Panama Looks To Recover Money Stolen By Martinelli Administration

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In an interview with La Prensa, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said that his government is looking to recover money stolen by Martinelli and his former administration, which he claims to be at least US$100 million.

In the case of inflated purchase prices paid by the national welfare agency, PAN, for dehydrated food from the company Lerkshore International Limited, Varela claimed that the injury to the state is about US$30 million. Varela also stated that PAN’s former director, now in jail, has US$40 million of the funds in his personal bank account.

Another case involves an estimated US$22 million in damages from the private collection company Cobranzas del Istmo. That company was charged with collecting US$22 million from the state-run Tocumen International Airport. The president did not know who the owners of that company were, saying that it is the job of prosecutors to find out.

Another case involves US$2 million in misappropriated funds that the government recovered from a canceled business deal.

Aside from stealing money, Martinelli is also accused of engaging in some shady surveillance matters. Earlier this year, Panama’s attorney general announced it would look into allegations of illegal spying conducted by 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.

Martinelli made an appearance at a meeting of his political party, Cambio Democratico, via video call in late April. 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.

President Varela served as vice-president for part of Martinelli’s administration before denouncing the then-president for corruption. He then was elected to office in 2014 on a platform that largely focused on eradicating government corruption. Varela beat Martinelli’s Cambio Democratic Party ticket, which included Martinelli’s wife as vice-president. (A constitutional one-term limit, which Martinelli attempted to change, barred him from running again.)

Martinelli has stated via Twitter, “When legal conditions [are met], I would go back, when I can defend myself. But I’m not going back to be executed … no.” In regard to returning to Panama, he said, “I will make that decision in the future, but I am not going to go for a trial arranged by Mr. Varela.”

Meanwhile, Monday, May 11, the Supreme Court will hold a hearing requested by Martinelli’s lawyer, who claims that the former president cannot be investigated because he holds immunity as the head of the Cambio Democratico party. Martinelli has also claimed immunity as a member of the Central American Parliament, of which all Central American leaders are seated in after serving their terms as leader of their country.

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