By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd
La Estrella de Panama, the oldest newspaper in the country is in danger of closing permanently, because its owner, Abdul Waked, has been accused by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of running a money laundering operation, in which 68 of his companies including GESE (La Estrella de Panama and El Siglo) were allegedly involved.
The result is that all companies owned by Abdul Waked have been included in the infamous “Clinton List”, which means none of those enterprises can engage in commercial transactions with the United States or its citizens; the result is a death sentence for the business.
Waked has only until January 5, 2017 to sell the GESE Group for it to be taken off the Clinton List. In a press release, the GESE Group’s 250 employees pleaded with the United States to reconsider this measure which will cost them their livelihood as well as close the oldest newspaper which ironically was founded by two U.S. citizens and a tabloid that has being going strong for the last 30 years.
The answer of the U.S. Embassy was as follows: “The U.S. government has repeatedly explained the circumstances behind the administrative designation of the Waked Money Laundering Organization by the OFAC and the fact that there is a legal route to remove a company from the Clinton List”.
Abdul Waked is a Panamanian businessman of Lebanese origin, owner and founder of the Wisa group, and one of the leading distributors of international luxury brands in Latin America.
The group owns the chain of establishments La Riviera, which sells and distributes fragrances, luxury cosmetics, watches, tobacco and liquors, among other products, in more than 14 countries.
His investments also include media (La Estrella de Panamá and El Siglo), insurance and real estate, in which he has recently ventured
The document mentions the examples of three other companies owned by Abdul Waked (Felix B. Maduro, Mawa Enterprises and Soho Mall),) which have been sold to third parties or have been in the process of doing so, as a solution to the restrictions imposed on Waked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Meanwhile the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, said that a letter will be sent to the United States government requesting that the OFAC extends the license to the two newspapers, so they can continue to be published.
It is important to note that on November 14, 2016 the Public Ministry, which has been investigating Waked since he was put on the Clinton List in May, dismissed the case and the OFAC has so far been unable to substantiate the accusations made against the businessman.
Many Panamanian lawyers considered the “Clinton List” abusive and illegal, because without going through a legal process that allows the right to face your accuser, the imposition of the sanction on the enterprises practically represents their commercial death due to the influence the United States has on the economy of the world.