A Panamanian charged with keeping proper financial records for a Spanish government agency did just the opposite. He robbed it of millions of dollars, using the money to lead a lavish and gambling lifestyle.
Omar Guevara Barrios had a respectable job. He worked as an accountant for the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID, for its Spanish acronym), an entity that oversees Spain’s international development policies. The AECID maintains an office in Guevara’s home country of Panama, where he helped manage the books.
It wasn’t enough, however. El Independiente reports that Guevara took from his employer for years before Spain realized what was going on. Guevara is now on trial for his crimes, but the case is far from over.
False Life of Luxury
A report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (MAEUEC, for its Spanish acronym) reveals that Guevara appropriated €5 million (US$5.56 million) from the AECID. He spent much of the money in CIRSA-owned casinos in Panama.
Guevara’s exploits are described in a dossier prepared on May 22, 2020, by the Directorate of the Division of Control and Improvement of Management. That information was then delivered to the Court of Auditors 17 days later. The accounting procedure was carried out in Spain while the Panamanian Prosecutor’s Office investigates the facts from the criminal side.
The alarms went off in the technical cooperation office of the AECID in Panama in mid-February 2020, after Guevara, hired as an accounting administrator since 1992, stopped going to his job without explanation. The investigation revealed that for years he had been stealing funds irregularly.
This led the Metropolitan Prosecutor’s Office of Primary Care of Panama to issue an arrest warrant in April 2020. The office accused him of “crimes against economic assets in the form of theft with breach of trust.”
Guevara, however, never received the warrant. To this day, his whereabouts remain unknown.
The modus operandi deployed by Guevara Barrios consisted of forging the signature of the general coordinator of Spanish cooperation in Panama on checks drawn on three bank accounts that the AECID has in two Panamanian banks.
The concealment of the bank statements made it difficult for anyone to notice something was wrong. It also allowed the fraudulent practices to last for at least 13 years. At least from 2007, Guevara was dipping into the accounts.
Following the Money Trail
The appropriation began with the issuance of a stub signed by the accountant and the falsified rubric of the general coordinator. Guevara did not present the checks directly to the bank to avoid having to constantly go to the financial institution, but endorsed them.
The majority of the checks were endorsed to Gaming and Services. This is a subsidiary through which the Spanish multinational CIRSA operates casinos, bingos and slot machine rooms in Panama. One of the places he frequented was Fantastic Casino CC Dorado, located in the center of Panama City.
The investigation revealed that, in just one of the three affected accounts, the Gaming and Services department was Guevara’s regular target. From a branch of financial institution BAC Credomatic, he diverted funds of at least €1.27 (US$1.39 million). The bank assumed that the money was going to Gaming and Services . This represents almost 40% of the €3.26 million (US$3.58 million) he stole from that account alone.
The investigation, which is still active today, discovered that Guevara successfully forged at least 1,500 checks in 2019. The issuance of vouchers, their endorsement and subsequent negotiation with the bank was the “usual method.” However, both exit and income movements “of unknown origin” or between bank accounts have also been detected.
Potable Water Uncovers the Scam
In order not to arouse suspicion, Guevara also falsified the statistics of the bank accounts so that the theoretical balance appeared and didn’t show any abnormal transactions. However, his theft came to an end thanks to potable water.
The Directorate of the Subsector of Drinking Water and Sanitary Sewerage (DISAPAS, for its Spanish acronym) is the local entity executing the “Drinking Water and Sanitation Program in Rural and Indigenous Areas of Panama.” In 2020, after it didn’t receive a $1-million transfer it was expecting, it notified AECID. A call to the bank discovered that the account held less than $2,000. After that, multiple alarms went off.
It’s now time to figure out how to resolve the issue. Guevara is guilty of embezzlement, but Spanish authorities believe others should fall, as well. AECID might go after Games and Services, the external Panamanian accountant meant to confirm the books and possibly the banks.
The Panamanian Police are still searching for Guevara and the Panamanian Prosecutor’s Office continues with the investigation in order to clarify the facts. A judge granted a request in a hearing held two weeks ago to authorize an extension of the investigation. It will now run until at least October, maybe longer.
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