The not-guilty verdict issued in Panama on Friday in the trial of former president Ricardo Martinelli shows the extent of the judicial crisis in the country, Transparency International said today, together with its national chapter in Panama, Fundación Libertad Ciudadana. Martinelli was cleared of wire-tapping and embezzlement charges on a technicality that meant the court did not accept evidence presented by the prosecutors.
Martinelli was accused of illegally using public funds to monitor the phone calls of more than 150 people, including politicians and journalists. He had been extradited from the United States to face the charges. The Supreme Court of Panama did not seek Martinelli’s extradition on other charges, meaning that he cannot be tried for other alleged corruption offences. He was freed from house arrest on Friday but remains under travel ban. The victims and the prosecution have stated their intention to appeal the verdict.
In response to this and other recent developments, Fundacion Libertad Ciudadana called on Sunday for reform to a Panamanian judicial system that seems to be flooded with compromised judges who are susceptible to intimidation and corruption, and that has inadequate accountability mechanisms. The verdict in Martinelli’s case was issued within days of a decision by another court to close the period of investigation in the Odebrecht corruption case. The Public Prosecutor's Office and the Judicial Branch must conduct audits of each office, and modernise the system for sanctioning wrongdoing in order to restore public trust.
Olga de Obaldia, Executive Director of Fundacion Libertad Ciudadana, said: “Justice in Panama has become a weapon of impunity that undermines social and democratic cohesion by destroying the rule of law and making the separation of powers practically non-existent. Interim judges are appointed by Magistrates who, in turn, are executive appointments marked for the most part by conflicts of interest and inexperience. They forge pacts of mutual impunity with the Legislative Branch, which in turn does not fulfil its role of counterweight to the Executive Branch.”
President Laurentino Cortizo must strengthen the independence of the judiciary by appointing proven, independent judges with judicial experience and courage in the face of corruption, in keeping with his pledge under Fundación Libertad Ciudadana’s #RetoTransparencia2019 (Transparency Challenge 2019), Barsallo said.
Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International, said: “In several Latin American countries, we are seeing fragile anti-corruption gains come under threat. To safeguard progress and advance the fight against corruption we need strong, independent and well-resourced institutions capable of challenging impunity at the highest levels of power.”
*The attribution of the quotation from Fundacion Libertad Ciudadana was corrected.
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