Panama annuls ex-president Martinelli’s election candidacy

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            Panama City, March 5 Panama’s electoral tribunal annulled the presidential candidacy of former president Ricardo Martinelli on Monday, a month after he lost his last bid to avoid prison and took asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy.

                  The decision, announced by the body’s president Alfredo Junca, appears to end Martinelli’s hopes of re-election in May.

                  Martinelli served as president from 2009 to 2014 and last year was found guilty of using stolen public money to buy a stake in a publishing house.

                  The 71-year-old was sentenced to almost 11 years in prison and given a $19 million fine.

                  His candidacy was annulled because he had been “condemned for an offense with a prison sentence of more than five years”, Junca said in his ruling.

                  Last month, Martinelli was granted asylum at the Nicaraguan embassy, just days after losing a final Supreme Court appeal against his sentence.

                  The Supreme Court ruling sealed his electoral fate: his conviction had to be final for the electoral tribunal to annul his candidacy.

                  Before the tribunal handed down its ruling, Martinelli wrote on social media platform X that “this case was aimed to disqualify me politically and remove me from the political race, which is illegal”.

                  “I repeat, I am innocent,” he wrote.

                  Despite his legal woes, Martinelli was leading in some polls ahead of the May election.

                  A millionaire businessman before he became president, Martinelli has been investigated for multiple corruption scandals since leaving office.

                  In 2021, he was acquitted on charges of espionage and embezzlement of public funds.

                  He faces a separate trial, scheduled for after the election, over alleged bribery payments during his presidency from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for public works projects in Panama.