Panama prosecutor to charge ex-president with political espionage

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 14, 2015 9:15 PM

By Elida Moreno

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - A special Panamanian prosecutor is planning to charge former President Ricardo Martinelli with running an illegal political espionage ring during his administration using public funds, according to an indictment seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Prosecutors say that Martinelli, 63, used taxpayer money and government employees to listen to calls, read messages and have activists, politicians, union members, lawyers, doctors and other civil groups followed.

The political espionage was "a constant and systematic violation of the privacy and human rights of Panamanians," said Harry Diaz, the magistrate who is prosecuting Martinelli because he is a current member of the Central American Parliament.

Defense lawyer Rogelio Cruz said Martinelli was innocent of all charges, describing the indictment as "crazy" and calling the process against him "Kafkaesque."

"He's a man who cannot defend himself even with a thousand lawyers," Cruz said.

The indictment seeks up to 21 years of jail time for the former president.

Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon who was president from 2009 to 2014, has four other cases against him at the country's supreme court, including misuse of public funds, financial crimes, taking bribes and giving illegal pardons.

Martinelli has not been seen publicly in Panama since he left for an event in Guatemala in January. Local media say he is currently living in Miami.

(Writing by Christine Murray; Editing by Leslie Adler)