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News > Latin America

Panama's Former President Martinelli: 'They Want To Kill Me!'

  • Former Panama President Ricardo Martinelli holds up his cuffed hands at Renacer prison in Panama City, June 11, 2018.

    Former Panama President Ricardo Martinelli holds up his cuffed hands at Renacer prison in Panama City, June 11, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 June 2018

Ricardo Martinelli yelled to reporters that his rights are being violated and that current President Juan Carlos Varela "wants to see me dead."

Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli has given his first impromptu interview from behind bars, yelling to reporters from his Renacer jail cell in Panama City, the same prison where Manuel Noriega was once held: "They want to kill me!"

US To Extradite Panama's Former President Ricardo Martinelli

Martinelli, who was extradited from the United States earlier this week, is accused of embezzling and espionage by using state funds to spy on over 150 political opponents and journalists during his 2009-2014 term.

The 66-year-old fled to Florida immediately after his term ended while prosecutors were building their case against the former head of state.

"They want to kill me!" Martinelli shouted to local reporters from the window of his prison cell, which looks more like a run-down youth hostel. "They'll fuck me if I talk."

Martinelli claimed his legal rights were violated during the extradition process, saying authorities took him "like a dog" from Florida. The supermarket billionaire had been living in a US$8 million waterfront mansion in Coral Gables when he was taken into custody by U.S. officials earlier this month. 

During the interview on Wednesday, Martinelli went on to accuse the Panamanian government of not following legal procedure for his case. "There's no justice in Panama. I hope they follow the law, which they don't do here," Martinelli said.

Asked how he felt about his former vice-president and successor, Juan Carlos Varela, Martinelli called the current president "a monster… a very, very, very bad person. He's the worst in all of history."

Martinelli also claimed his arrest was an act of political retribution, telling journalists: "They want to kill me! I've had four (cardiac) bypasses and they won't let me out of here. Varela wants to see me dead."

Martinelli said his blood pressure is 204 over 139. On June 12, he was treated at a Panamanian hospital and diagnosed with hypertension, coronary artery disease and anxiety, but considered to be in stable condition, according to the Star Tribune.

Panama's electoral commission voted to eliminate the legal immunity traditionally granted to former heads of state in 2015, and immediately ordered Martinelli's extradition. 

A U.S federal judge agreed in August 2017 that Martinelli should be sent back to his home country to be tried. Reports suggest he is connected to about 20 other corruption cases, in addition to his extradition charges.

According to the Miami Herald, Martinelli allegedly funneled about US$13.4 million from a public fund meant to "improve the quality of life for underprivileged persons" toward the purchase of two surveillance systems and intelligence operations that collected "particularly sensational audio or video" of his opponents having sex that Martinelli instructed be uploaded to YouTube.

"I'm ready to watch the World Cup!" Martinelli said with a thumbs up on Monday as he arrived at Panama City airport from Miami.

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