Panama ex-president Martinelli faces key hearing in spying case


A hearing to determine a trial date for former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli for allegedly spying on more than 100 opposition figures during his 2009-2014 tenure began here Monday amid great expectation.

"I'm innocent," Martinelli shouted as he was being escorted by police to a Panamanian Supreme Court courtroom shortly after 10 am.

The 66-year-old business mogul has been held in pretrial detention since his extradition from the United States in June.

He says he is being politically persecuted by Panama's current head of state, Juan Carlos Varela, who had previously served as Martinelli's vice president.

Several of the politicians allegedly spied on by the Martinelli administration were in court for Monday's session, including Balbina Herrera and Mitchell Doens.

They told EFE they were confident that Judge Jeronimo Mejia would agree to admit most of the voluminous evidence amassed by the prosecution to prove the charges.

Doens stressed that once Mejia rules on which evidence is admissible, Martinelli's trial will be taken up before the Supreme Court.

The date for the beginning of the trial will be determined by the court on the basis of "its previous agenda and commitments," since the high court is dealing with multiple cases, Doens, a former Cabinet minister, pointed out.

At the beginning of the hearing, around 10:30 am, Mejia warned that the admission of evidence "is a somewhat lengthy process" and he did not rule out that there might be recesses during the day.

Prosecutor Harry Diaz is asking for 21 years in prison for Martinelli, who left Panama on Jan. 28, 2015, after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the first of several corruption cases against him.

He was detained in the US in June 2017 at Panama's request and ultimately abandoned his legal battle against extradition.

Two of Martinelli's sons are the subjects of Interpol red notices in connection with the bribery scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, a case in which several dozen people face prosecution.

Odebrecht has admitted as part of a settlement with US authorities that it paid $59 million in bribes to Panamanian officials during the Martinelli administration.

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