, a well connected PRD member who is close
to Winston Spadafora, corroborated Arjona's view, telling
EmbOff that Spadafora is &deeply hurt8 by the revocation,
especially because he sees himself as being &proU.S.8 As
Minister of Government and Justice (19992000), Spadafora
confided, he had worked closely with the U.S. Embassy on
security/antiterrorism issues, especially because the
SalasBecker maritime agreement. Spadafora does not want to
lose his job as Justice but apparently is terrified that the
USG will push the GOP to get rid of him and he now feels
persecuted by the USG.

A Hot Potato

8. (C) Former Presidential Goals and Planning Secretary
Ebrahim Asvat told POL Counselor December 5 that Vice
President Samuel Lewis had asked him for advice on what to do
about Spadafora's demands that Lewis request the USG
"evidence" that led to the revocation. Lewis did not want
the onus for deciding what to do about the Spadafora case on
him, Asvat explained. Asvat and Lewis agreed that if the
National Assembly does not request Lewis to obtain evidence,
in its capacity as the prosecuting arm of Supreme Court
justices, then Lewis has no constitutionally mandated reason
to do so. (Note: Lewis last week sent a letter from
Spadafora requesting the evidence against him to the Embassy
under cover of a diplomatic note. Embassy has responded to
that note. Asvat quit his unpaid position in early December,
saying that Torrijos gave him little support or guidance.
End note.)

Big Brother Calling

9. (C) But Asvat said he went further and advised Lewis that
the U.S. was acting as a "benevolent advisor" (or big
brother) for Panama, as it had done in the past. Spadafora's
visa revocation was meant to send Panama a signal, he told
Lewis. The issue was greater than a single corrupt justice
it involves the entire criminal justice system, Asvat
said, and the continued viability of Panama's democratic
political system in the face of loss of its legitimacy due to
corruption and impunity at the top.
10. (C) For Asvat, a larger question is the role of
President Torrijos. Lewis told him that Torrijos does not
want to "interfere" with other branches of government. Lewis
pointed out that even if evidence against Spadafora is sought
and obtained, the PRD and President Torrijos control fewer
than twothirds of the votes in the Assembly, so that an
impeachment attempt might fail. Lewis said that he was
concerned that a failed attempt to impeach Spadafora would
serve to vindicate him and all the other corrupt judges on
the Court.

Comment

11. (C) Torrijos's preference for the judicial "status quo"
is selfevident. He did nothing and said nothing to
encourage the Assembly to take a hard look at the complaints
that a highly qualified and serious civil society group
lodged at the National Assembly against eight justices in
late November. The National Assembly, sensing the
president's lack of interest, decided to take no action on
the complaints, in itself hardly a surprise. Panama's
judicial system has shown itself all but incapable of
investigating and trying cases of serious, highlevel
official wrongdoing. One question is the extent of political
fallout for Torrijos and the PRDcontrolled Assembly, who
were elected on a "zero corruption" platform, for simply
continuing to support an inherently flawed judicial system in
a country that is losing patience with that system.
ARREAGA

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