Panama’s Former President is Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

( – On July 18 Panamanian authorities sentenced former Panama President Ricardo Martinelli to 10 years and eight months in prison for money laundering. The center-right leader was trying to make a political comeback in the Caribbean nation’s 2024 elections but was sentenced after a case related to the purchase of a media company.

This purchase, which is known in Panama as “New Business,” started in 2017 and immediately became a scandal as Martinelli was going to own most national newspapers. Local prosecutors claimed that companies that won lucrative government contracts during his administration funneled millions of dollars to a front company. This one was eventually used to buy the media company, which political analysts in Panama said would have allowed Martinelli to “control public opinion.”

Apparently, the transactions made to the front company involved numerous foreign money transfers, which totaled $43 million.  This front company was named “New Business,” which became the name that Panama’s mainstream media used to call Martinelli’s corruption case.

In closing statements at a June trial in Panama City, prosecutor Ermeldo Marquez requested the maximum 12 years sentence against the former president. However, Martinelli’s lawyers said this would be “totally unjustified” as they claim their client didn’t commit any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Martinelli’s closest political allies claimed that, since the case started, he was the victim of political persecution. They’ve been arguing that the “end game” is to prevent the “return” of Martinelli, which had strong popularity among Panamanian voters, according to different polls.

The former president, who was a supermarket magnate and one of the wealthiest men in Panama, governed the country from 2009 to 2014. His administration was full of controversies, as many reports claimed that corruption in the nation skyrocketed during his period in the presidency.

Martinelli was elected by his party Realizando Metas as the presidential candidate for the May 2024 local elections. This party was created by some of the most radical members of Martinelli’s first political party Cambio Democratico.

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