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How can you tell if a Panama corporation actually exists?

Research question: How can you verify that a corporation registered in Panama actually exists? There is a thicket of web sites trying to sell you on the idea that you need to register a corporation in Panama because of all the amazing benefits, like "100% confidentiality." And many of these mention the existence of a "Public Registry" of Panama corporations. Trying to parse it all this morning, I was unable to penetrate the thicket to find out just where this Public Registry exists and just what information it contains. (There is plenty of mention of what isn't in it, such as lists of stock holders.)

So. How do I check whether a corporation that claims to be registered in Panama actually is in fact registered there? And can I find out the date on which they came into existence?  If Panama corporations are actually good for anything (like saving you big bucks on corporate taxes), then it should be possible to check these two thing.

Anyone know how?

Also, if you can find out all that, is it possible to distinguish between what's called a "shelf corporation" and an active one, chronologically? If a "shelf corporation" is registered and later activated, is it possible to determine when it became active?