Panama seizes bank after arrest of alleged money launderer


PANAMA CITY (AP) — Authorities took control of Balboa Bank & Trust Corp. and posted police outside its main office in Panama’s capital Thursday after U.S. officials announced the arrest of a businessman who allegedly ran a top worldwide money-laundering organization for drug traffickers.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said Colombian agents arrested Nidal Waked, a prominent Panama-based businessman, the previous day at an airport in Colombia’s capital, Bogota.

Waked and his family own an empire of banking, real estate and retail businesses in Panama.

The U.S. government also announced drug kingpin designations against six of Waked’s Panama-based associates and seven companies, a move that freezes any assets under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits Americans from doing business with them.

The DEA described Waked as “one of the world’s most significant drug money launderers and criminal facilitators.” It said he faces money laundering and bank fraud charges in Florida.

Waked allegedly used a series of Panamanian import-export, retail and real estate businesses to launder drug money. Several of his brothers were also named.

Balboa Bank & Trust was one of the businesses named in the kingpin designation. The country’s banking supervision office said it had taken control of the bank to protect the interests of depositors.

Panamanian prosecutors said they were also opening an investigation.

The Waked family also owns a newspaper, the Estrella de Panama, which published an article on its web page saying that Grupo Wisa, another of the businesses named, was preparing a statement and would cooperate with the investigations.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the correct name is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

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