Convict Panama ex-president in criminal graft case

Panama’s public prosecutor asked a court Thursday to make an example of ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, who is accused of spying on political foes, and of graft.

Prosecutor Ricaurte Gonzalez said a 21-year sentence would be justified due to Martinelli’s rank when the alleged offenses took place.

Martinelli, 67, is accused spying on political enemies, and of helping embezzle $45 million from a government school lunch program.

It’s the first time a Panamanian ex-president is being tried in criminal court.

The supermarket tycoon was president from 2009-14 but fled to Miami in 2015 to avoid arrest.

He was extradited from the United States in June 2018 and held for a year in pre-trial detention before he was released to house arrest two months ago.

“The time has come to change history,” Gonzalez insisted as the trial wound down.

Yet one of Martinelli’s lawyers, Carlos Carrillo, told AFP he expected the former president to be acquitted.

Martinelli denies the accusations, claiming he is a victim of “political persecution” by the government of his successor Juan Carlos Varela, a former political ally.

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