Panama has finally put its former president, Ricardo Martinelli, on trial, years after he was first accused of corruption and money laundering.
Martinelli, who was president from 2009 to 2014, has denied the charges, claiming to be a victim of a political witch hunt.
Martinelli is being charged for taking (along with several associates of his) US$43 million in bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. He’s also accused of buying a majority stake in a media company to further his political interests.
The trial is expected to last several months. If convicted, Martinelli could face a lengthy prison sentence.
The international community will keep a close eye on the process. Martinelli’s trial is seen as a test for the country’s judiciary and a chance for Panama’s authorities to show that they are serious about fighting corruption.
Martinelli fled to the US in 2016, after Odebrecht pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn court to paying US$59 million in bribes in Panama in exchange for public works contracts.
Allegations of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering led to Martinelli’s detention in Miami in May 2017.
He was ordered to return to Panama to stand trial, only to be released on bail in November 2017. He fled Panama again in January 2018 and remained exiled until his extradition in June 2022.