Former Panamanian President Sent Home to Face Charges

(CN) – The United States extradited former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on Monday so the politician and businessman could face charges of illegal wiretapping and embezzlement.

Former Panama President Ricardo Martinelli (via Wikipedia)

Martinelli, 66, served as Panama’s president from 2009 to 2014. He is widely credited with growing the country’s economy and improving the lot of the poor during his term.

But Panamanian authorities say Martinelli also oversaw an extensive surveillance system that eavesdropped on the cell phones and computers of at least 150 people, including political opponents, business rivals, judges, journalists and diplomats.

Martinelli allegedly used more than $13 million in public funds to pay for surveillance equipment and compensate the “secret services” team that conducted the spying, the extradition affidavit says.

Authorities do not know what happened to the surveillance equipment, the document states.

Martinelli left Panama after a justice on Panama’s highest court issued an arrest warrant for him in December 2015. U.S. marshals arrested him last year near his home in a Miami suburb.

Last year, Martinelli asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to dismiss the charges, claiming Panama issued an arrest warrant for failing to appear in court, which is not an extraditable offense. He later filed a petition for habeas corpus, which was denied earlier this year.

“Our office is committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that justice is appropriately carried out for all parties,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg said in a statement. “Because of Panama’s partnership with the United States, Martinelli has been returned to Panama.”

The former president’s spokesman, Luis Eduardo Camacho, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A photo on his Twitter page shows a smiling Martinelli posing on the plane with a U.S. marshal. The caption states: “On his way to meet his people.”

%d bloggers like this: