Two Panama Ex-Presidents Accused in the Odebrecht Corruption Scandal

Published: 28 May 2021

Ricarrdo Martinelli

Panama's former president, Ricardo Martinelli. (Photo: Edgar Alberto Domínguez Cataño, World Economic Forum, Flickr, License)

By Julett Pineda Sleinan

Panama’s anti-corruption prosecutor said on Wednesday she wants to see 50 people, including two former presidents, stand trial for their role in a bribing scheme involving the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht.

Lead Prosecutor Tania Sterling told local media that former Panamanian presidents Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) and Juan Carlos Varela (2014-2019) were among the 50 people listed in a 800-pages-long report her office submitted to the court.

In it, prosecutors have accused 14 former public servants of corruption and money laundering, while the other suspects, including a company, are believed to have facilitated illicit money transactions, Sterling said.

She estimated it will take between five and seven months for a court to hold the preliminary hearing.

“It is a robust investigation with enough elements to achieve the conviction of the people whom the Prosecution Office has listed,” Sterling said.

“(Odebrecht) used national and foreign banks and transferred illicit money to public servants and their families for an amount greater than US$100 million,” Panama’s Prosecution Office said last April in a statement.

The suspects reportedly used Panamanian and foreign corporations as well as multiple intermediaries, fraudulent contracts and political campaigns to launder the illicit funds.

Martinelli and Varela have not commented on the recent events but have previously denied accepting bribes from Odebrecht.

A year ago, Guatemalan authorities arrested Martinelli’s sons, Ricardo Alberto Martinelli and Luis Enrique Martinelli, following a request from the United States. American authorities charged both brothers in July for allegedly accepting bribes from Odebrecht.

The scheme involved the payment of $700 million to government officials, public servants and others in Panama and abroad in exchange for lucrative contracts.

U.S. prosecutors said the Martinelli brothers served as intermediaries in the payment of $28 million in bribes made by Odebrecht to one of their close relatives, who held a high-ranked position in the Panamanian government at the time.

Guatemala authorized the extradition of Luis Enrique Martinelli on Tuesday while his brother’s case is still pending.