Ex-Panama vice president detained amid corruption probe

AP News
Posted: Jun 04, 2015 5:45 PM

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Former Panamanian Vice President Felipe Virzi has been detained while prosecutors investigate him for alleged corruption in connection with a costly irrigation project that was never completed, officials said.

Virzi, 71, was one of two vice presidents during the 1994-99 government of President Ernesto Perez Balladares and is seen as close to former President Ricardo Martinelli, who himself is being investigated for possible corruption during his 2009-14 government.

Virzi, one of Panama's wealthiest men, is the latest high-profile figure in the Central American country to get caught up in the anti-corruption campaign by current President Juan Carlos Varela.

The case against Virzi is related to an alleged $10.2 million payment he received from an Ecuadorian company after it won a $37.4 million contract in 2012 to build an irrigation project in central Panama.

The project was never carried out. Prosecutors allege that Virzi, who was no longer vice president at the time, distributed some of the money to businessmen and political allies of the president.

Virzi rejects the accusations against him.

He was detained late Wednesday night on corruption and money laundering charges after 10 hours of questioning. On Thursday, his lawyer, Jose Maria Castillo, questioned the decision because of his client's age.

Driven by a steady flow of media leaks and confessions by former officials, prosecutors have opened corruption investigations against more than 12 Martinelli aides and allies. Several have already been jailed and Martinelli himself has fled the country while the Supreme Court weighs lifting his immunity from prosecution.