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Former Panamanian presidents Martinelli and Varela to be tried in Odebrecht case

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Panama’s former presidents Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) and Juan Carlos Varela (2014-2019), in addition to former ministers and other politicians, make up the list of half a hundred defendants that the Panamanian Public Prosecutor’s Office has asked to call to trial for the Odebrecht bribery case.

The newspaper La Estrella de Panamá published on Wednesday, May 26, an excerpt of the prosecutor’s hearing delivered last April by the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) to the Judiciary. The names of the persons who are requested to be called to trial for this case appear.

Former Panamanian presidents Martinelli and Varela
Former Panamanian presidents Martinelli and Varela. (Photo internet reproduction)

Former president Varela is on that list, charged and banned from leaving the country since July 2020 for alleged money laundering linked to Odebrecht received during the political campaigns of 2009 and 2014.

Ricardo Martinelli, charged and banned from leaving the country since August 2020 for this case, his sons Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, and Importadora Ricarmar S.A., a company related to the former president, the only legal entity charged in this case, are also summoned to trial for the bribes of the Brazilian construction company.

Martinelli’s two sons have been detained in Guatemala for almost 11 months at the request of the U.S., which accuses them of alleged money laundering crimes for their role in the Odebrecht corruption scheme. On Tuesday, the Guatemalan justice system authorized the extradition of Luis Enrique, 38 years old.

The case against the Martinelli brothers was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York, the same court in which Odebrecht was sentenced in 2017 to pay a US$2.6 billion fine after pleading guilty to having paid US$788 million in bribes in a dozen Latin American and African countries intending to award contracts in those nations.

According to the confessions of former Odebrecht executive Andre Rabello to Panama’s Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, Martinelli’s two sons received at least US$55.8 million between 2009 and 2014, which were deposited in accounts in different jurisdictions.


Last April, the Panamanian Prosecutor’s Office informed that it requested the dismissal of the case for 29 people and the call to trial of 50 individuals and one legal entity charged with money laundering in the Odebrecht case, a crime that carries penalties of between 5 and 12 years in prison.

Among those called to trial are three former officials also charged with the crime of “corruption of public servants”, which is punishable by 4 to 8 years in prison, the Public Prosecutor’s Office said at the time in a statement without revealing names.

It said then that “during the course of the investigation, 8 effective collaboration agreements and 11 sentencing agreements with conviction were entered into.”

The Public Prosecutor’s Office and Odebrecht signed an agreement in July 2017 by which the company committed to pay a fine of US$220 million over 12 years, which a Panamanian court validated.

The investigation of the Odebrecht case in Panama concluded in October 2020 with doubts about whether this trial will materialize, given a large number of defendants and the rules established by law for its development.

The Panama chapter of Transparency International (TI) warned that the trial could extend for years, given the number of defendants and their lawyers, which will make the process of notification and holding the preliminary hearing complex. The presence of all defendants is required.

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