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Sunday, April 20 2014 @ 02:23 PM EDT

Welcome to Panama-Guide.com

Panama Guide is the #1 English Language web site about the Republic of Panama. There are currently 23,446 articles in our ever-expanding database and we update daily so check back often. More than 7,000 people visit Panama-Guide.com every day to follow current events and to use the other resources available. We provide fresh English language Panama news daily, as well as information about all of the other things you need to know if you plan to visit or live here. We focus on those topics and issues which are of greatest importance to the English speaking expatriate community. And if you can't find what you need to know, we take requests. Welcome aboard, and tell your friends.

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Fatal Traffic Accident On Pan American Highway

Traffic AccidentsA 38 year old man was killed and a 33 year old woman was injured in an serious traffic accident that occurred on the Pan American highway, on the bridge over the Farallón river. The driver of the vehicle lost control, crashed into the bridge, and then overturned. (more)

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More Than 30,000 People In La Chorrera Still Without Water

Infrastructure UpgradesMore than 30,000 people living in the various communities of La Chorrera and Arraiján, in the Western part of the province of Panama, are still without drinking water service after the rupture of a 60" water main last Thursday, 17 April 2014. (more)

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Panama Court Authorizes Sale of Sugar Seized From North Korean Weapons Smuggling Vessel

Panama NewsThe Third Criminal Court of Colon authorized the sale of 200 million pounds of sugar seized the July 10, 2013 from the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang, found to be smuggling a cargo of arms and ammunition from Cuba to North Korea. (more)

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4.6 Earthquake Hit Panama / Costa Rica Border Region This Morning

EarthquakesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - An earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale struck the Panama / Costa Rica border region this morning. (more)

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SENAN Busts Three Drug Traffickers With 525 Kilos of Cocaine

Drug TraffickingOperational units of the SENAN captured three men, two Colombians and one Panamanian. (more)

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Traffic Accident At The National Police Headquarters in Ancon

Traffic AccidentsThis morning there was a traffic accident just outside of the headquarters of the National Police, located in Ancon. (more)

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Repair Work Continues On 60" Water Main in Western Panama Province

Infrastructure UpgradesWork crews from the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (IDAAN) continue with the repair of a line of 60" water main which broke on Thursday April 17 in La Chorrera. (more)

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Ayu Prado Asks The US For Help To Implement The "Adversarial" System

Law & LawyersThe Board of Directors of the Supreme Court of Panama asked for help from the State Department of the United States, to continue implementing the new "adversarial" system in the judiciary. (more)

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Transactions By Varela Appointed Diplomats Exceed Their Salaries

CorruptionAnother angle investigators are exploring are the transfers made by Michelle Lasso using funds from illegal gambling activities, from accounts in Caribbean tax havens. (more)

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Major 7.2 Earthquake Strikes Southern Mexico

EarthquakesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - This is just a heads-up. An earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck 36km NNW of Tecpan de Galeana, Mexico this morning. The event occurred at 14:27 UTC or 9:27 am local Panama time. The epicenter was located at 17.552°N 100.816°W at a depth of 24.0km (14.9mi). Nearby Cities: 36km (22mi) NNW of Tecpan de Galeana, Mexico, 48km (30mi) E of Petatlan, Mexico, 56km (35mi) NW of Atoyac de Alvarez, Mexico, 78km (48mi) E of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, 273km (170mi) SW of Mexico City, Mexico.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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American Fugitive Sage Million Arrested In Panama - Wanted In US For Terrorism

Expat TalesAn American citizen identified as Sage Million, 61, was arrested while trying to illegally enter Panama from Costa Rica, and upon further investigation it was discovered he is wanted in the United States for "terrorism" and other crimes, reported an official source. (more)

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Varela Ignored Article 5 of the "Ethics Pact" He Signed

PoliticsBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - At the start of the electoral cycle, now more than a year ago, I attended an event at the Hotel El Panama where Juan Carlos Varela and other Panamanian politicians signed an "Ethics Pact" in front of the press, to great (artificially orchestrated) fanfare. (more)

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Money Diverted From Consulates Financed Varela's Campaign

CorruptionThe Don James Foundation, possibly related to the money laundering case of money derived from a network of illegal online gambling led by Phillip Gurian in the U.S., managed almost 14 million dollars in three bank accounts, two of then in the Banco Panama. (more)

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Panameñista Party Splits - Some Now Attacking Varela

PoliticsAlejandro Perez, a member of the Panameñista political party, provided additional details during an interview this morning on Telemetro about the people who have been convicted for money laundering in the United States, information reported by the Miami based Diario Las Americas newspaper last Sunday. (more)

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Presidential Debate: Varela Dodged Questions And Blamed Arias For "Varela Gate"

PoliticsGerardo Barroso, the Independent presidential candidate broke the rules of the debate and demanded an explanation from Juan Carlos Varela over the recent revelations linking him to a money laundering network. (more)

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Prosecutor Requests Maximum Penalty For Spanish Serial Killer Javier Martin

Expat TalesThe Third Superior Prosecutor Sofanor Espinosa asked the judges to apply the maximum penalty against the Spanish citizen Javier Bermejo Martin, for the murder of the U.S. citizen Don North, perpetrated in February 2011. (more)

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Serial Killer Javier Martin Went On Trial For Murder Today in Panama

Expat TalesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - Javier Martin, the Spaniard who killed the Frenchman Jean Pierre Bouhard and the American Don North in early 2011 went on trial this morning, charged with murder, robbery, the illegal use of stolen credit cards, and weapons charges. (more)

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Martinelli Gives Mi Bus An Ultimatum - Contract Will Be Cancelled If Service Does Not Improve

Cars & TransportationThe president, Ricardo Martinelli, gave an ultimatum to the Mi Bus company due to the constant complaints received about bad service from Metrobus by users who spend hours at bus stops, waiting to board a bus to take them to their destinations. (more)

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Martinelli Didn't Have Anything To Do With The Extortion Case in Italy

Panama NewsThe government spokesman Luis Eduardo Camacho said today on the TVN morning news broadcast that President Ricardo Martinelli has no relation to case against Valter Lavitola for extortion in Italy. (more)

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Don James Foundation - The "Not So Petty" Cash Fund of Juan Carlos Varela

Casinos & GamblingMichelle Lasso moved more than 27 million dollars through the Don James Foundation, chaired by Jaime Lasso, who Juan Carlos Varela appointed as the Panamanian Consul to South Korea when he became the Vice President and Foreign Minister, according to documents published last night on the website of the Miami based Spanish language newspaper, the Diario Las Americas. (more)

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The Documents Linking Panamanian Presidential Candidate (To Money Laundering)

Casinos & GamblingMultiple checks were made ​​out to the Vice President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela, who is also the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party for the upcoming election, through accounts in several banks located in Panama, with funds derived from illegal online gambling operations, according to information obtained by Diario Las Americas. (more)

Editor's Comment: (You're really going to want to see this one - the "torpedo" that will sink the presidential campaign of Juan Carlos Varela - complete with copies of the checks he cashed...)

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Financial Analysis Unit Official Could Go To Prison If They Disclosed Official Information

CorruptionOfficials of the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) are required by law to safeguard the information they learn or obtain in the performance of their duties, and whoever does not comply with this requirement could be sentenced to between three to five years in prison, according to the Penal Code. (more)

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Man gets supervised release in NY gambling case

Casinos & GamblingALBANY, N.Y. — The ringleader of an illegal online gambling operation who laundered millions of dollars was sentenced Tuesday to three years of supervised release by a federal judge in upstate New York.

Philip Gurian, of Boca Raton, Fla., received time served and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine for conspiracy to launder money.

Gurian laundered at least $8 million through co-defendant Michele Lasso, who was sentenced earlier this month to probation and was detained by immigration officials for deportation to her native Panama.

"I am going to live a productive and peaceful life," Gurian told the judge after apologizing to the court and his family.

Gurian, 52, has been in custody since his April 2013 arrest. As part of his release, U.S. District Court Judge Mae D'Agostino prohibited him from going to locations where gambling is the focus and from possessing a computer or Internet capable device.

This isn't the first time Gurian has had trouble with the law. Court papers show that Gurian fled to Europe after being involved in a criminal matter linked to the mob and was found using a British passport with a fake name at a crossing between France and Switzerland. He was also involved in a civil dispute and fled to Canada.

D'Agostino says the $8 million to $10 million Gurian forfeited is "just the tip of the iceberg," going on to say that wire taps caught Gurian boasting that he made $150,000 a day from the illegal online gambling operation. Court transcripts show that he had bank accounts in at least 10 states and at least 6 countries.

As part of his sentencing, Gurian is also forced to file tax returns from 2009 to 2012.

Relatives and friends of Gurian said he is planning on writing a book.

Editor's Comment: Panamanian authorities have documents proving more than $30 million dollars in deposits to these accounts. According to the UAF and the Diario Las Americas, these funds were used to finance the presidential election campaign of the candidate for the Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela. Michello Lasso is the daughter of Varela's cousin.

The Diario Las Americas had previously reported Gurian was sentenced to 20 years in prison in this case, which is obviously incorrect.

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Miss. man pleads not guilty in bankruptcy fraud

Expat TalesBy JEFF AMY - JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Jackson man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges that he defrauded his bankrupt business of more than $9 million.

Federal prosecutors said that after William "Butch" Dickson company, Community Home Financial Services, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the 57-year-old wired nearly $9.1 million from company accounts to a bank in Panama. Prosecutors say he also sent mortgage checks the company had collected to Central America.

Court papers say the bankruptcy trustee in charge of protecting funds for the company's creditors demanded Dickson return the money but he didn't comply.

A federal magistrate in Miami ordered Dickson held without bond after he was expelled from Panama on March 12 and returned to the United States. A hearing was set Thursday for Dickson to challenge his detention.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Tanner told U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball Tuesday that prosecutors believe Dickson is flight risk if released from the Madison County jail, where he's being held. Joe Holloman, one of Dickson's lawyers, said after the hearing that he would present evidence Thursday showing why Dickson is not a flight risk.

The indictment charges Dickson with six counts of bankruptcy fraud, six counts of bank fraud and five counts of wire fraud. If convicted, he could face decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines. Prosecutors also want him to forfeit the money in question.

Community Home was in the business of collecting mortgage payments on several thousand accounts. The company filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2012, claiming nearly $45 million in assets and $30 million in liabilities. Dickson was left in charge of the company and its bank accounts, but wasn't supposed to make certain kinds of transfers without permission, as is typical in a Chapter 11 proceeding.

But court papers say that starting in November, Dickson began sending money out of the country, himself traveling to Costa Rica in January. Prosecutors also allege that the company began directing customers to send loan payments to a Las Vegas address, where they were boxed up and sent to Costa Rica. After the bankruptcy trustee discovered the Las Vegas address, prosecutors say the company directed payments to a Miami address.

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What Are YOUR "Top Ten" Reasons For Moving To Panama?

Expat TalesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - I'm working on a project and I'm looking for some feedback from the members of the English speaking community of expatriates who are already living in Panama, either full or part time.

The question is: "What are your top ten reasons for living in Panama? Why did you move here? Why do you like it here so much, or what do you love about Panama now that you're here? Give me your top ten list of things you like about living here."

I've been asking this question of expats for a few weeks now, and surprisingly enough, the answers are scattered all over the place. There are a lot of things showing up on people's lists that I didn't anticipate at all (but, they make perfect sense).

So please send your personal list to me via email - don@panama-guide.com. Please include "Top Ten List" in the subject line. And please take the time to prioritize your list, or to put the things on your list in order. The #1 reason should be the most important thing to you, and #10 made the list but maybe it's not a critical or deciding factor.

Also, I'm doing this via email because I've noticed that people's lists tend to get sort of "polluted" (if that makes any sense) when they can see the responses sent in by others. I'm looking for pure and true feedback, and I don't want to skew the results...

As always, thanks for the feedback.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Pinilla - "Someone Is Planning A Fraud"

PoliticsStrong words from the President of the Electoral Tribunal, Erasmo Pinilla, who has been the target of questions over an alleged lack of a college degree, and his inability to practice law. (more)

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Varela Says "They Invent Websites To Attack Me"

PoliticsA video broadcast by TVN, the National Television of Panama, reveals statements made by the presidential candidate for the opposition Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela, rejecting the allegations being made against him by a supposed website "created in the United States." (more)

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Varela Is "Killing the Messenger"

PoliticsThe journalist of the US based Diario de las Americas, Sergio Otálora, the author of the investigative article linking the Panameñista candidate Juan Carlos Varela to money laundering, said he would be presenting copies of the checks and documents related to the deposits today, and he said they show about 30 million dollars. (more)

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Varela Blames Arias For Allegations Of Money Laundering

PoliticsNational Assembly Deputy Jose Luis Varela, the brother and spokesman for the presidential campaign of Juan Carlos Varela, the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, denied yesterday that the Panameñista Party received illegal funds, as published yesterday by the Miami based newspaper Diario Las Americas. (more)

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Judge spares Panama woman prison in gambling case

CorruptionBy Robert Gavin - A Panamanian woman who laundered $8 million for an international gambling ring that included two Albany County jail officers will not go to federal prison.

Michele Lasso, 30, was sentenced Tuesday to two years of probation and a $25,000 fine in U.S. District Court, where the judge blasted her claims of naivete.

"This gambling conspiracy could not happen without you," Judge Mae D'Agostino told Lasso, as Lasso wept while sitting between her attorneys. "I think you need to look in the mirror."

Her husband, Alejandro Lopez, watched from a courtroom bench, his hand pressed on a Bible.

Lasso, who holds a master's degree in financial markets, pleaded guilty Oct. 31 to conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Lasso must forfeit $8 million and will be banned from the United States.

Lasso held a visa and was living in Parkland, Fla., before she was charged on April 10 in what is now the largest gambling bust in the history of Albany County. Lasso has spent most of the last year in home detention while raising an infant son born four days after her arrest. "I'm just very sorry," Lasso told the judge, crying.

Lasso controlled bank accounts, credit cards and wire transfers for a global sports betting ring operated by Philip Gurian, 52, of Boca Raton, Fla., who pleaded guilty to money laundering on Oct. 9. Gurian — whose criminal history includes a 2004 federal stock scam conviction with a captain in the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family — will be sentenced by D'Agostino on April 15.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sharpe, who prosecuted the case, asked that Gurian be sentenced to between eight and 14 months in prison. Sharpe had recommended probation for Lasso.

Lasso — also known as Michele Marie Lasso-Barraza — transferred gambling proceeds to Panama, Andorra and the Cayman Islands, and set up two sham entities known as Nigel Holdings Inc. and Nigel Holdings S.A.

Wiretaps caught Lasso talking with Gurian via Skype. In one conversation, Lasso said she tried to move $4 million from a gambling website to a Panamanian bank.

Lasso's attorney, William N. Shepherd, who once was the statewide prosecutor for Florida, told the judge his client is deeply changed from the woman caught on the wiretaps.

"At the time of the offense, Ms. Lasso lacked the good sense and appreciation of the U.S. legal system to consider the impact of this conduct, but now she reflects on the conduct with devastation, humiliation and regret," Shepherd wrote.

Lasso could have faced 12 to 18 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

D'Agostino told Lasso she seriously considered imposing a prison sentence. The judge scoffed at Lasso's contention that she didn't appreciate the gravity of her crimes and that she came from a country where gambling is legal. "You speak almost as one who was naive and really didn't know what was going on," D'Agostino said. "I've read the wiretaps. I've had the benefit of listening to you when you did not know that law enforcement was listening in. So for you to leave this courtroom today and try to tell anybody that you didn't understand what was going on, in my view, is simply beyond belief."

At the conclusion of her sentencing, Lasso was placed in the custody of federal immigration agents.

Gurian — known as "Florida Phil" — ran between 40 and 50 offshore websites. Bettors received passwords and log-in codes for gambling websites that took a 10 percent fee on all bets. Gurian once boasted that he was earning as much as $150,000 daily.

Gurian laundered at least $8 million in proceeds through Lasso using Nigel Holdings Inc. and Nigel Holdings S.A. He had bookies working for him in New York, Boston, New Hampshire, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, California and Las Vegas, as well as the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Russia, Holland, Mexico and Panama.

On April 10, authorities busted the ring, including Albany County jail officers Timothy Robillard and James Cerniglia, both of Clifton Park; longtime Latham bookie Joseph "Oink" Carucci and Christopher Socola and Craig Hayner of Clifton Park. All have pleaded guilty. (timesunion.com)

Editor's Comment: This morning the journalist Sergio Otálora of the Diario Las Americas who wrote the articles linking the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela to money laundering, involving these illegal proceeds from online gambling, said he had bank records as well as copies of cancelled checks written directly to Varela. During the interview on Telemetro, he was flipping through pages and pages of additional information. He said Michelle Lasso's father, Jaime Lasso del Castillo - who Varela appointed as Panama's Consul to South Korea when he was serving as Panama's Foreign Minister - now turns out to be Varela's cousin. The total amount of money deposited into the 26 Panamanian bank accounts was "more than 30 million dollars" according to Sergio Otálora.

The journalist from the Diario Las Americas refused to answer direct questions regarding his contacts with Panama's Financial Analysis Unit - although it's now fairly obvious that as soon as the political operatives working for Ricardo Martinelli heard about the money laundering case against Michelle Lasso, the scrambled to investigate all of the associated accounts. Imagine the hard-on they got when they discovered that much of the laundered money was going directly to Juan Carlos Varela. In typical Martinelli fashion, they simply decided they would get the most "bang for the buck" by giving the information to Sergio Otálora of the newspaper Diario Las Americas in Miami. It also came out during the Telemetro interview this morning that the newspaper is owned by Venezuelan businessmen who are in political opposition to Venezuela's president Maduro.

Alvaro Alvarado tried hard to put the blame on the messenger, however it's perfectly clear that Varela received literally millions of dollars of illegal funds - which makes him a money launderer. His cousin's daughter funneled the money to him, which he is now spending to pay for political ads. Sooner or later there will be an investigation in Panama, where nothing will happen. Above a certain level there's a sort of "glass ceiling" where all politicians become untouchable. However, it would be a trip if the US Justice Department should issue a warrant for Varela's arrest, as being the kingpin behind this money laundering operation. That hasn't happened yet, but it might...

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