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Ex-Leader of Panama Linked to Visa Sales

Saturday, November 27, 1999; Page A22

PANAMA CITY, Nov. 26—Former Panamanian president Ernesto Perez Balladares had his U.S. tourist visa revoked following allegations that linked him to an illegal visa operation, a local newspaper said today.

The daily La Prensa said U.S. authorities canceled Perez Balladares' visa after the former president, whose Democratic Revolutionary Party government left office in August, was linked to the trafficking of visas for Chinese immigrants attempting to enter the United States via Panama.

Accusations of irregular visa transactions have simmered since early August, when Samantha Smith, a Panamanian intelligence official, told the Miami Herald that Perez Balladares had pressured her to authorize visas for 540 Chinese citizens.

Smith, the former head of Panama's National Security Council, said the former president had granted the visas under executive powers, raising speculation about high-level involvement in corrupt visa transactions.

Neither party officials nor the U.S. Embassy in Panama were able to confirm or deny reports that the former president's tourist visa had been withdrawn. "We do not comment on visa issues," embassy spokesman Joao Escodi said.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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