Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Societe Generale leaving Panama (again)

This the case of the bankers who cried "wolf".

Societe Generale with great fanfare announced that they were leaving Panama in 2010 because of its "tax haven" status. What the media had missed was that they already announced in 2002 they were leaving Panama because of the country being considered a tax haven. Somehow Panama was a market good enough to return after 2002, or each closure is an excuse to cover up bad management of the branch.

Of course, Panama News also concluded in 2002 that the "entire offshore financial services sector's days are numbered". After that "prediction" the Panama banking sector has excess liquidity up to the point that some banks reject non-resident clients.

Now the French authorities have declared that even after Panama signing a double-taxation treaty with France, the Isthmus is still a "tax haven".

Societe Generale leaving Panama

Citing special charges and delays imposed by other countrie on financial transactions that involve Panama, France's second-largest bank, Societe Generale, is closing its operations in Panama City's banking center. Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina and Peru all discriminate against transactions involving Panama, mainly because those countries have long experience with their public officials laundering the proceeds of corrupt practices here. Societe Generale joins UBS and ABN Amro Bank in the line of European financial institutions leaving Panama, and its departure is taken by some analysts as another sign that the entire offshore financial services sector's days are numbered. July 28-August 10, 2002

Societe Generale moves Mexico ops. to France - Mexico, Panama
France's second largest private bank in terms of assets Societe Generale has decided to manage its Mexican customers' accounts from France rather than from its Panamanian branch, Societe Generale Panama CEO Celestin Cuq told Panamanian daily La Prensa.
Mexico charges a 15% tax on operations conducted through Panamanian banks, yet Mexico and France have a mutual tax waiver agreement, so it makes sense for Societe Generale to serve its Mexican clients from France, despite Panama's offshore status.
Fellow European banks UBS and ABN Amro also pulled out of Panama in 2001 for the same reason. However, Cuq said Societe Generale would maintain a representative office in Panama because it is of strategic value for securing business in Central America and the Caribbean.,_to_France Published: Friday, July 26, 2002 14:15

SOCIETE GENERALE : La SocGen examine des "anomalies" sur un compte de Singapour
Tous les articles PARIS, 1er avril (Reuters) - La Société Générale enquête sur des "anomalies" trouvées dans le compte d'un client supervisé par l'un de ses banquiers privés à Singapour, a déclaré jeudi un porte-parole de la banque.
Ce dernier n'a pas donné de précision sur la nature de ces anomalies mais il a dit qu'elles avaient été détectées en février et que la banque avait immédiatement informé les clients qui pourraient être concernés.
Il a ajouté que la banque faisait son possible pour résoudre la question rapidement dans l'intérêt de sa clientèle.
La banque a engagé en mars Benedikt Maissen, un ex-responsable de la Barclays, pour ses opérations en Asie.
Benedikt Maissen, 50 ans, rendra compte à Pierre Baer, responsable des opérations de banque privée de la Société Générale à Singapour et en Asie méridionale.
(Sudip Kar-Gupta, avec la contributioon de Wilfrid Exbrayat, édité par Jean-Michel Bélot) 01/04/10 à 16:04 - REUTERS 0 commentaire

Former Societe Generale Trader Goes on Trial
Trial began Tuesday for a former trader accused of brining losses of 5 billion euros (5.95 billion U.S. dollars) to the French bank Societe Generale SA (SG).
About 50 witnesses were expected to be called in the three-week trial of Jerome Kerviel, who is charged with forgery, breach of trust and unauthorized computer use. Kerviel faces five years in prison as well as a fine of 375,000 euros (448,000 dollars), if convicted.
In addition, his former employer Societe Generale would demand a sum of 4.9 billion euros (5.83 billion dollars) in compensation for damages, SG lawyer Jean Veil told the Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche. 2010-06-08 19:52:40 Xinhua Web Editor: Zhang Jin

Friday, October 14, 2011

Panama trade agreement finally approved

South Korea, Colombia, Panama Trade Accords Clear U.S. Congress

Analysts split over whether trade pacts boost US economy

US farmers celebrate free trade agreements, say increased demand will create jobs

Ford, others tout passage of South Korea, Colombia, Panama trade deals

Trade deals: three big winners from America's new free-trade agreements

U.S. Senate Roll Call on Passage of H.R. 3079 A bill to implement the United States-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. October 12, 2011, 07:46 PM

CBS Evening News - Congress passes free trade agreements

Statement From President Ricardo Martinelli About Congressional Passage of Panama-U.S. Free Trade Agreement

PanamaInvest conferences feature investment opportunities

Panama Invest is a cycle of conferences delivered by the government of the Republic of Panama to potential investors located in key global markets with the aim of disseminating information about business opportunities and attracting foreign investment to Panama. This year Panama Invest will start in Sao Paulo to be followed by Toronto, (Madrid, Tokyo, Munich, Rotterdam and will end with the second edition in the British capital of London.

Thus, under this favorable environment, Panama Invest seeks to showcase a variety of business opportunities for companies interested in setting up their operations in Panama, where the national government has identified important sectors for investment such as maritime services, logistics and transport, mining, tourism, financial services, among others. Moreover, Panama Invest will introduce the strategic function of Panama to serve as platform for the operations of enterprises in the larger Latin American region.

Monday, October 03, 2011

New suit alleges RICO conspiracy

|10/03/2011 @ 11:21AM |826 views

Trust Fund Stolen From Poor Children In Panama, Lawsuit Claims

Family fights over wills, trusts and estates are far too common, not only in our country, but elsewhere. Sometimes, those fights reach a whole new level. This has certainly been the case with a tragic story from Panama which harmed those most in need … millions of impoverished and starving children.

A Florida attorney, Richard Lehman, takes center stage in the dispute. He recently sued political officials throughout Panama — including three Supreme Court judges — charging corruption, bribery, theft, and much more. The fight involves the estate of Lehman’s former friend and client, Wilson Lucom.

When he died in June of 2006 at the age of 88, Lucom was an expatriate American living in Panama. One year before he died, Lucom signed a will generously leaving the majority of his $50 million fortune to a trust fund to benefit the poor and needy children of Panama. That fortune includes ocean-front real estate which has appreciated in value, so that Lucom’s estate is now valued at more than $150 million.

Lucom’s widow, Hilda Piza Lucom, was well-connected in Panamanian political circles. In fact, she used to be married to the son of a President of Panama. Lucom’s will left her a monthly allowance of $20,000 and the right to live in and use the marital home throughout her life. Her children also received specific bequests (Lucom had no children of his own). But Hilda wanted more … much more.

Hilda sued to challenge the will and claimed that Lucom’s attorney, Richard Lehman, had coerced Lucom into creating it so he could manage the charitable trust, which the will named as the primary beneficiary to Lucom’s vast estate. Through the lawsuit, a court in Panama removed Lehman as the estate’s executor, but ultimately found the will valid. Hilda then appealed to another court, which again found the will valid.

Finally, she appealed again to the Supreme Court of Panama. That Court, acting through three judges, issued a strange decision which upheld the will but at the same time ruled that Lucom really wanted to benefit his “beloved wife.” The judges overturned the distribution of the bulk of Lucom’s fortune to his charitable trust fund and instead named Hilda as the “universal heir.”

Several different people, including the notary who signed the will and even a prosecutor, filed challenges to the Supreme Court’s decision. In the face of those legal challenges, the entire Supreme Court of Panama decided to review the case a second time. For the last year, the case has been in a holding pattern, until the Supreme Court issues another ruling.

In the meantime, the Florida attorney, Lehman, is tired of waiting for the money to be released to help the poverty-stricken children in Panama. It is estimated that 20% of Panamanian children suffer from malnutrition and more than one-half of children under the age of five live in poverty. Lehman says he wants the children to finally benefit from Lucom’s wishes.

So Lehman recently filed a lawsuit in federal court in Florida, accusing Hilda, some of her adult children from her first marriage, and various Panamanian judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and others, of being part of a massive, criminal RICO conspiracy. RICO is a set of United States federal laws used to combat organized crime and corruption.

In his lawsuit under the RICO laws, Lehman accuses the three Supreme Court judges of accepting bribes in the amount of $1.5 million, each. He says Hilda and others acting on her behalf caused numerous false criminal charges to be asserted against him — including one for murder — in an effort to prevent him from acting as estate executor and to inhibit him from fighting against them in court. He even suggests that the conspiracy led to a murder attempt on the life of one of Lehman’s allies.

The RICO lawsuit seeks $732 million in damages on behalf of Lehman and the charitable trust that Lucom created to implement his directive to benefit poor children in Panama. You can read the complaint that recently started this lawsuit here.

Lehman said, in an interview with Thompson Reuters, that “every word” in his RICO complaint is true and he wants the whole world to know about the corruption in Panama and the effect it’s had on the starving children there.

A Florida attorney representing some of those accused of the criminal conspiracy says that this is merely the last in a line of “frivolous lawsuits” and notes that a court in Florida already ruled that Lehman misused estate assets to the tune of $2 million. But, Lehman includes a claim in his new lawsuit that the recent Florida ruling was procured through false evidence as part of the conspiracy.

His opponents think that this is nonsense. One of the attorneys fighting against Lehman, Matias Dorta, emailed us a copy of the Florida’s judge’s ruling, which referred to Lehman as, “a covetous opportunist using the ancillary estate assets … seeking personal advantage and control of assets in the $25-50 million domiciliary estate.” Dorta says that Lehman’s new claims were already raised and dismissed in a previous lawsuit.

Clearly, there are two sides to the story, and both sides accuse the other of foul play. You can read the Florida Judge’s decision against Lehman here.

Regardless of whether Lehman’s more-shocking allegations are true, the fact remains that Lucom signed a will wanting to benefit those in Panama who most needed help. While some question whether Lucom really had these charitable intentions, the case does present a lesson. This lengthy and expensive probate court fight could have been largely avoided.

How? There was no reason for Lucom to rely on a will and force his assets to pass through the court system, which had been accused by many of being corrupt. While Lucom created a trust — in Panama — to implement his wishes (at least, according to Lehman), that trust was never funded with his estate assets before he died.

Lucom could have transferred his assets into his trust during his lifetime. Or, better yet, he could have created a trust somewhere other than Panama (like Florida for example), transferred his assets into it, and avoided the Panama court system entirely.

Creating and a funding a revocable living trust — early, before there is a question of mental competency or undue influence — is the best way to prevent a family fight over your estate. By making this change late in life, and failing to use a trust to avoid probate, Lucom made it much harder for his wishes to be followed.

It’s a sad lesson that everyone can learn from.

By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update.

La Estrella de Panamá - The Panama Star
The Lucom legacy
Las Uvas: Fever in the coast

Supreme Court of Justice-Panama
August 6, 2011, decision by Justice Oyden Ortega
September 30, 2011, clarification by Justice Oyden Ortega
Grand Panama International et al vs. Hacienda Santa Monica, S.A., complaint by company Lucom promised to sell his property

La Voz Nueva
Legal case clouding Panama/U.S. commerce

Youtube video
100 acres of beachfront are misappropiated