|Date:||Sat, 14 Feb 2009 11:02:40 -0700 [02/14/2009 01:02:40 PM EST]|
|From:||Gil Cisneros |
|Subject:||"Panama nightmare" From Bill Tolbert, COTA Member, before you decide to do business in Panama, must read!|
For further information please contact Bill at:
Gil: Following is the issue in more detail along with key articles and web links. Grand Panama International, a member of the Chamber of the Americas is asking for your personal action on this matter as it greatly scars the Panama market for US Citizens and businessmen.
To help you understand the level and kind of abuse currently being endured by US Citizens and American business interests in Panama, and related damage to Panamanian charities formed to meet the pressing needs of the children of Panama, I ask that you read a series of articles in US media outlets such as Time Magazine, The New York Times, LA Times, and others. The attempt to steal the large estate of Wilson Lucom, a former assistant to the US Secretary of State, has been well covered in various US media outlets. The first of these is in Time Magazine: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1680177,00.html The second of these is in the International Herald Tribune: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/24/america/panama.php The third can be found in the Los Angeles Times: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/laplaza/2008/06/millionaire-lea.html
To understand how a wealthy Panamanian family and their corrupt attorney have abused the legal system in Panama, including the bribery of various officials, you can see the detailed account entitled “Report to the Attorney General of Panama” which can be found at: http://www.lucom-ninospobresdepanama.com/LUCOM_english.html
It is important to note that in November 2008 the head of the Panama Governments National Council of Transparency for Corruption, Alma Montenegro de Fletcher, published a finding that found “extreme abuse of the Panamanian civil and penal system”, noting the false arrest of a US Citizen who was defending the interests of the children of Panama, Mr. Richard Lehman, a Florida attorney and long time friend and lawyer for Wilson Lucom. The details of Alma’s letter to the Panama Supreme Court can be found at the following (translated) website:
In order to understand the critical and dangerous nature of the ongoing corruption, one needs to read how the organizer of a march on the Panama Supreme Court building organized by Mr. Lehman on behalf of the children of Panama was shot within days of the march. See: http://panamaexpatriates.blogspot.com/2008/06/interview-with-hector-avila-june-18.html
Fast forward to February 2009, Mr. Lucom’s Florida attorney, Richard Lehman, the US Citizen and trusted friend and attorney of Wilson Lucom, flies into Panama to meet with the Panamanian charities organized to accept the bequeath of Wilson Lucom on behalf of the poor and orphaned children. When he tries to depart Panama City to return to the US, Mr. Lehman is removed from the US plane, and placed under false arrest at the airport, waiting 16 hours for the “problem with immigration” to be clarified. Then it turns out that the head of Immigration finds there is no cause, yet a week later Mr. Lehman still cannot leave Panama because the airport authorities keep changing the basis for the detention and the Judge that can verify that there are no legal arrest warrants will either not meet with Mr. Lehman or provide him the necessary releases.
If you found yourself under arrest at a foreign airport, you would immediately call the US Embassy—right? So did Richard. Unfortunately, no one at the Embassy would answer the after-hours “Emergency” number (which is always answered at any Embassy, by the Marine guard if necessary) and when the phone is finally answered at 8am the next Monday, the operator indicates she does not have any idea how to help and will find the “Officer of the Day”. When the OD comes on line, they inform Mr. Lehman that they “don’t have any idea how to help him”. (The proper response is always, I do not know how to handle this but I will find out. How can I get right back to you)? The Embassy staff later claims that it is “judicial matter”, and they cannot help…even though Lehman’s Florida Congressman had sent the US Ambassador personal letter months ago fearing for the safety of Mr. Lehman. When others complain on Mr. Lehman’s behalf, they are told that Mr. Lehman is staying at a hotel as if that was good enough.
What were the US Government excuses for not acting immediately in defense of this US Citizen?
First, it is that the individual at the center of the Probate dispute, Wilson Lucom, “was not a US Citizen” as he had given up his US Citizenship when he move to Panama. So what!!! Richard Lehman is a US Citizen. Wilson Lucom’s only legally adopted child, Isabel Clark is the first in line to inherit her father’s estate under Panamanian law. She is a US Citizen living in California, and she can’t get the Courts to recognize her rights, nor can she get the State Department to act in defense of Mr. Lehman.
The US investors that purchased the largest asset in the Lucom estate, a 7,000+ acre waterfront ranch on the Pacific Coast of Panama, are US Citizens and the Panamanian courts are ignoring their legal claims and positioned their suit under a Judge who has at least twice before been censured for corruption. So much for the “equal access under the law” rights of US Citizens and US business interests in Panama. They are being abused by the corrupt legal system in Panama—confirmed by their own Transparency Commission—and the Embassy responds that they can’t get involved because “Wilson Lucom was not a US Citizen”. How ridiculous!
The next excuse is that “there are Probate disputes in the US as well”. My heavens, how does that apply to this? In the US, those Probate disputes have not been characterized by the US government itself as corrupt and an “extreme abuse” of the US civil and penal system!
The next excuse is that “the US cannot get involved in a civil proceeding” and that Panama has “an independent judiciary”. That’s strange, the outgoing US Ambassador was on the record numbers of time about the corruption of the Panama legal system. And you have the Panamanian Governments own Ms. Montengero confirming it!
What is going on? Perhaps it has to do with having a new American Ambassador in Panama who does not want to take a firm stand early on with the Panamanian Government.
Perhaps it has to do with the State Department not wanting to take any action that would endanger the US-Panama free trade pact that is currently before the Congress…which action this type of corruption and legal system abuse should call into question.
Perhaps it is just the terrible twins of ignorance and complete incompetence of behalf of the new Ambassador and her staff.
What is certain is that the “story line” being propagated by the US State Department Panama Desk and the US Embassy in Panama do not comport with the well documented history and clear facts in this heinous situation.
What is clear is that US Citizens and US business interests are being consistently abused by a corrupt Panamanian legal system and that US Citizen civil rights are being ignored by Panamanian authorities with impunity, while the US Embassy looks on washing its hands of any meaningful involvement (“Pilatos” in Spanish).
What is clear is that a well established Panamanian oligarchy can manipulate a corrupt legal system and culture and steal the lifelong estate of a former US Citizen, and from the orphans of Panama and other US interests, to keep their station in life – all as if the Noriega regime was still in power.
What naturally follows such blatant abuse is that every US Citizen and US businessman must worry about who will protect their investments and estates in Panama if the Panamanian legal system can be so completely corrupted and the US Government so clearly unwilling to act to protect US Citizens and businessmen.
What is clear is that every American citizens and businessmen who do not want this to happen to them, must take immediate action to get the US Government actively involved in protecting the rights of US Citizens and US business interests in Panama—and do it now!
I ask your support in contacting all Colorado Congressional and Senate staff to inform them of these recent dangerous events and prompt them to demand proper answers from the State Department and the US Embassy, Panama, of why they are not actively involved in protecting this US Citizen and others, along with other US business interests in Panama.
I also urge you, on behalf of the Chamber, to call/write the US Ambassador in Panama, Barbara Stephenson, 011-507-207-7000, general email: email@example.com to find out why Mr. Lehman did not receive immediate and meaningful support and intervention in what is a very public corruption case documented as so by the head of the Panamanian Commission on Transparency and Corruption herself.
I also urge you to call the State Departments Panama Desk Officer, Marcia Singer, 202-647-3505, firstname.lastname@example.org , and add your rejection of their simple minded excuses for inaction as well.
Gil, this is a serious matter that will damage Panama as well as those who have or will invest in Panama.
William A. Tolbert
La Estrella de Panamá - The Panama Star
Florida Attorney detained 15 hours at Tocumen airport - [ Translate this page ]
Lehman 5 days prisoner - [ Translate this page ]
The Lucom legacy
Las Uvas: Fever in the coast
La Voz Nueva
Legal case clouding Panama/U.S. commerce
100 acres of beachfront are misappropiated