Former Panamanian president ordered to remain in U.S. custody

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 13, 2017 3:20 PM

MIAMI (Reuters) - Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, wanted by the Central American country on political espionage charges, will remain in U.S. custody until a June 20 bond hearing in a federal court in Miami, a judge ordered on Tuesday.

Martinelli was arrested outside Miami late on Monday and made his first court appearance on Tuesday. His lawyer, Marcos Jimenez, called the case "politically motivated."

The former Panamanian leader is accused of using public money to spy illegally on more than 150 political rivals during his 2009-2014 term as president.

He has denied any wrongdoing and said on Twitter last month that his successor, Juan Carlos Varela, was going after him to divert attention from his own problems.

“This is a politically motivated proceeding, instigated by his political opponent, the current president of Panama,” Jimenez said in court, noting his client recently announced plans to run for the office again.

Panama's Supreme Court issued a warrant for Martinelli's arrest in December 2015 after he failed to appear at a Panamanian court hearing on his case, and the country requested Martinelli's extradition last September.

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Jimenez said Martinelli had filed an asylum petition in the United States and had a hearing in March.

“He’s not in hiding,” the defense lawyer said. “He has assets here. He has family here. He has a home here, and the government knows where he is.”

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Paul Simao and Tom Brown)