Panama’s foreign ministry has formally requested that the United States extradite the country’s former President Ricardo Martinelli, a move that raises questions about the Central American nation’s ability to successfully prosecute the former leader on a variety of charges.
On September 27, Panama’s Foreign Ministry submitted a request to the US State Department seeking Martinelli’s extradition. The Supreme Court had asked the ministry to approve the extradition request in May.
Martinelli is facing a number of corruption charges in Panama, including accusations that he ordered illegal wiretaps of more than 150 people, including political opponents, while he served as president from 2009 to 2014.
The former president fled to the United States in January 2015, after the Supreme Court began investigating him for corruption. The court announced the allegations related to his suspected involvement in illegal spying in June 2015.
The US embassy in Panama did not respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press regarding the extradition request.
InSight Crime Analysis
Martinelli is hardly the only former Latin American president accused of misdeeds stemming from his time in office. Similar charges have been levied against other ex-leaders of Central American countries, including three former presidents in El Salvador accused of various corruption schemes and a former president of Guatemala accused of running a “criminal mafia structure.”
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However, as demonstrated by Martinelli’s case, successfully prosecuting Latin American elites accused of corruption has often proven difficult. Powerful figures like the former president tend to have substantial financial resources at their disposal and they often continue to wield significant political influence in their countries, even after leaving office. In some cases, they are even able to rely on political immunity codified into law.
Panamanian authorities have worked for many months to overcome various obstacles to bringing Martinelli back to the country to face the charges against him. His successful prosecution in Panama would send a strong message about the country’s commitment and ability to tackle government corruption at the highest levels.
But Martinelli may also be wanted on criminal charges that fall under US jursidiction. Thus, the former president’s future appears to depend largely on the uncertain question of how the United States intends to handle the request for his extradition.