JUDICIAL AFFAIRS

Bonissi questioned over apartment

The former prosecutor lives in an apartment that has been linked to a scheme by former immigration officials to issue illegal visas to immigrants.

He claims the apartment belongs to a client and that he is only renting.

Questions have been raised about the living arrangements of former Attorney General Giuseppe Bonissi.

He lives in an apartment valued at $300,000 in the Marina Park building in Bella Vista. That same apartment was apparently used by former immigrations officials as an "office" through which they illegally sold visas.

Bonissi has claimed that he is only renting the apartment, and that it belongs to a client. But a closer examination of the case reveals a strange history of the property, combined with the fact that, under his administration, an investigation into the sale of the visas was suddenly, and inexplicably, dropped.

The apartment was purchased by Mechaeel Evans Coparropa, a secretary in the Immigration Department who earned a monthly salary of $1,000 a month, in 2009 for $300,000. It wasn't the only large real estate purchase made by the low-level public official. Evans Coparropa also paid $200,000 for an apartment in the same area from the same developer. This second property is now owned by a corporation connected to relatives of former immigration officials.

Sources have said that the Marina Park apartment was used by immigration officials, including former Director María Cristina González, to sell visas to foreigners for thousands of dollars, allowing them to come to Panama. These included residents of China, India, Cuba and Haiti.  

Four months after being named attorney general, Bonissi opened an investigation into Immigration Security Director Rolando Taboada over the alleged sale of visas. The investigation was prompted by findings of the Ministry of Public Security.

The case was handled by Auxiliary Prosecutor Ángel Calderón, an appointee of Bonissi.

The case against Taboada fell apart very quickly. He spent a few days in jail before being released on bail. Then the charges were dismissed after Calderón said there was little evidence to support them.

The news was shocking to Public Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino.

"What happened there? I don't know, but that file was closed," he said.

He said this was especially confusing because a number of Chinese citizens had themselves admitted to paying between $15,000 and $20,000 for visas to enter Panama.

After the case was dismissed, there was a "changing of the guard" at the Marina Park apartment. The comings and goings of Immigration officials were replaced by the appearance of security officials from the Office of the Attorney General. This was not part of any criminal investigation, but rather because it was now the residence of Bonissi.

"That was a gift given to Bonissi so that charges against Taboada and the other former officials would be dropped," said a former official who worked on the case and who spoke to La Prensa on the condition that his identity not be revealed. "He threatened González that he would tell the truth about the case."

Bonissi said he does not own the apartment and that he has paid $63,000 in rent during the past four years he has lived there. He said that the owner of the property is a client of his from Germany who has a business in the Colón Free Zone, though he declined to provide a rental agreement.

He also claimed that he had no knowledge of the fact that the original owner of the apartment was a secretary in the Immigration Department.

The former attorney general said that he would be willing to provide more documents to back up his claims if a criminal investigation was opened into the case.

He also said that he was never involved in any decisions about the investigation into the alleged sales of the visas, saying all decisions were made by Calderón, who could not be reached for comment.  

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