US Extradites Ex Panama President Wanted for Wiretapping

Published: 12 June 2018

Ricardo Martinelli Presidente de Panamá copyFormer Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli (Congreso de la República del Perú, CC BY 2.0)

By Lydia Osborne

The United States extradited the former president of Panama on Monday to face allegations of illegal wiretapping and embezzlement in his home country, according to the Justice Department.


The former Panamanian president, Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal, will stand trial in Panama on four charges related to an illegal wiretapping scheme purportedly orchestrated while he was in office between 2009 and 2014.

He is also accused of embezzling over US$10 million in public funds.  

According to a statement by the Justice Department, Martinelli was indicted in Panama for illicitly monitoring the private communications of more than 150 people he identified as “targets” through the use of two multi-million dollar surveillance systems.

These targets included Martinelli’s political allies and opponents, their family members, his business rivals, Panamanian judges, journalists, union activists, US diplomats, and others.

According to information provided to the Justice Department by the government of Panama, Martinelli created an advisory body soon after taking office. Under this council, a “Special Services” unit carried out confidential activities at the president’s direction, including the unsanctioned intercept and recording of communications from the cell phones and computers of Martinelli’s identified targets.

Shortly before leaving office in 2014, however, much of the surveillance equipment was removed from the Special Services’ office, and its whereabouts are still unknown.

A justice of the highest court in Panama issued an arrest warrant for Martinelli in December 2015, and a US judge ruled that he could be extradited in August 2017. Martinelli appealed the decision but was rejected by the Southern District of Florida.

“Following a year of litigation in the United States, former Panamanian President Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal has been extradited to Panama to face charges of embezzlement and illegal wiretapping,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan.  

“This extradition is a testament to the Department of Justice’s commitment to honoring our extradition treaty obligations,” Cronan said.

With the extradition now complete, Martinelli’s case will now move forward in the Panamanian legal system.