Kenneth Rijock

Kenneth Rijock

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ARE PANAMA'S BANKS AT ELEVATED LEVELS OF RISK ?



In the aftermath of the publicity over the massive corruption scandals roiling over Panama of late, and especially the Banco Universal intervention, Panamanians have asked whether their banks are safe. The country's financial regulator, the Superintendent of Banking, has publicly assured them that their money is safe, that the banks in Panama City are solvent, and that there is no danger. Unfortunately, this is not exactly true.

While most Panamanian financial institutions have substantial deposits, these issues pose a direct threat to the continued existence of a substantial number of them:

(1) Ownership: several Panamanian banks are either owned outright, or controlled, through large holdings of bank stock, by Panamanian families with direct ties to organized crime. Some of these groups benefitted substantially from the Financial Pacific/Petaquilla Mining insider trading scandal.  Panamanians have blinders on when it comes to the issue of who owns their banks.  Will there ultimately be criminal charges filed, either in Panama, or in the US or Canada, which could affect the banks these criminals own ?

(2) Dirty money:The acceptance of Colombian drug profits, Venezuelan bribe and kickback money, and funds whose ultimate recipients are designated terrorist groups, by many of the local banks, without question, or any AML/CFT compliance, puts those banks at risk for money laundering charges in the US.

Should US regulators, for any of the valid reasons listed above, choose to bar an Panamanian bank from access to the US financial system, due to rampant criminal conduct, rapid insolvency of such a bank would be assured. In that case, Panamanians with accounts there, could lose everything. Let's be frank; the ease by which Panama's banks have accepted illicit funds may end up causing their demise.

Therefore, the answer to the question is: if your bank has been accepting dirty money, or its owners benefitted in the Financial Pacific scandal, there may be untoward consequences that might ultimately result in the end of the bank's existence. For compliance officers, I offer this humble opinion; Country Risk for Panama has just climbed off the charts, especially given there are serious rumors of imminent American and Canadian indictments. Where there's smoke there's fire.


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