Judge orders pre-trial detention of former President Martinelli

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By Marco Echevarria

The Second Criminal Court Judge of the First Judicial Circuit of Panama, Baloisa Marquínez, ordered the arrest of former President Ricardo Martinelli, sentenced to 10 years and 8 months in prison for money laundering in the New Business case.

This arrest is also to ensure his appearance at the trial for the bribes that Odebrecht distributed in Panama, to be held on 15 July.

The decision was communicated by the Judicial Body (OJ) on Thursday, February 22, although it was taken the day before by Judge Marquínez, through Cars 26 and 27, in which he values Martinelli’s high risk of escape.

The judge also rejected, as inappropriate, six nullity incidents presented in the so-called New Business case and one in the Odebrecht case.

Martinelli’s arrest was requested by Emeldo Márquez and Ruth Morcillo, the lead prosecutors in the New Business and Odebrecht cases, respectively. Both are concerned that Martinelli is evading: the first, from the sentence imposed on him in New Business, and the second, of Odebrecht’s trial.

New Business and Marquez

The first information released by the OJ was the one that related to New Business, which is already res judicata, unlike Odebrecht, which is awaiting the holding of the ordinary hearing.

Marquez warned Judge Marquínez that Martinelli should have been notified to the court on 15 January, in compliance with a personal precautionary measure imposed on him during the investigation phase. The former president did not report properly, a situation that the judge considers to be further aggravating the risk of escape, especially when the case is only pending the resolution of requests for clarification, including two in favor of the former president, which were sent on February 20, 2024 to the Panamanian High Liquidation Court for the corresponding procedure, as recorded in the OJ press release released at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday.

These requests for clarification have already been rejected, according to La Prensa on Thursday, shortly before the arrest warrant was known.

Martinelli is now a refugee at the Nicaraguan embassy, where he intends to asylum. His lawyer Carlos Carrillo took Judge Marquínez a note from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued on February 7, on the same day that his client hid in the embassy. However, the judge considered that this note by the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry does not meet the requirements of article 877 of the Judicial Code for documents issued by a foreign country, in such a way that they can be assessed as evidence.

The decision [of Judge Marquínez] analyzed and weighed the seriousness of the crime charged, the risk of escape evidenced by the conduct of the convicted person, the need to guarantee the effectiveness of the judicial process and the non-compliance with the precautionary measure of report, says the OJ statement.

It is concluded that pretrial detention against the convicted former president is proportional and necessary to ensure the appearance of the sanctioned person in court and safeguard the interests of society, the note added.

Forty-five minutes later, at 5:45 p.m., the OJ reported that Martinelli’s arrest is also for Odebrecht’s coimas.

In this case, Martinelli already has, since August 2020, the precautionary measure of notification on 15th of each month, as well as an impediment to leaving the country without judicial authorization. Prosecutor Morcillo called for this measure to be modified by pretrial detention, and has shown intention to evade Panamanian justice by being granted political asylum by the Republic of Nicaragua, the OJ note notes.

The press release notes that the former President of the Republic, through his team of legal agents, has been guaranteed the exercise of the right of defence that assists him; however, the use of delaying practices throughout the process, through the submission of incidents or applications without legal support, has been remarkable.

This repeated practice makes it clear that the defendant and his defence are intended to prolong the criminal case, significantly leading to the risk that the accused will evade the outcome of this trial, he adds.

As with New Business, Martinelli should also have been notified on 15 January in the Odebrecht case, but he failed to comply with this obligation, which aggravates the risk of escape.

In this trial, Martinelli would face a sentence of five to 12 years in prison if found guilty.

The future

Martinelli, who is a presidential candidate of the parties Realizing Metas and Alliance, would be disqualified, because the Political Constitution prohibits a person sentenced to more than five years in prison from aspiring to the presidency of the Republic.

Martinelli’s conviction for the New Business case was handed down last July by Judge Marquínez and ratified by the High Liquidation Court in October. On 2 February, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice did not accept an appeal of cassation, and the conviction remains final.

With Martinelli, four other defendants were convicted, although his is the harshest sentence. In addition to 128 months in prison, he will have to pay a $19.2 million fine. Likewise, the judge ordered the confiscation of 60% of the actions of Editora Panama América, S.A. (Epasa), which has Martinelli as a beneficiary, although it is now known that the assets of that company have already been transferred to another company.

In this case, Iván Arturo Arrocha, Janeth Vásquez, Daniel Ochy and Valentín Martínez Vásquez are also convicted of the money laundering offence.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Prensa