Panama ex-president Martinelli facing corruption charges

Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli must face corruption charges just eight months after he was acquitted of spying on political foes, one of his lawyers said on Wednesday.

“They charged him,” his lawyer Ronier Ortiz told reporters outside the public prosecutor’s office in the capital Panama City.

According to local media, Martinelli has been linked to the so-called “New Business” case in which an editorial group was allegedly bought using public money during his 2009-14 term as president.

Martinelli is due to be interviewed by prosecutors on Thursday but his lawyers say he cannot be prosecuted because of a law — the speciality principle — that says a person cannot be tried for a different crime to the one that provoked their extradition.

The former president was extradited from the United States in 2018 — he fled there in 2015 — and held in pre-trial detention to face charges of spying and misappropriation of public funds.

“My summons is not just a violation of my speciality principle, procedural guarantees and my human rights. Above all it is a smokescreen,” Martinelli wrote on Twitter.

He said the summons was designed to detract from another corruption investigation against former president Juan Carlos Varela, his former ally but now political enemy.

Martinelli has been linked with several other corruption scandals and claims he was the victim of political persecution by his successor Varela’s government.

Varela, who left office last year, was questioned on Monday by anti-corruption prosecutors over alleged illegal campaign donations from scandal-ridden Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying $59 million in bribes to Panamanian officials between 2010 and 2014, when Martinelli was in power.

“We’ll fight to the death,” insisted Ortiz, adding that “those managing justice are corrupt and dirty.”

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