Former Panama president banned from entering US for ‘significant corruption’: Blinken

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The United States has banned former Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez from entering the US for his “involvement in significant corruption,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

“Today, I am announcing the designation of former Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez as generally ineligible for entry into the United States, due to his involvement in significant corruption,” Blinken said in a statement released by the State Department. “While serving as Panama’s vice president and then president, Varela accepted bribes in exchange for improperly awarding government contracts.”

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A Panama judge last November called two former presidents, including Varela, as well as a slate of other high-profile figures, to trial over money-laundering related to the Odebrecht bribery probe, a sweeping corruption investigation which rippled across Latin America. The trial is due to begin later this year.

Ricardo Martinelli, Panama’s president from 2009 to 2014, was summoned, as was Martinelli’s successor and vice president, Varela, who served as president until 2019.

Varela and Martinelli were banned from leaving Panama in 2020 when investigations began. Both have denied committing any crimes.

Odebrecht and its parent company, Braskem, Brazil’s largest petrochemicals firm, agreed in 2016 to pay $3.5 billion to settle bribery-related charges brought by US, Brazilian and Swiss regulators.The scandal over bribes for public-works contracts spread to other countries where Odebrecht did business, including Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.

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