Former Panama president detained over illegal spying

Former Panama president detained over illegal spying

[JURIST] The Panama Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday ordered the detention of multimillionaire businessman and former president Ricardo Martinelli on allegations that the former leader used public money to illegally spy on more than 150 people. Martinelli, who ruled Panama from 2009 to 2014, fled the country in January amid other allegations of impropriety in office, and is believed to be hiding out in Miami. Prosecutors say these most recent allegations stem from the use of public funds and employees to monitor telephone calls and read messages, and have political opponents followed. Martinelli posits that the allegations are part of a “revenge campaign” by current president Juan Carlos Varela [official website, in Spanish].

The Panama Electoral Tribunal in April rescinded [JURIST report] Martinellli’s immunity, which is afforded to all ex-presidents in Panama. The Panama Supreme Court had requested Martinelli’s immunity be lifted after unanimously voting [JURIST report] in January to appoint a special prosecutor and begin the corruption probe. The court sought to investigate Martinelli for suspected crimes against public administration, as the supermarket magnate allegedly inflated contracts worth millions of dollars to purchase food for a government social program. In October Panama officials suspended Alejandro Moncada [JURIST report], a justice of the Supreme Court, over corruption charges and accusations that he profited from his ties with Martinelli. Moncada denied any wrongdoing and also claimed to be a victim of Martinelli’s political foe and successor Varela.