HomeNewsBriefDid Panama's Former President Run a Criminal Regime?
BRIEF

Did Panama's Former President Run a Criminal Regime?

ELITES AND CRIME / 9 JUN 2015 BY MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

The list of accusations against Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli is growing rapidly, with illegal wiretaps the latest allegation as his political enemies build a case that Martinelli presided over a criminal regime.

On June 8, Panama’s Supreme Court announced it is investigating ex-President Martinelli for “violating secrets and the right to privacy,” as well as for embezzlement, abuse of authority, security breaches, and illicit association.

Martinelli -- Panama's president from 2009 to 2014 -- is suspected of ordering illegal wiretaps against politicians and businesses, including high-ranking members of the opposition Revolutionary Democratic Party and Jose Luis Varela, the brother of current President Juan Carlos Varela, reported the BBC. Panama's Attorney General estimates over 150 people were spied on illegally.

Investigators claim members of Panama’s National Security Council conducted the wiretaps, and two former directors of the agency were arrested in January in connection with the case.

Martinelli -- who left Panama in January and is believed to be living in Miami, Florida -- denies the allegations and claims he is the victim of “political persecution” carried out by a vengeful President Varela.

InSight Crime Analysis

Since taking office, President Varela has overseen a number of probes into Martinelli’s administration. This includes an investigation into Panama’s National Assistance Program (PAN) -- a government welfare program -- which alleges PAN officials and members of Martinelli’s administration artificially inflated contracts and accepted bribes from bidding companies. Dozens of congressmen have come under suspicion, as well as Martinelli’s former private secretary.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Recently, former Vice President Felipe Virzi was also detained for allegedly taking kickbacks from a lucrative contract to build an irrigation system. Additionally, in March, a Supreme Court judge appointed by Martinelli was sentenced to prison after he was found guilty on corruption charges.

The intense rivalry between Martinelli and Varela, however, does raise doubts over the motivations of the investigations and the purity of Varela’s claims he is intent on tackling corruption, especially as Varela himself has previously been linked to money laundering.

Nonetheless, the probes continue to gather steam raising the question as to if Martinelli's administration operated as an essentially criminal regime, with government officials abusing their power to spy on enemies and pilfer money for personal enrichment.

Such a possibility stands in slight contrast to rising expenditures on security under Martinelli and his support in strengthening the police. There is also evidence to suggest Panama’s violence levels were reduced during his tenure. Gangs and the presence of transnational organized criminal groups in Panama, however, continue to pose a serious threat.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 14 MAY 2021

The extradition of a prominent Bolivian drug trafficker to Brazil has shed rare light on how family clans in the…

COCAINE / 3 AUG 2021

An anti-narcotics operation in western Guatemala has shed further light on how families involved in local politics can play a…

COLOMBIA / 13 FEB 2014

The emergence of allegations made by an incarcerated drug baron that he funded the political activities of Colombia's former President…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…