Spanish version

JUDICIAL AFFAIRS

Offshore tax haven used to hide profits from Cobranzas del Istmo

Company official Cristóbal Salerno transferred $25.2 million to a company created in the British Virgin Islands.

These funds were disbursed in checks to government officials and others connected to the administration of former President Ricardo Martinelli.

Spanish version

Temas:

There are more than 47 million reasons to keep track of the money collected by the company Cobranzas del Istmo.

The company, which was hired to collect delinquent taxes, charged inflated commissions and earned more than $22 million on fees paid by a state agency, according to research by the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF).

The plot of corruption and how the company allegedly shared revenues with former President Ricardo Martinelli was unveiled by a figure linked to the company.

He also detailed payments made to former Revenue Department Director Luis Cucalón and entrepreneurs in the so-called zero circle of Martinelli.

A report of the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) dated May 8, 2015, detailed "unusual" transactions through the financial system that have been linked to the company.

Cristóbal Salerno, a majority shareholder of Cobranzas, testified before prosecutor Ruth Morcillo that he handed over cash to former President Ricardo Martinelli at the offices of Super 99 in Monte Oscuro.

"These funds were handed only by myself to a secretary or a security guard on the instructions of Mr. Martinelli," said Salerno, adding that each of the deliveries amounted to between $400,000 and $600,000.

The company received its payments from the government through the National Bank of Panama. They were deposited into an account at Multibank, then transferred to another account in the same bank owned by Langton International Holdings Limited Company, a company created in the British Virgin Islands in 2002.

The report details that $25 million was deposited in Multibank from June 1, 2012 to June 30, 2014, most of which came from Cobranzas del Istmo. The remainder came from other companies linked to Salerno.

The money was then disbursed to companies and individuals linked to Salerno, Cucalón and former President Martinelli. One of the recepients was Gabriel Btesh, a member of Martinelli's inner circle, who received two checks for a total of $833,535.

According to Salerno, that was payment for real estate investments.

Salerno and his daughter, María Alessandra Salerno Gómez, also had a number of business partnerships with Btesh.

In addition, Sky Parking S.A., a company that the Martinelli administration hired for the administration and operation of parking lots at Tocumen International Airport, issued checks to Cobranzas del Istmo for $150,000.

Btesh had links to Sky Air, along with Francisco "Frankie" Martinelli.

According to Salerno, Langton International Holdings Limited was created to make all types of investments. One of these was a $900,000 check issued to Corporación Energía del Istmo. Salerno said he handed that check to Martinelli.

Yesterday, Multibank General Manager Rafael Sánchez said that no questions were raised by the activities of the account because the income came from the state, and because none of the transactions were made in cash, meaning they could be tracked. 

Therefore, none of the transactions were considered suspicious.

Sources from the financial services industry said that the use of the offshore company kept any of the transactions from the account from raising red flags. 

Among the payments that it obscured were those made to Cucalón, the revenue director who issued the contract to collect delinquent taxes to Cobranzas del Istmo.

When it was issued, Cucalón defended the deal, saying it would increase revenue to the state. But it turns out that Cucalón was receiving kickbacks through companies owned by his family. 

Strategic Hotel Alliance received $3 million from Langton International Holdings Limited. Gustavo Adolfo Cucalón Zamora and Alberto Cucalón Zamora, the sons of Cucalón, are the directors of this company.

The Superintendency of Banks of Panama is now examining other transactions of Langton International Holdings Limited to determine who were the ultimate beneficiaries of the disbursements. 

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