Former Panama President Martinelli not guilty of corruption

Ricardo Martinelli leaves court after being cleared of corruption charges, Panama City, 9 August 2019Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Mr Martinelli was surrounded by spporters as he left the court a free man

Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, has been acquitted of corruption and illegal wiretapping.

Prosecutors had accused Mr Martinelli of using public funds to record private conversations in order to intimidate rival politicians while in office.

Mr Martinelli, who was president from 2009-2014, was extradited last year from the United States to stand trial.

After being found not guilty, he celebrated with supporters outside the court in Panama City.

Mr Martinelli, 67, who had always denied any wrongdoing, said the whole trial had been a farce orchestrated by his opponents.

He had been accused of spying on about 150 politicians, trade union leaders and journalists.

Among the alleged victims of the wiretaps were high-ranking members of the opposition Revolutionary Democratic Party, as well as lawmaker Jose Luis Varela, the brother of Juan Carlos Varela who succeeded Mr Martinelli as president in 2014.

In 2015, Panama's Supreme Court ordered Mr Martinelli's arrest and he flew to the US just days before the court launched a corruption investigation against him.

Mr Martinelli was detained and taken into US federal custody near his home in Coral Gables, Florida, in June 2017 after Panama issued an extradition request.

He applied for political asylum, saying the allegations against him were part of a political vendetta, and his legal team launched a series of appeals against the extradition. But the US approved it in June 2018.

General Noriega died in May last year, aged 83, after serving time in prison in the US and Panama for drug-trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.