Spanish version

PUBLIC SAFETY

Millions spent on foreign security consultants

The government of former President Ricardo Martinelli hired Israeli and American companies to provide consulting work.

The Israeli company M.L.M. Protection also sold the government millions of dollars in surveillance equipment.

Spanish version

Temas:

The administration of former President Ricardo Martinelli spent at least $4.6 million on foreign security consultants from Israel and the United States through the Ministry of the Presidency.

It is difficult to track the exact amount spent because the records for these expenditures are incomplete. But the recipients of these contracts were the Israeli firm M.L.M. Protection Ltd. and Command Panama, S.A., of the U.S.

M.L.M. Protection was the same firm that sold surveillance equipment for $13.4 million to the government that was used to intercept phone calls. That equipment, along with later, more sophisticated gear, has since gone missing and the former members of the National Security Council have denied any knowledge of its use.

The equipment was purchased through the Social Investment Fund (FIS), which then became the National Assistance Program (PAN).

President Juan Carlos Varela has called for an investigation into the disappearance of the equipment, warning that "taking $14 million in equipment is embezzlement, and those responsible will be held accountable."

The equipment was acquired at the beginning of 2010, and the company was paid an additional $1.5 million for training and security for Martinelli.

It was not the company's first payment. In 2009, then-Minister of the Presidency Demetrio Papadimitriu hired M.L.M. Protection for a fee of $1 million. Because the contract was done through the "public safety" category, details about it were not released.

The company was also paid $236,256 in 2011 to train members of the Institutional Protection Service who were responsible for the security of the president.

Intelligence services were not only in the hands of the Israelis. The presidency engaged the services of Command Panama as well. The company received $2.4 million under the heading "objective and strategic advice."

While Command Panama was registered on Jan. 13, 2011 at the Public Registry, its first contract was issued in 2010, when it received $460,000 from the Ministry of the Presidency.

It then received contracts worth $1.2 million each in 2012 and 2013. The details of the work were described as "intelligence, public safety, public order and defense, and other matters requested of the Ministry (of the Presidency) through the national police."

According to a report by the comptroller, Command Panama also received a payment of about $587,000 for consultancies related to security for the Metro.

This agreement was endorsed by former Comptroller Bianchini de Gioconda in June 2013.

Neither the former comptroller nor Metro officials could be reached for comment about these contracts.

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