Panama’s Ex-President Sentenced to Prison

( – On July 18, the former president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, 71, was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison after being convicted in June of money laundering. He was also fined $19 million.

The case, which was opened in 2017, alleges that during Martinelli’s presidency, companies that had won lucrative government contracts funneled money to a front company called “New Business.” That money, which totaled more than $43 million, was then used to purchase a publishing company that owns national newspapers in 2010.

Prosecutor Emeldo Márquez requested the maximum sentence of 12 years for Martinelli during closing statements of the trial in June. He was ultimately sentenced to 128 months. Besides Martinelli, four others were convicted and sentenced to between 60 and 96 months in prison while 10 others were acquitted.

From 2009-2014, Martinelli was the president of Panama. A populist, he oversaw massive infrastructure projects, including the first metro line in the capital. In June he was elected as the presidential candidate for the party he founded, Realizando Metas, in the election scheduled for May 5. Polling currently shows him as the front-runner in the election.

Martinelli will appeal the sentence according to his attorney, Carlos Carrillo. Carrillo said that his “candidacy is solid,” adding that Martinelli is still eligible to run for the presidency.

Martinelli has stated he did not do anything but is instead the victim of political persecution. He has said the company was purchased with his own funds, which were legally obtained. Martinelli’s spokesman Luis Camacho called it a legal attack on the former president. Martinelli is the first former president in Panama to be convicted of a crime. Later this year, he will go on trial for bribes that were paid by Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant, in order to obtain public works projects in Panama.

In January, Martinelli was barred from entering the United States, which accused him of accepting bribes in return for awarding government contracts improperly.

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