Since the end of Manuel Noriega's military dictatorship in 1989, Panama has successfully completed five peaceful transfers of power to opposing political factions. The political landscape is dominated by two major parties and many smaller parties, many of which are driven by individual leaders more than ideologies. Former President Martín Torrijos is the son of general Omar Torrijos. He succeeded Mireya Moscoso, the widow of Arnulfo Arias. Panama's most recent national elections occurred on May 4, 2014, with incumbent vice-President Juan Carlos Varela declared the victor. The 2019 Panamanian general election is scheduled for May 5, 2019, with current President Juan Carlos Varela being ineligible due to constitutional limits for a second term.
Meanwhile, Noriega's regime had fostered a well-hidden criminal economy that operated as a parallel source of income for the military and their allies, providing revenues from drugs and money laundering. Toward the end of the military dictatorship, a new wave of Chinese migrants arrived on the isthmus in the hope of migrating to the United States. The smuggling of Chinese became an enormous business, with revenues of up to 200 million dollars for Noriega's regime (see Mon 167).
Former President Ahmed al-Mirghani surfaced as a client of Mossack Fonseca. Al-Mirghani, who was president from 1986 to 1989, created Orange Star Corporation in the British Virgin Islands through the Panama firm in 1995, when he was living in Egypt after the coup that ended his presidency. He was active in the Democratic Unionist Party there. Orange Star Corporation bought a long-term lease in a tony London neighborhood near Hyde Park for $600,000 the same year al-Mirghani created it, and at the time of his death held assets worth $2.72 million.
In response to queries from the Miami Herald and ICIJ, Mossack Fonseca issued a 2,900-word statement listing legal requirements that prevent using offshore companies for tax avoidance and total anonymity, such as FATF protocols which require identifying ultimate beneficial owners of all companies (including offshore companies) before opening any account or transacting any business.
Leaked documents examined by the ABC "pierced the veil of anonymous shell companies" and linked a Sydney businessman and a Brisbane geologist to mining deals in North Korea. "Rather than applying sanctions, the Australian Government and the ASX seem to have allowed a coach and horses to be ridden through them by the people involved in forming this relationship, corporate relationship with one of the primary arms manufacturers in North Korea," said Thomas Clark of the University of Technology Sydney.
The city of Panama is still a banking center, although with very visible controls in the flow of cash. Shipping is handled through port facilities in the area of Balboa operated by the Hutchison Whampoa Company of Hong Kong and through several ports on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. Balboa, which is located within the greater Panama metropolitan area, was formerly part of the Panama Canal Zone, and the administration of the former Panama Canal Zone was headquartered there.
Prime Minister John Key responded May 7 to John Doe's remark that he had been "curiously quiet" about tax evasion in the Cook Islands by saying that the whistleblower was confused and probably European. While the Cook Islands use New Zealand currency, "I have as much responsibility for tax in the Cook Islands as I do for taxing Russia." New Zealand does represent the Cook Islands on defence and foreign policy, but not taxation, he said.
Perez Balladares ran as the candidate for a three-party coalition dominated by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the erstwhile political arm of military dictatorships. Perez Balladares worked skillfully during the campaign to rehabilitate the PRD's image, emphasizing the party's populist Torrijos roots rather than its association with Noriega. He won the election with only 33 percent of the vote when the major non-PRD forces splintered into competing factions. His administration carried out economic reforms and often worked closely with the US on implementation of the Canal treaties.
The Reykjavik Grapevine and the news site Kjarninn revealed that President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson had connections to Lasca Finance Limited, registered in 2005 in the British Virgin Islands. Ólafur Ragnar had categorically denied any personal or family ties to companies in tax havens. The parents of his wife, Dorrit Moussaieff, operated the company 1999–2005. The financial statements of the Moussaieff family business show it received nearly £7 million ($10.2 million US, €9.1 million) in interest payments from Lasca during 2000–2005. In 2005 Moussaieff Jewelers Limited sold its 10% stake of Lasca to S. Dorrit Moussaieff's deceased father and her mother, now 86 years old and the registered owner of the Lasca ownership stake. Dorrit and her sisters Tamara and Sharon will inherit her fortune, considered among the largest in the world.
The highest point in the country is the Volcán Barú, which rises to 3,475 metres (11,401 feet). A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia where Colombian guerrillas and drug dealers operate and sometimes take hostages. This and unrest, and forest protection movements, create a break in the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise forms a complete road from Alaska to Patagonia.
Schembri, a businessman who managed the electoral campaign of the Labour Party in the 2013 Maltese general elections, and serves as chief of staff to Muscat, was reported to hold an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands, and owns an anonymous shell company in Panama, called Tillgate Inc, held by a trust established for him in New Zealand. Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri acquired their shell companies in Panama, Hearnville Inc and Tillgate Inc respectively, via the Mossack Fonseca representatives in Malta, who also tried to open bank accounts linked to the two shell companies of the two politically exposed persons in various jurisdictions. The owner of a third anonymous shell company in Panama, Egrant Inc, whose existence was revealed in the same document referring to the other two companies, remains unknown, although the strict secrecy observed in its acquisition, including the avoidance of e-mail communications and the utilization of communications via Skype, have fuelled strong suspicions that a third top Maltese politically exposed person is involved.
Kojo Annan, son of former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, appears with Laolu Saraki, the son of the late Nigerian senator Abubakar Olusola Saraki, as shareholders in Blue Diamond Holding Management Corp, registered by Mossack Fonseca in the British Virgin Islands in 2002. The two were directors of Sutton Energy Ltd, also registered in the British Virgin Islands in 2002, then transferred to Samoa. In 2015, Annan used another shell company first registered in the British Virgin Islands, then transferred to Samoa, to purchase an apartment in London for $500,000.
Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso is the son of Denis Sassou Nguesso, in power for 32 years and re-elected in March in a disputed election. Daniel is a representative for Oyo, a member of the ruling Parti congolais du travail or Congolese Party of Labour. He is also the assistant director-general of the Société nationale des pétroles du Congo (SNPC), and general manager of the national refinery, Coraf. According to leaked documents he had Mossack Fonseca establish a shell company in the British Virgin Islands for him named Phoenix Best Finance Ltd.
Tyndall Air Force Base is east of the city. The HHT 1-153 CAV is stationed there. It is part of Florida Army National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade. The city is also home to the U.S. Navy's Naval Support Activity Panama City which is home to various research and training projects. The city is also 60-90 minutes south of Fort Rucker, Alabama, home to the US Army's Aviation Center of Excellence.
Two men linked to Fidentia, a South African asset management company that looted 1.2 billion rand from pension funds meant to provide for 46,000 widows and orphans of mineworkers, had accounts with Mossack Fonseca, which was willing to help hide the money even after South Africa made their names public. The former chief executive of Fidentia, J. Arthur Brown, was sentenced in 2014 to concurrent 15-year sentences. The FBI arrested one man, Steven Goodwin, in Los Angeles in 2008. Sent back to South Africa, Goodwin was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fraud and money laundering. The other, Graham Maddock, was also later jailed in South Africa for fraud.
Since the end of the 20th century, association football has become more popular in Panama. The top tier of domestic Panamanian football, Liga Panameña de Fútbol, was founded in 1988. The national team appeared at the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 2018, appearing in group G, facing Belgium, England and Tunisia. However, the team lost all three games, failing to advance past the group stage. Notable players for the national team include Luis Ernesto Tapia, Rommel Fernández, the Dely Valdés Brothers: Armando, Julio and Jorge; and more recent players as Jaime Penedo, Felipe Baloy, Luis Tejada, Blas Pérez, Román Torres and Harold Cummings.