Ex-Panama president received US$143 million from China over new ties: Varelaleaks

In this file photo, Panama President Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez speaks to the media after a conference on the Panama invest in Hong Kong, Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Panama President Varela says his country sees 'big opportunity' in China's 'belt and road' infrastructure initiative. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Panama faces a new scandal with revelations of the workings of power during the switch of diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 2017, based on the content of an allegedly lost cell phone.

According to Spanish-language media, the content implicates former president Juan Carlos Varela and Jorge Barakat, a former minister of Maritime Affairs and Administrator of the Panama Maritime Authority, during talks regarding an alleged payment or donation from China to Panama when diplomatic relations with Taiwan were severed.

An alleged conversation via WhatsApp, between the then-president Juan Carlos Varela and Jorge Barakat, leaves open the possibility of a multi-million payment offered by the Asian giant.

The alleged sum was considered a “donation” to Panama as part of the beginning of diplomatic relations between the two countries, based on the chats between the two officials.

Jorge Barakat allegedly refers to money that China supposedly donated to Panama. At the same time, he warns the president to deal with the matter with care so that no negative comments arise from the matter given that Taiwan was a diplomatic ally for 20 years.

He suggested not to mention the US$143 million that could give the impression that this was the reward for breaking ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan).

“You have handled everything very well and it is better to wait for the education project to start formally,” Jorge Barakat wrote to Varela in a conversation dating from Nov. 19, 2017. Barakat had no response from Varela.

Panama decided to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan on June 13, 2017. It did so through a letter and in the middle of a view of the Panamanian Foreign Minister to China, Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado.