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JUDICIAL AFFAIRS

Berguido says evidence exists of irregularities in defense contracts

Temas:

Fernando Berguido, ambassador of Panama to Italy, said that documents, records and recordings collected by judicial authorities in Italy could demonstrate that there was a $25 million kickback that was part of a $250 million contract between Panama and the consortium Finmeccanica.

That is the main argument of the demand which was presented by the government against the $125 million contract signed with Selex, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, for the purchase of 19 radars. That contract was part of a larger memorandum of understanding that included a $25 million "commission" to the Panamanian society Agafea, formed weeks before it was signed in June 2010.

Agafea has been linked to Valter Lavítola, who has been linked to a number of corruption scandals in contracts between Italian companies and Panama during the administration of Ricardo Martinelli. Italian prosecutors have described the commission as a screen "to hide a bribe."

Berguido said that the evidence uncovered in Italy showed that there were irregularities in the contract, and also said that the purchase itself was questionable.

"If Panama was to buy a security system, studies should have been done of what was needed," he said, noting the contracts were signed with "extraordinary speed" and with little due diligence.

He said he was not critical of the quality of the radars, but the fact that they may not have been needed at all to strengthen security within the country.

Panama has stopped making payments to Selex and is seeking to have the contract voided.

"There has been an impasse, everything is suspended until the end of this dispute," Berguido said.

In relation to other criminal cases being handled in Italy, the Panama embassy has provided the Ministry of Foreign Affairs court transcripts that have mentioned Martinelli. Berguido said these records provide "riches of invaluable evidence."

"I hope that it is correctly assessed by a public prosecutor," he said.

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