San José/Panama City, Feb 7 (EFE). – The Nicaraguan government led by Daniel Ortega granted asylum on Wednesday to former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), whose conviction for money laundering was confirmed on Friday by his country’s Supreme Court.
In a letter sent to the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicaragua stated that Martinelli had requested asylum at the Embassy of the Republic of Nicaragua in Panama “because he considers himself to be persecuted for political reasons and his life, physical integrity and security are in imminent danger”.
The Nicaraguan government requested that the Panamanian government “guarantee the immediate departure and humanitarian transfer of the asylum seeker Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal to the territory of the Republic of Nicaragua.”
A confidential source close to the former president told EFE that Martinelli asked the Nicaraguan government for asylum because “there are no constitutional guarantees” and “there is no law” in Panama. The same source also confirmed to EFE that the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry has approved the asylum request.
The former president was sentenced int July to 128 months in prison and a fine of $19.2 million for the irregular purchase with public funds of the publishing house Epasa.
Martinelli, 71, claimed Saturday on his X (formerly Twitter) account that “forces of evil” were trying to disqualify him from the upcoming general elections on May 5, in which he hoped to win the presidency with his new party, Achieving Goals (RM), and in which he is leading in the few polls available.
With Friday’s ratification by the Supreme Court of the sentence against him after an appeal, the last legal way to overturn it, Martinelli is disqualified as a candidate.
Martinelli’s legal troubles
Martinelli says he is a “politically persecuted man” because he is also facing money laundering charges in a case involving bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
That trial has been postponed several times and is not expected to begin until later this year.
Two of Martinelli’s sons, deputies in the Central American Parliament, are also facing separate trials related to the Odebrecht case.
They have already served prison sentences in the United States after admitting that they received US$28 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction company on their father’s orders, according to the judicial version.
Meanwhile, Martinelli is being investigated in Spain in another case of alleged corruption for bribes paid by the Spanish construction company FCC in Panama, and in a separate case for spying on a woman in Mallorca.
In January 2023, the US government sanctioned former President Martinelli, accusing him of being involved in “large-scale corruption.”
Martinelli was placed in preventive detention between June 2018 and June 2019 at El Renacer, a minimum-security prison on the outskirts of the capital, while he was on trial for illegally wiretapping the telecommunications of 150 people during his government, but was acquitted of these charges.
His time in El Renacer was controversial: he suffered physical ailments that sent him to the hospital, went to medical appointments, ran errands and attended church regularly, and at one point the prison guards filed a complaint against him for threatening them. EFE