Ex-Panama president’s sons charged with bribery, money laundering

US prosecutors charge two sons of former President Ricardo Martinelli after they were arrested in Guatemala on Monday.

Martinelli sons
Ricardo, second left, and Luis Enrique - sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli - are seen with their lawyers and a police officer after being detained in Guatemala City on Monday [Luis Echeverria/Reuters]

US prosecutors have charged two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli in connection with bribery and money laundering linked to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, according to a federal complaint unsealed on Monday.

Luis Enrique Martinelli, 38, and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli, 40, were arrested earlier in the day in Guatemala City as they attempted to board a flight to Panama, Guatemala’s police said in a statement. The two men face extradition to the United States.

A Martinelli spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the charges.

But the family said in a statement following the arrest that it was working to ensure the ex-president’s sons have legal assistance in Guatemala and are able to transfer the proceedings to Panama.

Odebrecht has been at the centre of a far-reaching Latin American corruption scandal uncovered in 2014, in which the company paid more than $700m in bribes to government officials in various countries.

The 2014 scandal continues to reverberate across South America and has entangled several public officials, triggering impeachment, arrests and resignations. Odebrecht has admitted it paid $788m in bribes to win construction contracts in 12 countries agreeing to pay a world record $3.5bn fine.

The Department of Justice said in a statement the Martinelli sons are accused of having been intermediaries for the payment of about $28m in bribes from Odebrecht to a high-ranking Panama official between 2009 and 2014, the period in which their father was in office.

The criminal complaint filed in the federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on June 27, described the brothers as “close relatives” of the official, without providing further detail.

The complaint also alleges that the pair managed secret bank accounts under shell company names to facilitate payment of the bribes, with many transactions made through US banks.

Former President Martinelli and his successor, Juan Carlos Varela, were last week banned from leaving Panama while under investigation for money laundering in separate corruption cases.

Source: News Agencies