A federal magistrate judge in Miami will hear arguments Thursday to determine whether former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli can remain in the U.S. or must return to Panama for alleged espionage charges.
Former Panamanian President Martinelli Arrested in Miami
Martinelli — a wealthy businessman who served as president of Panama from 2009 to 2014 — was arrested in Miami last month on an extradition warrant from Panama
He is accused of intercepting and recording the private conversations of political allies and opponents, judges, journalists, businessmen, union activists, and even his mistress, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney General’s office in Miami, which cited Panama’s extradition request.
The money used to pay for the extensive surveillance system, about US$13.4 million, was allocated from a fund that was supposed to “improve the quality of life for underprivileged persons,” the complaint said.
Martinelli denies any wrongdoing and his defense team claims the complaint is the vengeful handiwork of his political rivals. “The charges against (former) President Martinelli are transparently motivated by politics, as evidenced by the fact that he fired the sitting president of the country that is seeking his extradition,” attorney Marcos Jimenez said in a court filing.
He noted that in 2011, Martinelli fired current President Juan Carlos Varela as foreign minister after learning that he was allegedly receiving kickbacks from foreign consulate officers.
Jimenez claimed that as a former Panamanian president he has immunity and should be granted bond. He also argued that Panama’s extradition complaint should be dismissed.
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Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels, who is representing Panama’s extradition request for the former president, countered that the warrant for Martinelli’s arrest in Miami “functions in the Panamanian legal system as the warrant” for the criminal charges, concluding it was valid.
Earlier this month, a U.S. federal judge in Florida denied bond for Martinelli, saying that his significant wealth and foreign connections make him a serious flight risk.
Martinelli, who has lived in the Miami area since 2015 and sought asylum in March, was arrested in June by federal marshals near his US$8 million Coral Gables waterfront home.
Under U.S. extradition law, the magistrate judge would have to find there is a factual and legal basis for Panama’s extradition request. The U.S. Secretary of State would then weigh in on the extradition as a final step.