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News > Panama

Panama: Ex-President Gets Second Acquittal in Phone-Tapping Case

  • In Panama, the acquitted former president Ricardo Martinelli will seek the presidency in 2024.

    In Panama, the acquitted former president Ricardo Martinelli will seek the presidency in 2024. | Photo: Twitter/@MENAFN

Published 10 November 2021

Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli was acquitted on charges of phone-tapping of political opponents and journalists when he was in office.

After he was acquitted of similar charges in 2019, Martinelli, president from 2009 to 2014, went on trial again in July.

Martinelli was also accused of embezzling public funds to spy on opponents when in office, and the prosecution accused him of wiretapping more than 150 people, mostly politicians and journalists.


Panama: Martinelli Faces New Trial for Political Espionage

The court ruled on Tuesday, however, that the prosecution’s evidence against Martinelli was insufficient.

“Justice, finally, was applied,” the 69 year old said as he left the court. “Seven years of this torture. I thank God and the Panamanian justice system. I suffered a lot.”

Carlos Herrera Moran, the lawyer for one of the victims of the alleged wiretapping, said the decision was “outside the law and the evidence presented."

Martinelli was extradited from the United States in 2018 to face trial in Panama.

In August 2019, he was acquitted on espionage and embezzlement charges for the first time, and was released from custody. Prosecutors supposedly violated due process after a five-month trial, and presented dubious evidence.

But after appealing, arguing there were sufficient elements for a new trial, the Panamanian government won a new trial, which started in July.

Martinelli allegedly spent millions of dollars on sophisticated spying equipment from Israel, including the spyware Pegasus, while president.

NSO Group, the Israeli firm behind that spyware, has faced significant scrutiny after an investigation by international media outlets showed Pegasus was utilized by security forces and authoritarian governments in several countries.

The Biden administration sanctioned NSO Group last week, accusing the Israeli company of enabling “transnational repression” with its spyware.

NSO Group, in response, said its products aim to help authorities combat criminals and “terrorists."

The owner of a supermarket chain, Martinelli has hopes of running again for the presidency in 2024, describing the charges against him as political persecution and an attempt to stop him from running again.

Despite rising to the presidency in 2009 after winning an campaign in which he gave a speech denouncing corruption and the country’s political class, Martinelli was later named in the “Pandora Papers" investigation into the creation of offshore shell companies intended to hide money in tax havens.

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