Panama’s Ex President to Face Hearing for Money Laundering Scheme

Published: 26 October 2022

Ricardo Martinelli PanamaFormer Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli faces open corruption probes for his alleged roles in the “New Business” money laundering scheme and the Odebrecht bribery scheme. (Photo: World Economic Forum, Flickr, License)

By Inci Sayki

Former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli will face a preliminary hearing for his alleged role in the “New Business” money laundering scheme, related to the purchase of a Panamanian media outlet, the country’s judicial branch reported on Monday.

Martinelli, banker turned politician who led the Central American nation between 2009 and 2014, is suspected of improperly diverting public funds in the purchase of the media conglomerate Grupo Editorial Epasa while president as part of the so-called “New Business” case.

The scheme involves 25 others.

The “New Business” case dates back to 2017, when the public ministry first started investigating Grupo Editorial Epasa’s 2010 purchase allegedly with public funds.

According to the probe, the funds necessary for the purchase, roughly US$43.9 million, were laundered through a dozen banks in Switzerland, China, and the U.S., SwissInfo reported.

According to Monday’s statement, the former president is to go on a preliminary hearing on October 31, and alternatively on November 29.

The court also ordered the trial of 20 others for their alleged role in the same money laundering scheme, setting the date for a plenary hearing in April 2023.

The former president faces another open corruption investigation into his role in a scheme involving bribes paid out by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

His two sons were sentenced in a U.S. court in May this year to three years each for laundering $28 million from bribes given by the same Brazilian construction company.

To receive bribes, the Martinelli brothers created offshore bank accounts and shell companies during their father’s presidency.

The Odebrecht case is one of the largest corruption cases ever documented in Latin America, spanning over a 30 year period and 12 countries.

Martinelli’s successor, Juan Carlos Varela, who served between 2014 and 2019, is also suspected of having accepted donations from the construction firm through his party.