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US designates former Panama President Martinelli for “corruption”

On Wednesday night, while the children of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli arrived in the country deported from the United States after serving a sentence in that nation for money laundering, the US government announced the designation of the former president due to his “participation in significant acts of corruption by accepting bribes in exchange for improperly awarded government contracts during his term.

“The United States is committed to imposing costs on corrupt officials who undermine democracy and the rule of law. Today we announce the designation of former Panamanian President Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal for his involvement in significant corruption,” published US State Department Secretary Antony Blinken.

The designation, which includes members of his immediate family, was announced by Antony Blinken after he ordered the removal of brothers Luis Enrique and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares from US territory and their surrender to Panamanian authorities after serving a sentence for money laundering in the United States, the US Embassy in Panama said.

Panamanian, US designates former Panama President Martinelli for “corruption”
Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli (Photo internet reproduction)

The Martinelli brothers were reportedly escorted from New York to Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport by officers of the US Office of Detention and Removal and handed over to officials of the National Immigration Service.

On May 20, 2022, a US federal court sentenced the Martinelli Linares brothers to 36 months in prison for international bribery and money laundering, after they pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit the crime of money laundering to conceal US$28 million in bribes from Odebrecht to benefit their father, former President Ricardo Martinelli.

“Since the Martinelli brothers have been handed over to Panamanian authorities, it is up to the Panamanian justice system to determine the outcome of the cases against them in Panama,” the US Embassy said.

The public designation of the former Panamanian leader is made, the US government said, under Section 7031(c) of the State Department’s Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2023, which states that officials and former officials of foreign governments about whom the secretary of state has credible information of direct or indirect involvement in acts of significant corruption or gross human rights violations are ineligible to enter the United States, nor are their immediate family members.

“Accepting bribes in exchange for contracts for government projects undermines the integrity of Panama’s democratic institutions and fuels perceptions of corruption and impunity,” the statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“Such acts of public corruption diminish trust in governments and reduce the resources available for schools, hospitals, roads, and other services.”

“These designations reaffirm the United States’ commitment to combating corruption, which harms the public interest, hinders economic prosperity, and reduces the ability of governments to respond effectively to the needs of their people.”

“The United States stands with all Panamanians in support of democracy and the rule of law, and will continue to promote accountability for those who abuse public power for personal gain, regardless of their office or political affiliation,” the US State Department communication added.

Mari Carmen Aponte, US Ambassador to Panama, warned that “this will not be our last appointment in Panama.”

“Curbing corruption globally is a priority for the United States, as corruption directly threatens our national security. I know how concerned Panamanians are about corruption and fighting it is one of our priorities as an embassy because corruption undermines the well-being of the population, the economy, and democracy,” said the diplomat.

On the other hand, the office of former President Martinelli informed that it is “evaluating”, through its political advisors and lawyers, the public statement made by the US to design the corresponding strategies and indicated that there is no evidence linking Ricardo Martinelli to illicit transactions with the State, neither in Panama nor in the United States.

“Nothing and nobody will divert us from the objective” of taking Ricardo Martinelli to the presidency of the Republic, for the second time, the statement said.

The note was updated at 1:14 pm on January 26, after a statement from former President Martinelli’s office to include his position.

With information from Bloomberg

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