Prosecutors in Panama indicted two of the country’s former presidents on charges of taking bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht in return for lucrative government contracts.
Former Presidents Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela lead Panama’s government between 2009 and 2019.
The prosecution comes five years after the Brazilian construction giant admitted in a US court that it paid millions of dollars in bribes to obtain contracts in several Latin American countries.
Odebrecht carried out several construction projects in Panama, including metro lines, an airport and highways.
The prosecution dealt a devastating blow to the political fortune of Martinelli, who disclosed only a month ago that he would run for the presidency again in 2024.
Martinelli himself is a businessman and was well aware of the payments sent to his foreign accounts and had even set up an entire illegal structure to collect the bribes, prosecutors told the court.
Two of Martinelli’s sons remain imprisoned in the US after pleading guilty to receiving US$28 million from the Brazilian construction firm.
Varela, who ruled Panama from 2014 to 2019, has been accused of receiving US$10 million from Odebrecht, which overbilled the Panamanian government as it had to recoup the brides it paid to the politicians.
The corruption scandal has become a political hot potato in the Central American country. More than 50 politicians face prosecution, including several former ministers.