Panama’s ex-president Martinelli arrested in Florida

Ricardo Martinelli detained on extradition warrant from Panama, where he is accused of political espionage and graft.

Ricardo Martinelli
Martinelli denies wrongdoing and has accused his successor of persecution [File:Reuters]

Former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli has been arrested in Florida on an extradition warrant from his country, where he is accused of political espionage and corruption, the US Marshal Services said.

Martinelli, 65, was taken into custody near his home in Coral Gables, Florida, according to Manny Puri, a spokesman for the agency.

The former president was transported to a federal detention centre in Miami and was expected to appear before a judge for an extradition hearing on Tuesday.

Panama’s government had requested Martinelli’s extradition last September to face accusations that he spied illegally on his political rivals and intercepted the telephone calls of more than 100 people, including politicians, business and labour leaders, and critical journalists, during his 2009-14 term as president.

Interpol also issued a notice for Martinelli’s arrest last month.

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In Panama, lawyers on Martinelli’s defence team said the extradition process would proceed normally.

“The defence for ex-president Martinelli is going to exercise all the rights and guarantees offered under the rule of law,” said lawyer Carlos Carrillo. “It is totally false that a request for political asylum was denied.”

Martinelli has denied wrongdoing and contends that the case is political persecution by his successor, Juan Carlos Varela.

Varela served as Martinelli’s vice president but they have sparred bitterly since the transfer of power.

Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon, presided over an infrastructure boom and Latin America’s fastest economic growth in recent years, but his administration was tainted by allegations of corruption.

Graft charges have been brought against the former president in Panama, but the cases have stalled in the courts.

In February, prosecutors in Panama said they were seeking international help in detaining two of Martinelli’s sons in relation to an alleged scheme to launder bribes from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

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Source: News Agencies