- The ex-president had also been accused of the embezzlement of public funds.
- Martinelli's release a unanimous decision by the three judges on the bench.
- Martinelli says his woes were a a conspiracy of Juan Carlos Varela and Ronaldo López.
A Panama court declared Friday former president Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) “not guilty” of all charges of political espionage and embezzlement of public funds and ordered his immediate release. The country’s chief prosecutors office had accused the former president of the charges and asked the court to jail him for 21 years as punishment.
Martinelli’s release was a unanimous decision of the court constituted by judges Roberto Tejeira, Arleen Caballero and Raúl Vergara. The decision was largely expected by the former president, a 67-year-old billionaire who always maintained his innocence and insisted that he was a victim of a “political persecution” orchestrated by his former ally, former president of Panama Juan Carlos Varela who served from 2014-2019.
“Thanks to my lawyers, justice was done. This was a conspiracy of Juan Carlos Varela and Ronaldo López [the former head of the National Security Council],” said an exalted Martinelli when he was escorted out of court. He left in a hurry as his supporters chanted “Ricardo, friend, the town is with you.” Prosecutors were escorted by a police contingent while Martinelli’s followers shouted “traitors, liars” and kicked the Public Ministry vehicles.
“The trial court considers that Mr. Ricardo Martinelli is not guilty of the crimes accused … and the precautionary measure against him is lifted and his immediate freedom is ordered,” Judge Raul Vergara read out in court. After reading a ruling for more than an hour, the court’s magistrates indicated that the prosecution’s accusation was made “with inaccurate and poorly structured facts.”
“The Public Ministry failed to prove its theory of the case and reasonable doubts arise,” said the court, indicating that “the fundamental principles of due process were violated.” The court acknowledged that there are “indications” that there were “activities outside the law” in the National Security Council, “however, doubts arise that were not resolved by the evidence.”
Martinelli, a charismatic political founder of the Democratic Change (CD) party, one of the most important in the country, has been the first former president of the young democracy of Panama who has been accused of crimes and taken to court. He was charged with four crimes totaling 21 years in prison for the alleged interception of telephone conversations of dozens of opponents, business people, journalists, and social activists. The crimes were: interception of telecommunications without judicial authorization (4 years in prison), monitoring and surveillance without legal approval (4 years), forfeiture by subtraction (10 years) and for use (3 years).
Arguing of political persecution, Martinelli left Panama in January 2015. The US extradited him on June 11, 2018, after he spent a year in federal prison battling his surrender to Panamanian Justice for the case of the eavesdropping. Upon arriving in Panama, he was held in a local minimum-security prison but last June he was imposed with house arrest because the law of that country prohibits the defendants from being imprisoned for more than a year.