Panama's attorney general has warned that political and economic elites have made threats against anti-graft prosecutors, mirroring a pattern seen in other countries in Latin America with major unfolding corruption investigations.
"I have to inform the country that there are economic, political, business, media and banking powers that are attempting to prevent the investigations from being completed," Attorney General Kenia Porcell said in a striking video published on August 29 by La Estrella.
The country's top law enforcement official warned that "threats and intimidations" had been issued against prosecutors working on five of the most "emblematic" corruption cases concerning money laundering and embezzlement of public funds.
Porcell described the situation as a crucial moment for the country, and a metaphorical battle of "money versus justice."
Although Porcell did not specify which cases were concerned, the attorney general did say that networks of corrupt officials siphoning government funds had been discovered.
Porcell's public intervention has led the chamber of commerce and private business actors to voice their support for the investigations, while Libertad Ciudadana, the Panamanian branch of the Transparency International corruption watchdog, called on the attorney general to reveal the names and pursue the individuals interfering with the investigations, La Estrella reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
While uncertainty remains as to which corruption cases are allegedly being tampered with, the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa claimed that these included such schemes as the wide-ranging scandal involving Brazil's Odebrecht construction conglomerate and the allegedly improper acquisition of radars from the Finmeccanica Italian defense company. In total, 20 corruption cases are currently being investigated in the country, according to Libertad Ciudadana's latest monitoring report, published in July 2017.
Panama is not the only example in Latin America of criminally-linked elites attempting to disrupt judicial actions against them. From the Brazilian government's decision to slash funding for the massive "Operation Car Wash" (Operação Lava Jato) probe, to the Guatemalan president's recent and sudden decision to expel the head of a United Nations-backed anti-corruption body, to the last-ditch entrenchment strategy of Venezuela's deeply criminalized state, Latin America is rife with illustrations of how deeply invested powerful government figures can be in attempting to shield themselves from justice.