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Former President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama was taken into custody by United States officials on Monday night in his home, near Miami. This raises the issue that Martinelli may face charges of corruption and illegal spying, thus being sent back to Panama. The Marshal Service says that Martinelli will be facing a federal magistrate for an extradition hearing today, Tuesday, June 13. Since leaving Panama in 2015, he has been living in Coral Gables, Florida.
Martinelli’s office stated that the former president has requested political asylum in the U.S. The office’s statement says, “The United States is a democracy where laws and the rights of citizens are respected.”
The Panamanian government sent a request to the United States in September for the Martinelli to be extradited. Officials have said that his home in Coral Gables was under watch for two weeks.
Azam Ahmed of The New York Times writes, “In addition to being sought in the spying case, Mr. Martinelli is also embroiled in a bribery scandal related to the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, a sprawling investigation that has ensnared prominent politicians across Latin America.” Being president from 2009 to 2014, Martinelli was accused of using public funds to spy on 150 fellow Panamanians—these 150 included politicians, union activists, and even doctors. As a result, an investigation was held in late 2015 and Martinelli was consequently arrested.
But, days before Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice had confirmed an arrest warrant, Martinelli fled the country for the United States, responding to charges against him by calling them “baseless” and “part of a political vendetta by Mr. Varela, his former vice president.”
Earlier in June, Martinelli wrote, “They wanted to blame everything on me and my family. When we divulge, we’ll divulge the whole truth and in addition to surprises, there will be many people surprised.” United States officials say that during Martinelli’s term, well-connected individuals received $59 million in bribes from Odebrecht throughout Panama.
Martinelli, a financial and political tycoon, overlooked the development of society and infrastructure in Panama. As a nation that had been known for its finance and offshore banking, its reputation was tainted by the release of the Panama Papers. The Panama Paper outlined the overuse of offshore accounts to hide the wealth of the upper-class.