New developments in the discovery phase of a case we have been covering here,* which involves litigation over funds allegedly embezzled by an employee in an international export firm, and deposited into Panamanian banks, paint a detailed picture of deceit involved in the movement of reputed criminal proceeds through what can only be described as the layering phase of money laundering. It should be required reading for all officers at companies engaged in international trade.
We have previously mentioned** the deposition of a Panamanian national who appears to have been the unwitting facilitator of the movement of the funds into, and through Panamanian financial institutions .. The transcript*** having since become available, we have learned more details, all taken from his sworn testimony:
(1) The witness, a longtime resident of Panama, and who had previously served as an auxiliary police officer in Colombia, was a childhood friend of Didimo Alberto Navarro Reyes, the husband of Lourdes Mercedes Cajale, the alleged embezzler. He owns a legitimate company in Panama.
(2) Didimo asked the witness to do him a favour, and accept a wire transfer coming from Lourdes, ostensibly because Didimo advised that his lawyer**** told him that the funds must be transferred from a company to a company account. The witness complied because he trusted Didimo, according to his testimony. He had never performed this favour before, nor has he done so since. He did not financially benefit from the wire transfer, which was in the amount of $161,000.
(3) The next week, it was requested of him that the received funds be divided up, and transferred into three accounts. Records of the bank, a major international financial institution, show that these are accounts of Didimo Navarro and Lourdes Cajale. Do these transfers constitute layering ? What do you think ?
(4) The witness was stunned when he subsequently received a visit from a Panamanian judge, accountant, and experts, all investigating the circumstances surrounding the wire transfer. He learned that there was a judicial inquiry into the propriety of the transfer. The witness ruefully admitted that he no longer trusts Mr. Navarro.
When someone you know asks you to assist with a "routine" funds transfer, solely as a favor to them, and not for any legitimate commercial purpose, you could be exposing yourself to money laundering charges, which in the United States can result in a twenty year sentence in Federal Prison. Always seeks competent professional advice before involving yourself, and your firm, in participation, no matter how minor, in any type of unusual transaction, lest you find yourself under investigation, or worse, for the facilitation of money laundering.
A second development in the case is also ominous; several relatives of the owners of the export company have been anonymously contacted in Colombia, and threatened with kidnapping. The caller advised that the only way that they could avoid an uncertain fate was to pay over $150,000 immediately. The threats were suspiciously made on the day that the above-described witness was subpoenaed for deposition.
These threats have been conveyed to Colombian law enforcement authorities, a formal complaint filed, and an investigation opened. Was this intended to intimidate and deter the owners of the export company from pursuing the judicial proceeding in Panama ? We cannot say, but we are waiting to see what the next deposition of Lourdes Cajale uncovers. Stay tuned.
*When White Collar Crime becomes Money Laundering, 18 October, 2011.
**Key Witness confirms that Fraudster Laundered Money through Panama, 21 November, 2011.
*** Deposition taken 17 November, 2011.
**** The identity of the lawyer who gave this advice to Mr. Navarro is not disclosed in the deposition, but sources in Colombia indicate that one of his attorneys is Abelardo de la Espriella, well known as defence counsel in the Colombian Para-politics scandal, where some members of the Colombian Parliament were accused of ties to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, the Paramilitaries. Sr. de la Espriella's Miami office is in the same building in Coral Gables, Florida where Lourdes Cajale's attorney, Richard Diaz maintains his offices. Please note that Mr. Diaz, though a criminal defence attorney, is representing Ms. Cajale in the civil action.