Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 15:52 UK

Trail of mistakes leads to Panama

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News

John and Anne Darwin have been sent to prison after the failure of their elaborate attempt to commit fraud.

Photo of John and Anne Darwin published on the Move to Panama website
This picture, taken in 2006, appeared on the internet

For the Darwins, Panama was a country in which to grow old and to grow rich.

But the couple made mistakes as soon as they arrived.

The now infamous photo of them in the Panama City office of their legal and property adviser Mario Vilar was posted on the company's website, available for all to see.

It was taken some 18 months before Darwin reappeared in public, at a time when he was supposed to be dead.

Mr Vilar was their Panamanian liaison, on hand to introduce them to the country and help answer their questions about tax, accommodation and health cover.

'Deceived us'

The couple had contacted him, seeking help in their move to Panama. A series of e-mails left a trail for the police to follow.

In one e-mail, dated 27 June 2006, Darwin uses the name "John Jones" and it is signed "regards John and Anne".

His wife had been brought into the plan. The deception had begun.

E-mail to a Panama property advisor from John Jones aka John Darwin
The Darwins were sloppy and left a trail of evidence

"We never knew," said Mr Vilar. "They were such a nice couple. Easygoing. Friendly. We had no idea. It came as such a shock."

Karina, his wife and fellow director, is more blunt.

"They deceived us," she said. "Everything was a lie."

But it was just the beginning of the deception and the spending.

The Darwins' next step was to buy their own top-floor apartment in a Panama City block, reportedly for about 38,000.

Ceramic chicken

Pictures obtained by the BBC show an ordinary flat.

There is a painting resting on one floor. In another room a fax machine sits on a desk. The kitchen, with its wooden units, looks undisturbed. A yellow ceramic chicken sits on one surface.

Elsewhere, a pair of sports shoes lie on a floor.

The Darwins' kitchen in their Panama apartment
Their flat in Panama City cost an estimated 38,000

Outside, there is a terrace overlooking Panama City.

And then there are the surrounding wall sculptures. At least five clay faces of the sun. Art in an imitation life.

In the underground garage sits the Darwins' brand new Toyota 4x4.

Orlando Amores, the building's long-serving porter, said it was worth an estimated 20,000.

But since they were last here it has been gathering dust.

It was John Darwin who Orlando met first in April last year.

Canoe resort

"Are you sure it was as long ago as that," I asked.

"Yes," replied Orlando. "I remember it well, as he was a foreigner.

"I thought he was Swiss at first. He couldn't speak much Spanish, but we would talk when he emptied his dustbins. He was very normal."

A new apartment, new car and new life.

The Darwins' had started their Panamanian spending spree - but there would be more. Much more.

John Darwin's shoes at the apartment in Panama
Dead man walking - a pair of shoes found at the Darwins' Panama flat

They headed north, past the country's famous canal to the province of Colon, a place where they were to make their biggest purchase of all.

They went to buy a farm in Escobal. It is not a typical farm. Think dense jungle, not ploughed fields.

The exact plans they had for the land are the subject of debate.

Almost certainly they wanted to create a tourist eco-park but it has also been reported that they wanted to open a canoe holiday centre.

For a man who faked his own death in a canoeing accident, it is an ironic addition to an already rich tale of subterfuge.

The BBC later saw the purchase document for the farm and documents from the company they used to buy it.

The company is called Jaguar Properties and Anne Darwin signs herself as president.

The sale note shows that Jaguar paid nearly $400,000 (200,000) for the 500-acre farm.

John Darwin at farm in Panama
This never before seen photo shows Darwin scouting for land in Panama

But, as before, they let their guard down.

A new picture shows Darwin at the farm. It was taken in the summer of last year, six months before the world knew he was still alive.

Manuel Bosques, from the local municipality, said the eco-park scheme was going to be a vital economic boost to the poor area of Panama.

"This project could have helped more than 20 families, maybe 100 people," he said.

"It is very disappointing there is now no project here because there would have been a lot of work for people."

Real people have paid a price for the Darwins' actions.

And now the couple's dream of the tax haven they hoped would become their safe haven, has ended.

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