Panama's ex-president Martinelli receives 10-year prison sentence

A Panamanian court sentenced former President Ricardo Martinelli to more than ten years in prison for money laundering, the attorney general's office said on Tuesday.
FILE PHOTO: Panama's former president Ricardo Martinelli (C) stands outside the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) in Guatemala City January 29, 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Panama's former president Ricardo Martinelli (C) stands outside the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) in Guatemala City January 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

By Elida Moreno

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) -A Panamanian court sentenced former President Ricardo Martinelli to more than 10 years in prison for money laundering, the attorney general's office said on Tuesday, threatening the front-runner's bid for a new term next year.

Martinelli stated his innocence following the decision in the case, known as "New Business," which alleges public funds were used to buy a media conglomerate and give the ex-president a majority stake.

"We all know they want to convict me out of political interest," Martinelli said in a video. "I have no ties to illicit funds."

Four others were also sentenced on Tuesday for their involvement in the scheme, according to a statement from the attorney general's office. Martinelli was ordered to pay a $19.2 million fine in addition to serving 128 months in prison.

The former president's defense will appeal the sentence and exhaust all the legal avenues available, Martinelli's lawyer Carlos Carrillo said in a news conference.

"Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal's candidacy is solid," Carrillo said, noting he is still eligible to run for the presidency since there is time to challenge the sentence.

The former president also faces money laundering charges for his alleged involvement in the Odebrecht case, a massive bribery scandal involving public officials across Latin America.

Two of his sons returned to Panama earlier this year after facing prison time in Guatemala and the U.S. for money laundering in a case linked to Odebrecht.

A survey published in May by polling firm Campaigns & Elections Mexico put Martinelli as the front-runner in the coming elections, followed by former President Martin Torrijos.

Martinelli became the first official candidate for Panama's 2024 presidential election last month after he was elected by the party Realizando Metas, a group he founded two years ago.

The United States barred Martinelli from entering the country in January, accusing him of accepting bribes in return for improperly awarding government contracts during his 2009-2014 administration.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Valentine Hilaire and Kylie Madry; Editing by Richard Chang and Stephen Coates)

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