HomeNewsBriefPanama Presidential Candidate Accused of Taking Laundered Money
BRIEF

Panama Presidential Candidate Accused of Taking Laundered Money

MONEY LAUNDERING / 15 APR 2014 BY SETH ROBBINS EN

A leading candidate in Panama’s upcoming presidential elections has been accused of receiving funds from bank accounts allegedly used to launder money from an international Internet gambling ring.

Juan Carlos Varela, the current vice president and candidate for the Panameñista Party alliance, has come under fire after a newspaper investigation revealed he allegedly took money and financed his campaign with funds from a global sports betting ring. According to Jornada, the ring moved up to $27.5 million, using 26 bank accounts and sham entities in places including Panama, Andorra and the Cayman Islands.

Varela’s campaign spokesperson and brother, Jose Luis, has denied the accusations, saying they are a political attack by rival candidate Jose Domingo Arias, reported Entorno Inteligente.

According to Diario Las Americas, Varela’s connection to the laundered money stems from funds he is suspected of receiving from two ex-diplomats: Alberto Aristides Arosemena Medina, based in Japan, and Jaime Lasso del Castillo, based in South Korea. The latter’s daughter, Michelle Lasso, recently pled guilty in a US court to laundering $8 million for the betting ring.

The ring was run by a Florida resident named Philip Gurian, who also pled guilty. He ran between 40 and 50 offshore gambling websites that took a 10 percent fee on all bets. In the case against them, wiretaps caught Lasso talking to Gurian about trying to move $4 million from a gambling website to a Panamanian bank.

Several checks from the Lasso family, according to Diario Las Americas, went to Varela to pay personal expenses, as well as to his family and people connected to his campaign. Varela’s brother, however, insists the ex-diplomat’s transactions were “legal” and “he will be able to explain it,” according to Entorno Inteligente.

One of the bank accounts in question was opened in 2009 under the name of Foundation Don James, which was said to receive transfers of around $1.5 million from front companies in the Caribbean connected to money laundering and the former diplomats.

InSight Crime Analysis

It is unusual to have a paper trail that appears to directly connect such a high-profile political figure — in this case a vice president and leading presidential candidate — to illicit money. If the accusations are proven true, the next subject of concern will surely be how much Varela knew about the use of the accounts.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

Panama’s status as a regional financial hub with lax investment laws, as well as its dollarized economy, make it attractive to drug traffickers and others intent on laundering illicit funds. According to the State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, a number of factors hinder Panama’s fight against money laundering, including weak judicial and regulatory systems, and corruption.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 17 FEB 2012

Cuba and Bolivia have been mentioned on the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) list of countries with "strategic deficiencies" in…

MONEY LAUNDERING / 30 MAY 2014

Soccer has long been a unifying force in Latin America. When the World Cup begins on June 12, televisions in…

FARC / 25 JUN 2013

The discovery of Central America's first ever coca plantation in the Panama-Colombia border region could indicate the expansion of FARC…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…