Clash of the Titans: Cochez sues over Varela’s decision
PANAMA CITY.- The lawyer and former ambassador to the OAS, Guillermo Cochez, filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court against the decision of President Juan Carlos Varela to sell “illegally” some state land for 17 million dollars to a recognized Panamanian businessman, alleged donor of his campaign. Cochez has cataloged the government action as an “aberration of the rule according to the higher law”.
The legal action against the Cabinet of President Juan Carlos Varela revolves around a plot of land of just over 77,000 m2 located in the area of Kobbe, district of Veracruz, district of Arraijan, West Panama, on the Pacific coast of the country, four kilometers from the capital city. There, two famous hotels operate, the Intercontinental and Secrets, both American networks in Playa Bonita, as well as a multimillion-dollar residential project, where incidentally President of the United States Barack Obama stayed during the days of the Summits of the Americas in April 2015, as Vice President Joseph Biden when he visited Panama and the presidents who were at the Canal expansion ceremony.
Although the land belongs to the State of Panama, luxurious buildings were built by the company Paradise Beach Corporation, belonging to engineer and businessman Herman Bern. Former Ambassador of the Organization of American States (OAS), Guillermo Cochez explains that the company achieved through public tender No 026-ARI-2002 dated April 10, 2003 the right to design, build, develop, operate and good handle on an eco-tourism and recreational beach project. For that, the State subsequently signed the lease with purchase option No 430-2003.
However, that tender was annulled by the Supreme Court (CSJ, in Spanish) of Panama, five years later, on February 22, 2008, as illegal because it was shown that in the acts that conferred the said concession:
“changes were made in the Statement of Objections only known by Paradise Beach, violating the principles of equality of all public acts, governed by Law 56 dated 1995. Perhaps they thought that nobody would get them,” says the lawyer. Then on May 20, 2015 the same Supreme Court also declared null and void as illegal the lease 430-2003.” That is, as stated in Panama, he became in a squatter, which means someone who builds on a land without the owner’s permission, which in other countries is so called invaders,” says Cochez.
Despite the two judgments of the Supreme Court, Bern continued building his hotel complex. Cochez even highlights that when the first judgment was given, during the government of Martin Torrijos, the decision of the highest court of the nation was so rejected by the administration of that time that not only nothing was done to restore the land, but the younger sister of the former president made her wedding in one of those hotels. The same indifference, tells the ambassador, remained in the following presidential term, when one the children of the president on duty married at this hotel complex.
Legalization for US$ 17 million
To Cochez, worse than the government’s disinterest in the past to enforce the decision of the Supreme Court is the claim of President Juan Carlos Varela to sell the group of Bern this plot of land, using for this Cabinet Resolution No. 51, signed on May 17 this year and published in the Official Gazette No 28056-a dated June 20, which provides for the adoption of the “hiring by exceptional procedure, the Ministry of Economy and Finance / Administration Unit of Reverted Goods.” The administration of Varela argues that the business group of Herman Bern has made a huge investment in place in a “supposed acting in good faith when it really always had knowledge of the judicial process that resulted in the declaration of nullity as illegal of administrative acts,” explains the lawyer who says that in addition to the two judgments of the Supreme Court, there are other judicial proceedings pending in the same plot of land.
According to the former ambassador to the OAS, “rather, we believe that, instead of existing good faith in the performance of Paradise Beach Corporation, what existed was recklessness and negligence on his part because under his own risk he built on a third party land and other tender participants’ interest that he illicitly gained, for now claiming to be recognized through other administrative channels, trying to ignore judicial rulings of the Supreme court.
” That is why Cochez labels the measure of Varela’s Cabinet as authoritarian and denounces that “it violates fundamental principles and norms. This is an aberration of the rule according to the higher law. “
Guillermo Cochez has not only requested the Third Chamber for Contentious Administrative Proceedings of the Supreme Court to declare null and void the Resolution of the Cabinet, i.e., that is to cease any further proceeding of the government measure until the filed appeal is decided. Because, in his opinion, “there is justified fear that the delay in process may cause the administrative act to be executed by the Unit of Reverted Goods of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.”
The lawyer highlighted that Juan Carlos Varela’s decision violates the principles and rules established by the exceptional procedure for direct hiring in the sole text of Law 22 dated 2006, which would favor this exceptional procedure only in cases of disasters. Also, directly and by default, the content of Article 99 of the Judicial Code which states “The judgment pronounced by the Third Chamber pursuant to this section is final, conclusive and binding; they may not be appealed and the motion to vacate shall be published in the Official Gazette.”
After indicating the legal framework justifying his claim, Cochez concludes that “it is not valid for any state entity, even for the Cabinet, to use an exceptional procedure of direct hiring mechanism provided for emergencies, natural disasters or social benefit.“