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US names prominent Panama family big money launderers

(AFP)   The United States named Panama’s prominent Waked family, who run a large luxury goods, duty-free shops and real estate business, as a major drug money-laundering organization on Thursday.

The move placed top members of the Lebanese-origin family and their businesses, from the Grupo Wisa and La Riviera luxury goods and real estate groups to the Balboa Bank and Trust and two top newspapers, on the US sanctions blacklist, which locks them out of doing business with Americans and freezes their US assets.

The Waked group “uses trade-based money-laundering schemes, such as false commercial invoicing; bulk cash smuggling; and other money laundering methods, to launder drug proceeds on behalf of multiple international drug traffickers and their organizations,” the US Treasury Department said.

The Treasury named Abdul Mohamed Waked Fares, 66, and Nidal Ahmed Waked Hatum, 36, as co-leaders of the “Waked Money Laundering Organization”.

Waked Fares is a national of Panama, Colombia and Lebanon, and Waked Hatum is a national of Spain, Colombia and Panama.

Six others were named for participating in the money-laundering operations, including three brothers of Waked Hatum and a son of Waked Fares.

Two others were attorneys that the Treasury said help the group set up shell companies among other services.

Panama Attorney General Kenia Porcell Diaz said Thursday that the government was cooperating with US authorities in the action.

“We will ensure justice is served by the people of Panama. This investigation further strengthens our efforts and resolve to vigorously attack criminal activity in Panama so that the rule of law prevails,” he said in a statement.

The country’s chief banking superintendent said that his office had seized control of Balboa Bank “in our overriding interest in protecting the best interest of depositors.”

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