HomeNewsBriefPanama Ex-President Arrested in US, Could Be Extradited on Graft Charges
BRIEF

Panama Ex-President Arrested in US, Could Be Extradited on Graft Charges

ELITES AND CRIME / 13 JUN 2017 BY MIMI YAGOUB EN

Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli has been arrested in Miami and may now be extradited to face multiple criminal charges in his home country, at time when the future of US-Central America cooperation in fighting impunity remains uncertain.

US Marshals arrested Martinelli near his Miami home on Monday evening, acting on a provisional arrest warrant issued by the US Justice Department, the Miami Herald reported.

The warrant was issued in response to Panama's formal request for Martinelli's extradition in September 2016, on charges that he had illegally spied on more than 150 people during his 2009 to 2014 term as president. Last month, reports emerged that Interpol had issued an arrest notice for Martinelli on espionage charges.

SEE ALSO:  Panama News and Profiles

In addition to the wiretapping charges, Martinelli has been accused of at least six other crimes committed during his presidency, according to La Estrella.

Furthermore, during his term as president, Panamanian elites allegedly received tens of millions of dollars in bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, now at the center of a multinational corruption scandal. This Odebrecht affair has ensnared two of Martinelli's sons, who are also now wanted by Interpol.

The former president has long denied allegations, passing them off as political prosecution and diversion tactics by his former vice president and current head of state Juan Carlos Varela.

Still, Martinelli's proclaimed innocence has been called into question by the fact that he fled Panama just hours before Panama's Supreme Court announced an investigation into his possible involvement in a corrupt welfare scheme.

According to CNN en Español, US authorities suspected Martinelli might escape, and chose to arrest him a day earlier than planned. The former president appeared in court on Tuesday, and hearings on his extradition are set to continue.

Martinelli's spokesperson Luis Eduardo Camacho released a statement by the former president's defense team following his arrest, which affirmed that the former president is facing a "political process."

InSight Crime Analysis

Martinelli's tainted legacy is part of a wave of high-profile corruption cases have swept the Central American isthmus over the past two years, including that of former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, currently on trial along with his former vice president on a host of corruption charges. The past three former Salvadoran presidents have been accused of corruption, with one arrested, and Honduras' last president has been accused of ties with drug traffickers.

These seemingly unending allegations and court actions are both evidence of deeply-embedded corruption in these countries and encouraging signs that the judiciaries in the region are working towards bringing corrupt elites to justice.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Panama's chance at finally prosecuting its former president has been slow in coming, in part due to the safe haven that he -- like many other foreign elites -- enjoyed for several years in South Florida. US authorities have routinely ignored their duty to refuse visas to officials facing criminal charges in their home country, according to a 2016 investigation by the Miami Herald. (Martinelli apparently entered the United States on a visitor's visa before promptly settling into a luxury condominium in Miami.)

While Martinelli's eventual arrest can be seen as a positive illustration of US-Central American collaboration, it comes at a time when US anti-corruption assistance to its Central American neighbors is on shaky ground. InSight Crime previously reported that political operatives are pressuring the Trump administration to continue to support anti-graft efforts in the region. However, the White House has proposed a nearly 30 percent cut to Central American aid funding -- money that experts say these countries need in order to continue improving their justice and security institutions.

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

ELITES AND CRIME / 14 NOV 2016

In this article, Guatemalan activist Helen Mack discusses the potential reorganization of criminal networks within the government, comments on…

ELITES AND CRIME / 9 MAY 2015

Guatemala Vice President Roxana Baldetti has resigned as the fallout from a scandal involving the country's customs agency and Baldetti's…

EL SALVADOR / 7 JAN 2019

As 2018 came to a close, two things became clear: the once impenetrable armor against corruption that the United States…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…