Transparency International today welcomed the news that the Government of Panama has asked the United States to extradite Ricardo Martinelli to face illegal wire-tapping and related corruption charges.
Ricardo Martinelli and his associates during his administration are alleged to have diverted hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds from the people of Panama during his five-year term from 2009 to 2014. He left the country in January 2015 and is believed to have lived in Miami since then.
Transparency International is concerned that the Panamanian Supreme Court will pursue only the illegal wire-tapping and related corruption offenses on which it has indicted him so far. There are now more than 200 investigations involving Martinelli’s administration, ranging from insider trading, extortion, bribe taking, misappropriation of public funds, and abuse of power, with a dozen related directly to Martinelli himself. (Transparency International delivered to Martinelli a list of more than 40 detailed questions about these and other cases in June 2016, but has not received a reply.)
"This extradition request by Panamanian authorities is welcome news that even former presidents can be held accountable for their actions,” said the Chair of Transparency International, José Ugaz. “We ask the Panamanian authorities to keep up the hard work that got us to this point and not relent in their pursuit of one of world's emblematic cases of grand corruption. There is a very real risk that Martinelli could escape the slow-moving justice that has taken a year and a half to get to this point.”
Future proceedings against Martinelli must be transparent, effective and inclusive of the interests of victims. The Panamanian public should be confident that the law is being applied to the full extent to prosecute a man who has avoided accountability up until now, seemingly because of his past and current political positions.
Martinelli and his close associates are alleged to have stolen money through rigged tenders for public contracts intended for meals and book bags for school children under Panama’s largest social welfare scheme, the National Aid Programme.
According to a summary of available audit reports, and investigations by the Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Libertad Ciudadana, the Panamanian chapter of Transparency International, more than US$300 million in public funds may have been lost due to corruption.
More than 26 per cent of Panama’s population lived on less than US$4 per day in 2012. If the alleged indiscriminate looting occurred on such a wide scale, it certainly denied hundreds of thousands of children and disadvantaged adults of their right to basic services. This appears to be a striking example of the human rights violations inflicted by acts of grand corruption.
"We at Transparency International have advocated bringing Martinelli to justice since 2014. We look forward to seeing him removed from his luxury condo in Miami to make the trip to Panama City and its halls of justice," Ugaz said.
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