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US extradites Panama ex-President Ricardo Martinelli

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli gestures the victory sign to the press as he is escorted in handcuffs after his hearing at the Supreme Court in Panama City.

PANAMA CITY >> Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli returned home today to face political espionage and embezzlement charges after being extradited from the United States.

The Foreign Ministry said U.S. officials turned Martinelli over at Panama City’s international airport after a plane carrying him from Miami landed.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that it is up to Panamanian courts to determine Martinelli’s guilt. He had been jailed in Miami since his arrest at his home in June 2017.

The 66-year-old Martinelli, who was Panama’s president from 2009 to 2014, is accused of embezzlement and illegally monitoring phone calls and other communications. He has denied the charges.

Nauert said Martinelli’s extradition followed normal procedures established by the countries’ bilateral extradition treaty. Martinelli had initially contested his extradition in the U.S., but dropped his appeals.

His wife, Marta de Martinelli, said he went along with the extradition because he did not feel well.

“He is returning because of a health problem,” she said. “His lawyers are almost certain that he can get bond.”

Martinelli appeared handcuffed in photos shared by Panama’s security ministry and was transported to Renacer prison, where former strongman Manuel Noriega, who died last year, had been held.

During a hearing with an investigating judge later today, the former president said he had heart problems, prostate cancer and glaucoma. Judge Jeronimo Mejia ordered that medical experts examine Martinelli to determine the severity of his conditions.

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