Panama Supreme Court Judge Convicted of Corruption

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The former head of Panama’s Supreme Court will serve jail term after being found guilty on corruption charges, marking a success for the country’s justice system in what is a landmark, but perhaps rather politicized, case.

Alejandro Moncada Luna was sentenced to five years in prison by a three-person Congressional committee after pleading guilty last month to charges of illicit enrichment and falsifying documents, reported Reuters.

According to La Prensa, Moncada pled guilty when he was unable to explain how he acquired two luxury apartments worth $1.7 million in the exclusive Coco del Mar neighborhood of Panama City. During his time on the Supreme Court, Moncada only earned around $500,000 in gross salaries, and he did not declare any other earnings that could have accounted for the cost of the apartments.

This marks the first time a sitting judge from Panama’s highest court has been sent to jail.

Moncada — who was set to remain on the court until 2020 — had been appointed by former president Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), a rival of current President Juan Carlos Varela.

Moncada’s sentencing comes at a time when several investigations into the past activities of Martinelli are being conducted. Most recent among these are allegations that Martinelli earned as much as $100 million from an illicit visa scheme during his time in office, whereby officials from the immigration ministry sold visas to Chinese and Indian workers for as much as $25,000 each.

InSight Crime Analysis

That Moncada, a sitting Supreme Court judge, has been found guilty of graft and falsifying documents is a mark of how corruption has penetrated Panamanian institutions. Nonetheless, that the Panamanian judicial system was able to prosecute and convict such a high profile figure (and doing so using a recently implemented accusatory trial system) offers hope that the campaign against corruption has some teeth.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Panama

President Juan Carlos Varela — who was vice-president under Martinelli — promised to eliminate corruption when he took office in July 2014, and in late January Panama’s Supreme Court unanimously voted to investigate allegations that Martinelli’s administration paid inflated prices (to the tune of $45 million) for food products purchased for a government welfare program.

Nevertheless, Varela’s investigations into Martinelli — as well as the sentencing of Moncada — may also be influenced by the intense rivalry and power struggle between the two men.

With Varela not even a year into his term as president, his campaign against the former administration may gather pace.

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