Latin America & Caribbean

Panama ex-leader Ricardo Martinelli faces corruption probe

Ricardo Martinelli speaks during an interview in Guatemala City on 28 January, 2015. Image copyright AP
Image caption Ricardo Martinelli said the allegations were part of a political vendetta against him

The Supreme Court in Panama has voted in favour of investigating former President Ricardo Martinelli over corruption allegations.

The court said it would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate claims that Mr Martinelli had inflated multi-million dollar contracts during his time in office from 2009 to 2014.

Mr Martinelli denies the allegations.

His successor in office, Juan Carlos Varela, campaigned on a promise to clean up Panamanian politics.

'Pressure'

The Supreme Court made the decision on Wednesday after a former government official accused Mr Martinelli of pressuring him to sign "anomalous" contracts worth $45m (£30m).

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Juan Carlos Varela pledged to combat corruption during his time in office

The former official, Giacomo Tamburelli, ran a government social programme and is himself under investigation for alleged corruption.

The probe centres on accusations that the government paid highly inflated prices for dried food it handed out to students as part of its social programme.

Mr Martinelli, a wealthy supermarket tycoon, said the allegations were part of a political vendetta against him by President Varela.

Mr Varela has in the past accused Mr Martinelli of taking kickbacks, but this is the first time the former leader faces a formal investigation.

Mr Martinelli travelled to Guatemala on Wednesday to attend a session of the Central American parliament, a regional political body with headquarters in Guatemala City.

The former leader did not say whether he would return to Panama.

"I will make that decision in the future, but I am not going to go for a trial arranged by Mr Varela," he said.

During his presidential campaign, Mr Varela, a former Martinelli ally turned bitter rival, said he would root out widespread corruption within Panama's political system.

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