Statement by Ambassador John D. Feeley on the Waked Money Laundering Organization

Ambassador John D. Feeley during his remarks
Ambassador John D. Feeley during his remarks

[unofficial translation – originally delivered in Spanish]

There are many rumors and inaccurate comments regarding the designation by the United States Government of the Waked Money Laundering Organization (MLO).  Today, I want to provide clear information about what has happened and our rationale for the actions taken.

The designations are based on extensive investigations that have taken place over more than a decade, in which the United States Government completed a comprehensive review of information in coordination with seven of our government agencies.

We checked our data. We checked the evidence.  We confirmed that the Waked MLO was involved in money laundering in several countries.

For years, Nidal Waked, Abdul Waked and their accomplices abused the financial system of the United States and Panama.  They led organizations that have laundered money from drug trafficking.

This money came from suitcases full of cash, counterfeit invoices and other money laundering methods that served multiple international drug trafficking organizations that are among the most unscrupulous and sophisticated in the world.

This is why the United States has designated them for the so called ‘Clinton list.’

Moreover, judicially, the United States Government has designated Nidal Waked as a priority target, one of the worst drug traffickers and launderers in the world.

From my experience working in Colombia and Mexico, I know that the impact of criminals and money launderers on innocent and hardworking people can be devastating.  Whether it’s the average Panamanian in the street or a Mexican caught in the crossfire between cartels, they are all victims.  The money launderers pass the buck on to the innocent employees of these companies.

The United States has the responsibility to protect its citizens from such crimes.

Just like the Panamanian law allows, the American civil law gives us the authority to freeze the assets of those involved and deny them access to our market.

This is what we did last week.

I understand that many people are concerned about the effects that these designations may have here in Panama.

Although we could have issued the designations and then sat idly by, the United States Government has taken the extraordinary step of simultaneously issuing temporary authorizations that create a space for the Panamanian government and the Waked MLO to find a solution that minimizes the potential harmful effects on the innocent.  These temporary authorizations are called “general licenses.”

Specifically, we extended a general license to ensure that the newspapers La Estrella and El Siglo can still operate.  We did this out of respect for their journalistic integrity and our commitment to protecting freedom of the press.

It is important to understand what these licenses are, and how they work.

A license means that U.S. citizens can continue doing normal business with the designated entity.  For example, I still subscribe to La Estrella, will continue to, as long as they have a general license.

Since last week, we have been working with the Panamanian authorities to try to mitigate, even more, the economic impact of these designations on the Panamanian people, including on the workforce.

I have to applaud the efforts of the MEF, MITRADEL, and MICI [Panamanian Economic, Labor and Commercial Ministries] for their hard work in finding ways to protect the affected employees.

As a result of these discussions, the United States Department of the Treasury, today, issued two more licenses authorizing specific access to the U.S. financial system that otherwise would be prohibited.

Again, I want to highlight the dedication and efforts of the Panamanian government team committed to this work.  Their devotion has been obvious.

Now, the Wakeds must negotiate in good faith with the Panamanian government to preserve as many jobs as possible, and cause the least possible damage to the multiple sectors where their companies operate.

Protecting the integrity of the U.S. banking system is not an undue foreign interference.  It is a recognition that Panama and the United States are linked commercially, as is everyone in this globalized economy.

But beyond economic ties, we are united by the values of transparency, fairness and decency.

As an example of this, I want you to know something: When I informed President Varela of the designation of the Waked MLO, his first reaction was, “How can we preserve as many jobs as possible?”

And that’s what we are doing—in good faith and with a shared commitment.

In the few months that I have been here, I’ve met many good and worthy Panamanians who recognize that the ‘playing with live fire’ and secrecy attitudes don’t lead them anywhere productive.

Drug traffickers and money launderers don’t care about people; they only care about their money.  In the days ahead, we will continue to work with respect and mutual interest with the Panamanian government to see if there are more licenses we can issue to minimize the systemic effects on creditors and innocent people.

Thank you.