Agents working for the private Israeli intelligence company Black Cube recently uncovered alleged corruption in Panama’s justice system that included bribes to top judges, a Panamanian newspaper has reported.
Recordings obtained by La Prensa featured an attorney at the center of the case boasting to undercover Israeli agents of his ties to the judiciary, which he described as a “mafia.”
According to several stories published in La Prensa on Tuesday, the case began with an unidentified Panamanian businessman who, frustrated by what he believed were a series of unreasonable rulings regarding his affairs, hired the Israeli firm to try and sniff out whether corruption was involved.
The investigation focused on attorney Janio Lescure, who had litigated several of the suspect cases. While the businessman hoped to obtain a confession of wrongdoing from Lescure, Panamanian law required that any recording of a person without his knowledge be approved by a judge.
And so the businessman procured the services of Black Cube, which has made headlines in recent years due to its sometimes questionable operations and practices.
Black Cube agents posing as shady Russian businessmen contacted Lescure and told him of their plans to bring women to Panama for prostitution purposes. They lured him to a meeting in Spain — where recording laws are more lax — and there began questioning him about his ability to grease the wheels of the judiciary, if it became necessary.
According to La Prensa, the agents were surprised when Lescure happily shared much more than they had expected, detailing his ties to numerous supposedly corrupt judges, including in the country’s Supreme Court, and the bribes he had given them on countless occasions to ensure favorable outcomes in court.
Lescure said judges were paid anywhere between several hundred thousand and millions of dollars to sway their decisions. “It’s going to depend on the importance of the subject, because, in general, they aren’t cheap,” he said.
He explained that the bribes were transferred to the corrupt justices through third parties, using offshore accounts that would make the money difficult to trace. He described Panama’s judiciary as a “mafia.”
A former judge, Oydén Ortega Durán, who was named by Lescure, denied his allegations and said he had never even heard of him.
“There is no money that could buy any decision of mine,” he told La Prensa. “I deny I received directly or indirectly any sum of money from him.”
Black Cube, a company of former Israeli intelligence agents, has drawn international attention for allegedly working to discredit Obama administration officials who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, as well as to protect the reputation of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.