Panama probes ex-officials in graft network suspected of taking bribes

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panamanian prosecutors are investigating a network of over 30 people that includes former high-level officials suspected of taking bribes worth $40 million between 2011 and 2012 for public works projects, Attorney General Kenia Porcell said on Monday.

The so-called “Blue Apple” probe began three months ago, and is investigating alleged acts of corruption, money laundering and criminal association, Porcell told reporters, without naming any of the suspects.

Porcell said the network, which included former officials, lawyers and members of the business class, sought bribes to cut through red tape in public infrastructure projects.

The illicit money would be sent to an entity known as Blue Apple Services that would launder the cash through banks, Porcell said.

“This is another complicated corruption investigation,” Porcell said. She said her team had so far recovered $20 million and confiscated $5 million dollars worth of assets.

She added that various international arrest warrants had been issued for suspects who had fled the country. Panamanian authorities have also sought judicial assistance from the United States, China, the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong to recover some of the paper assets.

The alleged acts took place during the administration of Ricardo Martinelli, the country’s president from 2009 to 2014, who was arrested in Miami in June 2017 on an extradition warrant from Panama.

He was alleged to have tapped the phones of opposition politicians and is facing multiple investigations for corruption. Martin has denied the charges, calling them politically motivated.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Editing by Diane Craft