Recent arrests of officials for alleged corruption is a sign that Panama's newly created anticorruption task force is off to a good start, but it is also a reminder of the country’s potential for harboring organized crime groups.
The new interagency anticorruption task force (Grupo Interinstitucional Anticorrupción - GIA) and the Attorney General’s Office mounted several operations over the past week leading to the arrest of six officials from various security forces, reported La Prensa.
The GIA, whose members are drawn from the National Police, the Customs Service and the Civil Aviation Authority among other institutions, apprehended a sub commissioner, a sub lieutenant and a captain of the National Police during a string of operations over the past several days. Also arrested was the alleged head of a drug trafficking group, Héctor Moisés Murillo, alias "El Viejo."
On September 2, a police commissioner was arrested on suspicion of ties to a drug ring, and a sub lieutenant and a local politician were apprehended on August 31 on accusations of working with a trafficking network that allegedly received drugs from Colombia before sending the product to the United States or Europe.
A retired intelligence officer of the National Police told La Estrella that it is common for security personnel and politicians to be part of drug trafficking networks, as the former can provide intelligence and security while the latter may enjoy a certain degree of impunity.
InSight Crime Analysis
Panama’s location at the natural gateway between Central and South America and its access to both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans make it a strategic point along drug routes from the producing countries in the south to the Northern Hemisphere. It is unsurprising that criminal groups attempt to take advantage of the Panama's potential as a drug transit country.
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Given that context, the recent arrests are a positive sign of Panama’s intent to fight against the corruption of its institutions. But they are also a reminder that while the country has been relatively spared from criminal violence in comparison some of its neighbors, Panama is not immune to the presence of organized crime or the corruption that comes with it.