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Cablegate: Panama: Prosecutors Under Pressure, Ask for Help

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0813/01 2911622
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 171622Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2593
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000813

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/10/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL KJUS KCRM SNAR PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: PROSECUTORS UNDER PRESSURE, ASK FOR HELP

REF: PANAMA 00793

Classified By: Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson for
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) Panamanian Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez told
the Ambassador October 10 that she wanted to create an
infrastructure to facilitate prosecutorial collaboration
among Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia and the U.S. to send a
strong message to international criminal organizations that
they were not free to operate in Panama. She said such an
infrastructure was urgently needed to lock in security
cooperation with the U.S. and Panama's neighbors in the face
of a future government that might not support such close
security and law enforcement cooperation. At the same time,
Gomez said the GOP had rejected her budget request of $79
million, and instead recommended a budget of $35 million,
representing a $29 million budget cut from this year. She
said that this budget cut was intended to "clip my wings" for
not "playing along" with the Torrijos Administration. She
asked for help from the U.S. to fill the gap, especially
given the serious challenges that face Panama as it prepared
to initiate the first phase of the transition to an
accusatorial law system in 11 months. Staff members who
accompanied the A/G were very negative about the prospects of
a successful introduction of the new legal system and
predicted chaos. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Tighten Collaboration Now, Against Uncertain Future
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (C) Panamanian A/G Ana Matilde Gomez met with the
Ambassador and EmbOffs October 10. Gomez stated she wanted to
organize a conference on organized crime together with the
A/Gs of Costa Rica and Colombia, and a high-level U.S.

official. She said the aim of this conference was to show a
united face to international criminal organizations that the
region was united against them, and that the U.S. was
cooperating closely to support their efforts. She said this
conference should be followed by the creation of an
institutional structure to coordinate the fight against these
organizations. Gomez said that current head of the Panamanian
National Police (PNP) Directorate of Judicial Investigation
(DIJ), Jose Ayu Prado, would soon return to the Public
Ministry to take over a new position as Prosecutor for
Organized Crime. Gomez said this effort was important because
the next government might not be as dedicated as this one to
the fight against international crime. In that case the
Public Ministry, which is not subject to the government's
control, would have to spearhead the fight. Gomez said she
needed U.S. support for this project, including technological
support, so Ayu Prado's office would become a significant
deterrent to international criminal organizations, preventing
them from establishing themselves in Panama.

------------------------------------
Budget Cuts Despite Major Challenges
------------------------------------

3. (C) Gomez told the Ambassador that the GOP had rejected
her budget request of $79 million, and instead recommended
$35 million, a $29 million budget cut from this year. She
said this budget cut was to "clip my wings" for not "playing
along" with the GOP. Gomez highlighted that these budget cuts
would devastate her efforts to fund the transformations in
the Public Ministry needed to prepare for the introduction of
the accusatorial law system, the first stage of which would
come into effect in 11 months. Gomez and her top advisors
told the Ambassador what they believe is needed to prepare
for the new system, which included: new labs to examine
evidence, courses on how to handle evidence, training about
how to manage a crime scene, training on how to argue oral
cases, training on how to interrogate and cross examine, and
the funds to develop a witness protection program. Rigoberto
Gonzalez, Secretary General of the Public Ministry, stressed
the need to develop a reference library of "Anglo-Saxon"
legal books, to help the prosecutors learn about the new
system.

----------------------------
Judicial Reform Train Wreck?
----------------------------
4. (C) Many of Gomez's closest advisors were very negative
on the viability of the accusatorial system. Jose Vicente
Pachar, head of the Legal Medicine Institute, responsible for
all criminal forensic investigations, told PolOff that many
senior Public Ministry employees did not even understand the
new system. He said that there was only one lab in all of
Panama, and that he had no ability to protect evidence
adequately as it was transported to Panama from distinct
parts of Panama City to satisfy a judge under the new system.
National Drug Prosecutor Jose Almengor told PolOff on August
19 that the new system would be a disaster, because the GOP
was not investing enough money to adequately train all the
members of the judicial system. He said even with training,
it would be impossible to get judges to authorize searches in
time to catch criminals. Magaly Castillo, head of the
judicial NGO Citizen's Alliance Pro-Justice (ACPJ) which
championed the reform and a close friend of Gomez, told
PolOff September 15 that she was worried about the future of
the project because few people in the Public Ministry or the
Judiciary really understand it. She said the reform was
approved by a small group of very dedicated people, but that
there was not deep support for it, and that this was now
showing as the judicial organizations and the police had to
prepare themselves for the change.

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Comment
-------

5. (C) Gomez's worries about the next government not being
dedicated to fighting international crime may be overblown.
We have excellent cooperation with the current government,
and there are no clear signs that Balbina Herrera or the
other two candidates intend to limit the extensive room USG
agencies currently have to conduct anti-narcotics and other
law enforcement activities. That said, we cannot dismiss the
possibility that appointees of the next government might
reduce certain forms of cooperation with the U.S. Indeed, per
reftel we have already seen the impact even low-level GOP
officials can have in restricting our operating room. Gomez
is also worried about corruption influencing the new
government, and that it will affect Panama's effectiveness in
the fight against organized crime. For this reason, Gomez is
reaching out to strengthen her direct ties to us, since her
term will extend through the next government.

6. (C) Meanwhile, it also seems the GOP does not understand
the full implications of the switch to the accusatorial
system, and may not succeed in putting in place all the
personnel, training, and infrastructure investments the
change will require. Gonzalez's comment on the need for a
library on "Anglo-Saxon" legal books, as though they were
introducing a common law system and not an accusatorial
system, indicates that even top officials surrounding the A/G
do not understand basic issues involved in the switch.
Failure to put the necessary pieces in place now could lead
to major problems when the new system is introduced, leading
to a rise in impunity, and further eroding the state's
credibility as a guardian of the people. Post is watching
this issue closely, and looking for creative ways to assist.
STEPHENSON

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