34 other people will also be tried, including five former ministers, and two sons of Martinelli imprisoned in the United States for this case
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Former Panamanian presidents Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela (Reuters)
A court in Panama ordered the trial of former presidents Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela for alleged money laundering of bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, according to a court document released this Tuesday.
Judge Baloisa Marquínez “opens a criminal case” for a crime “against the economic order in the form of money laundering” against Martinelli (2009-2014) and Varela (2014-2019), according to the summons to trial.
In addition to the two former presidents, 34 other people will also be tried, including five former ministers, and two sons of Martinelli imprisoned in the United States for this case.
Judge Marquínez also provisionally dismissed eleven other people for this scandal.
“It is certainly a historic event. We have had cases of wanted presidents, but only for political issues, now we are talking about money laundering, which is a totally different issue,” lawyer Carlos Barsallo, a member of the NGO Transparency International.
The Panamanian justice had informed on Monday that 36 people would be brought to trial for this cause, but did not give names or details.
Stock image. Ricardo (middle) and Luis Enrique (far left), sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, speak with their lawyer after being detained to face extradition to the United States on money laundering charges, in Guatemala City, Guatemala. July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria/File Photo
The court set the trial dates from August 1 to 18, 2023.
Martinelli and Varela, according to the accusations, received money from Odebrecht through shell companies and foreign accounts during their mandates.
In 2016, the construction company pleaded guilty in a US court to having distributed more than 788 million dollars in bribes to government officials, officials and political parties, mainly in Latin America.
In Panama, the company acknowledged having paid 59 million dollars in bribes in exchange for the award of contracts for the construction of public works.
Two sons of Martinelli, Ricardo and Luis Enrique Martinelli, are jailed in the United States after pleading guilty to receiving $28 million in commissions from Odebrecht while their father was president of Panama.
Candidate in 2024?
During a hearing held in September, the prosecution accused Martinelli, 70, of having “full knowledge of the provenance of the money it was receiving” from Odebrecht.
However, the former president and owner of a supermarket chain has stated that he never received “any ill-gotten real” and that it was all a “political circus” to prevent him from running for president again in the 2024 elections.
Lawyer Barsallo said that since this trial will surely take years, Martinelli could run in the May 2024 elections. “It is impossible to have a definitive result before the elections,” he said.
In Panama, Odebrecht built the two metro lines in the metropolitan area, the expansion of the Tocumen International Airport and several sections of the capital's seafront promenade, among other million-dollar projects.
But the The prosecution assures that in some of these works “there were cost overruns” during the Martinelli government.
The former president of Panama Juan Carlos Varela. EFE/Welcome Velasco/Archive
The prosecution also accuses Varela of receiving bribes from the Brazilian construction company. According to the accusations, the Panameñista Party (right) would have received, under the leadership of Varela, 10 million dollars for electoral campaigns.
Varela, producer businessman de rum, 58, acknowledged receiving money from Odebrecht to finance his 2009 election campaign, but not while he was president of the country.
However, the prosecution assures that Varela also received payments “when he already held the position of constitutional president of Panama” and when he was vice president, at a time when Odebrecht benefited from the award of million-dollar public works contracts.
< h2 class="header">From allies to enemies
The Martinelli-Varela formula swept the 2009 elections with a harsh discourse against corruption. However, both became political enemies in 2011, after Martinelli dismissed Varela as foreign minister.
After his departure from power, Martinelli has been investigated for multiple scandals of corruption, although in 2021 he was acquitted for the second time in a trial for espionage and embezzlement of public funds.
He is also being investigated for the alleged purchase of a publishing group with public money during his government.
(With information from AFP)