PANAMA CITY – The Panamanian government on Monday took delivery of two top-of-the-line helicopters and one airplane as part of an agreement signed with Italian multinational Finmeccanica almost a year ago ending a lengthy trade dispute.
“We’re working not only to make the state’s finances more healthy but also to recover badly invested funds, via well-negotiated agreements, which permit the Panamanian people to receive in record time important rescue equipment to deal with emergencies and guard our skies and coasts,” said Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.
The president, who delivered the aircraft to the National Air-Naval Service (Senan) at a symbolic ceremony, said that the AW139M choppers include bulletproof shielding and “have the ability for night flight and troop insertion in hostile areas.”
The airplane, meanwhile, is a Twin Otter DHC 6 Series 400 with Canadian navigation technology “that will allow it to get to areas in our country that are difficult to access,” Varela said.
Panama, during the 2009-2014 administration of former President Ricardo Martinelli, in 2010 signed a $250 million security agreement to buy assorted items from Finmeccanica firms, one of Italy’s most important public-private conglomerates.
The accord included the purchase of about 20 radars for $125 million, six helicopters for $100 million and a digital map for $25 million.
Varela, as soon as he had assumed the presidency, in August 2014 suspended the radar contract because it presented “serious deficiencies,” thus sparking a trade dispute that was settled extrajudicially in February 2016.
The pact freed Panama from paying some $42 million and provided the country with a loan of about $95 million to buy any products manufactured by Finmeccanica, Varela confirmed on Monday.
He also said that the accord reached with the Italian conglomerate helped Panama “strengthen its capacity to fulfill its international commitments without damage to the public treasury and recover its status as a reliable contractor, faithful in fulfilling its obligations and responsible before the international community.”
Panama to date has received two airplanes, one ambulance helicopter, two patrol helicopters and eight intercept boats, while in the coming months another Twin Otter aircraft, a Beechcraft King Air light plane and a Damen barge will be delivered to the Central American nation, Varela said.
According to the Italian Attorney General’s Office, former Martinelli government officials and former Finmeccanica executives agreed to the payment of millions in bribes in exchange for the contracts.