INVESTIGATION

Martinelli, family linked to hydro projects

Several prominent businessmen have also been linked to the scandal.

Temas:

An electricity generation consortium, whose shareholders include former President Ricardo Martinelli and his children, was funded with money that came from a number of companies that received lucrative state contracts, an investigation has revealed.

The company, Corporación de Energía del Istmo Ltd., received $1.1 million in checks from  Langton International Holding Limited, a company linked to Cobranzas del Istmo owner Cristóbal Salerno. Salerno is being investigated for alleged acts of corruption surrounding a Cobranzas del Istmo contract to collect delinquent taxes for the General Revenue Department.

It also received funds from Navin Bhakta, a businessman linked to the Financial Pacific and National Assistance Program (PAN) scandals, and Gabriel Btesh, a member of Martinelli's inner circle.

This "contribution" from Btesh, which totaled $200,000, was made in the form of a cashier's check from Banco Universal from an account in the name of Silver Spring, S.A.

The power company also obtained $80 million in funding from four local banks to develop hydroelectric projects.

There are allegations that Martinelli used privileged information to obtain concessions to design hydraulic developments in Veraguas.

Al descubierto negocios de la familia Martinelli Expandir Imagen
Al descubierto negocios de la familia Martinelli

According to investigators, the company designed hydraulic projects in Las Cruces and San Bartolo in the basin of the San Pablo River.

The company was allegedly used as a conduit to allow businessmen who received lucrative contracts from the state to kickback money to the former president and his children. That included Salerno, who has told authorities that he also delivered suitcases full of cash to the offices of Super 99, the supermarket owned by Martinelli.

De la sociedad  Langton International Holdings Limited, con cuenta en Multibank, se giró un cheque de $900 mil a nombre de Corporación de Energía del Istmo, S.A. Expandir Imagen
De la sociedad Langton International Holdings Limited, con cuenta en Multibank, se giró un cheque de $900 mil a nombre de Corporación de Energía del Istmo, S.A.

He said the $1.1 million given to Energia del Istmo, which was done with two checks, were “solicited as a donation, which I thought were going to be used for an election campaign."

One of the checks was issued in March 2013 for $200,000, and the other was issued in February 2014 for $900,000. They were both issued by Langton Internacional Holding Limited, a shell company in the British Virgin Islands that was allegedly used by Salerno to hide money he received from Cobranzas del Istmo.

It also received $200,000 from Gabriel Btesh, a close associate of Martinelli. That money was transferred from an account at Banco Universal, which has also been linked to a number of scandals related to the previous government and which is in the process of being liquidated.

Energía del Istmo Ltd. was formed in June 2014, six weeks after the general election that swept Martinelli's CD party out of power and about a week before current President Juan Carlos Varela took office. It was formed by the dissolution of the consortium Energético de Panamá, with 100 percent of the shares being used to form the new company. Consorcio Energético de Panamá consisted of six societies whose beneficial owners were Martinelli, his children and two close associates of the former president, Rolando Cuevas La Vera and Navin Bhakta.

When the new company was formed, Cuevas La Vera was left out, with the other four remaining in the business.

Bhakta was president of Parker Electronics Panamá, a firm that received millions of dollars in government contracts through the National Assistance Program (PAN). It also received other contracts to sell equipment to Tocumen International Airport.

When allegations first surfaced in 2013 that Martinelli had connections to hydroelectric projects, he called them lies. He has since left the country after being indicted on unrelated corruption charges.

Of the two hydro projects connected to Energía del Istmo, one has already started constructions. The other is in the design phase. The company also received approval - during the Martinelli administration - to build a substation for $13 million. That project was approved by the state-owned electricity transmission company Etesa, whose board included Martinelli-appointee Cuevas La Vera.

Cuevas La Vera was also tasked with overseeing environmental studies for at least one of the hydro projects proposed by the company. 

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