Cablegate: Attorney General Under Pressure
DE RUEHZP #0776/01 2922114
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 192114Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3864
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 0015
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA 0021
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA 0676
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 3878
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE 2074
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR 1605
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0471
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000776
USAID FOR LAC
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2019
TAGS: PGOV KJUS PHUM PINR PM
SUBJECT: ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESSURE
Classified By: Political Counselor Debra Hevia for reason 1.4 b and d.
1. (C) Summary: Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez has
reported both publicly and privately that she is receiving
pressure from the GOP to prosecute former government
officials, and she vows to resist the pressure and defend the
independence of the AG's office. President Martinelli,
frustrated by what he sees as her intransigence, allegedly is
pulling strings with supreme court magistrates to orchestrate
her dismissal, while civil society is coming to her defense.
Gomez's removal would represent a serious setback to judicial
independence and the development of democratic institutions
in Panama. End summary.
2. (C) Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez is claiming in
public fora that she is being pressured by the executive
branch to investigate and imprison certain individuals.
Privately, she is saying that President Ricardo Martinelli
intends to have her removed from her post. The AG represents
an independent judicial office and serves a 10-year term.
Gomez was appointed by former president Martin Torrijos in
2005 to a term that will expire December 31, 2014, six months
after Martinelli's term ends. Martinelli reportedly has been
frustrated by her unwillingness or inability to pursue
corruption charges against his political rivals, and
allegedly has been working behind the scenes with supreme
court magistrates to force her out.
Get El Toro, or Get Out
3. (C) The Attorney General recently confided in NAS FSN, a
retired police commissioner who knows Gomez well, that she is
hanging on by a thread. She said she had received about 70
phone calls from Martinelli insisting that she put former
president for the opposition PRD Ernesto Perez Balladares,
popularly known as "El Toro" (the bull), in jail. Allegedly,
former narcotics prosecutor and current supreme court
magistrate wannabe Jose Almengor is falsely leading on
Martinelli by telling him that the AG could have Perez
Balladares in jail within two weeks. Gomez told the
Ambassador that during an October 6 meeting of senior GOP
security officials at the presidential palace, President
Martinelli had pulled aside organized crime prosecutor Jose
Ayu Prado for a private conversation. Martinelli asked Ayu
Prado, "What do you need to put El Toro in jail?" She said
Ayu Prado was initially flustered by the president's direct
attempt to influence a prosecutor, but that he quickly
recovered and told Martinelli that prosecutors needed an
adequate and independent budget to do their jobs. (Note:
Gomez has sought more money, and more fiscal independence
from the executive branch. She requested USD89 million for
2010 and received a budget of USD54 million, which was an
increase from the 2009 budget of USD43 million, but probably
well short of what is needed to prepare for the upcoming
switch to the accusatory system.)
4. (C) In addition, the GOP reportedly asked Gomez to pursue
corruption charges against former Second Vice President
(under the Torrijos administration) Ruben Arosemena, who also
held a position in the Panamanian Maritime Authority. She
refused to cave to the behind-the-scenes pressure, so in what
is becoming the modus operandi, the GOP took it public.
Anticorruption Czar Fernando Nunez Fabrega, also Martinelli's
cousin, filed a public complaint with the AG's office against
Arosemena and two associates for "abuse of authority and
corruption of public officials."
5. (C) In an October 6 meeting with the Ambassador, requested
on an urgent basis by the AG, Gomez said she felt like she
was alone in her fight to maintain independence from the
executive branch, but that she was determined not to allow
the GOP to use the AG's office for political persecution.
She pointed out that her term will outlast Martinelli's, and
vowed to fight to save her position until her last breath.
6. (C) The president cannot fire the Attorney General.
However, the Supreme Court could remove her from office by a
majority vote if it finds she has committed an offense that
could carry a jail sentence. Enter the Saez case.
Arquimedes Saez was a prosecutor suspended from his job and
criminally indicted in 2005 for accepting a bribe to free a
detainee that he was supposed to be prosecuting. Gomez had
ordered a wiretap of his phones to gather evidence in the
case. In 2007, the supreme court ruled that Gomez did not
have authority to order the wiretap without judicial control.
Saez has now levied a criminal complaint against Gomez for
abuse of authority in ordering the wiretaps. Supreme Court
Magistrate Adan Arjona told DEA FSN (a former prosecutor)
that President Martinelli has been personally reaching out to
supreme court magistrates to ask them to decide against
Gomez, and that Martinelli now has the five of nine votes he
needs, including Arjona's. DEA FSN points out that "abuse of
authority" is not a jailable offense, but that if the supreme
court members decided to remove Gomez as a result of this
case, there would be no recourse. Interestingly, Gomez asked
the Ambassador October 6 if we could take away Saez's visa
based on the corruption charges, an indication that she sees
him and this case against her as a serious threat.
7. (C) Gomez may feel like she is alone, but various groups
have started lining up in her defense. Civic activist Magaly
Castillo of the Pro-Justice Alliance and President of the
Panamanian Bar Association Ruben Elias have both denounced
government attempts to pressure the AG. The Panamanian
Association of Business Executives stands firmly behind
Gomez, their former legal counsel. Some newspapers are
carrying her story with headlines such as "Civil Society
Defends the AG" and "Gomez Repeats Accusations," leaving the
GOP in a bad light.
8. (C) Comment: Martinelli was rumored in late August to want
Gomez removed, but seemed to back down. Based on what we now
know, Gomez's dismissal by the Supreme Court would indicate
inappropriate intervention by Martinelli in the independence
of the judicial branch, and a serious setback for the
development of democratic institutions in Panama.