Former Panamanian Vice President Felipe Virzi has been detained as part of the country’s continuing probe into government corruption.
Investigators accuse Viriz of taking a multimillion-dollar payment from an Ecuadorian company in 2012 in relation to a contract to build an irrigation project in central Panama. The project was never carried out, but it is alleged Viriz handed some of his payment to allies of then-President Ricardo Martinelli. Viriz denies the allegations.
Viriz served as vice president from 1994 to 1999. He is a former business partner of Martinelli, who served as president from 2009 to 2014.
Viriz’s lawyer questioned the detainment, which followed 10 hours of questioning, on account of his client’s age. Viriz is 71 years old.
Viriz is only the latest casualty in Panama’s ongoing investigation into corruption of past and present government officials.
Meanwhile, Martinelli’s own problems with the corruption investigation continue to grow. Panama’s Supreme Court has officially launched an investigation into illegal wiretaps conducted during Martinelli’s administration.
The allegations claim that more than 150 political opponents, judges, businesspeople, NGOs, and journalists were spied on by Martinelli’s administration using equipment snuck into the country via PAN. Leaked documents show that U.S. authorities denied assisting Martinelli, noting that his targets seemed to be chosen at a whim, with little attention given to whether they were legitimate security threats or not.
Among many other allegations, Martinelli is also accused of misappropriating funds from Panama’s welfare agency
Martinelli has responded that the arrests allegations against his administration amount to “political persecution” against him. He has been outside of Panama since January, after the Supreme Court announced it would open a formal investigation into corruption during his administration. After stopping in Guatemala, Canada, Ireland, and Italy, it is speculated that Martinelli is now in Miami.
In early May, officials arrested former Panamanian Finance Minister Frank de Lima, who served under Martinelli.
Other top Martinelli allies are under investigation, including business executives, a former Supreme Court judge, and his own brother.