A partner in the law firm at the heart of the “Panama Papers” scandal fell out publicly with Panama’s president — a former friend — on Thursday, accusing him of accepting “donations” from a Brazilian company that has admitted to graft.
Ramon Fonseca Mora told reporters that President Juan Carlos Varela confided he received from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction giant that paid millions of dollars in bribes to land huge public works contracts in Latin America.
Fonseca — who used to be a high-ranking advisor to Varela but was dismissed when the Panama Papers leak burst forth in April last year — made the allegation as Panamanian prosecutors conducted a surprise raid on his firm as part of their probe into the Odebrecht bribes and the Panama Papers.
Varela last year said he and Fonseca were longtime friends.
He had promised to stand by the prominent lawyer as the Panama Papers scandal — a vast data leak from the Mossack Fonseca law firm that detailed how the world’s wealthy stashed assets in offshore companies — unfolded.
But on Thursday it appeared that amity no longer held.
“President Varela told me — may lightning strike me if I lie — that he had accepted donations from Odebrecht because he couldn’t fight everyone,” Fonseca said as he arrived to respond to prosecutors’ questions related to Thursday’s raid.
Several countries in Latin America, among them Panama, Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay, are carrying out investigations into bribes paid by Odebrecht.
In December, the Brazilian company agreed with the US Justice Department to pay a world record $3.5-billion fine after admitting it paid $788 million in bribes to win fat construction contracts in 12 countries.
More revelations are expected soon because current and former Odebrecht executives have signed tell-all plea deals in Brazil in exchange for lighter sentences.
In Panama, ex-president Ricardo Martinelli’s son and brother are under investigation.
Fonseca wrote in his Twitter account that he and his partner at the law firm, Juergen Mossack, had “nothing to do with Odebrecht.”