A former National Liberation Party presidential candidate and current campaign manager of San José Mayor Johnny Araya, Antonio Álvarez Desanti, denied on Monday that he had acquired more than 600 hectares of protected land in Panama in an irregular deal.
Panama’s daily La Prensa reported Monday that more than 2,000 hectares of protected land owned by indigenous Ngäbe Buglé people were sold in “suspiciously fast” transactions.
Desanti, a Liberation candidate for lawmaker in upcoming 2014 elections, allegedly bought 685 hectares in which he plans to invest some $40 million, according to La Prensa, which added that the properties were first acquired by Panamanian lawyers Elvisilda Martínez and her husband, Francisco Castillo, at costs as low as three cents per square meter. They then allegedly sold and registered the land in record time.
Ngäbe people in the area told the newspaper they were tricked into signing documents that listed them as investors in development projects. The documents they actually signed were for sale of the land.
Many local residents said they spent several years unsuccessfully trying to obtain property titles for the land, yet the lawyers managed to do it in record time and at extremely low price, turning a profit of millions of dollars.
The 685 hectares in question are owned by a corporation called Desarrollo Ecoturístico Cañaveral, chaired by Antonio Álvarez Desanti and his wife, Nuria Marín.
The Ngäbe Buglé region is a protected area for its high biological value, as it has a rich biodiversity of plants and animals, including various endangered species.