Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli Disqualified from Presidential Race Due to Money Laundering Conviction

Panama’s Electoral Tribunal has made a decisive move by disqualifying former President Ricardo Martinelli from the upcoming presidential election scheduled for May. The decision, announced by the tribunal’s president Alfredo Junca, comes in light of Martinelli’s nearly 11-year prison sentence for money laundering, effectively ending his hopes of re-election.

Martinelli, a prominent figure in Panamanian politics who served as president from 2009 to 2014, was convicted last July for his involvement in a money laundering scheme related to the purchase of a media conglomerate using public funds. Despite his appeals, the Supreme Court upheld his sentence, leading to the annulment of his candidacy as per Panama’s constitution, which bars individuals sentenced to five years or more from holding elected office.

Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli poses after addressing the Latin America and the Caribbean International Economic Forum at the French Economy Ministry in Paris on May 31, 2013. AFP PHOTO ERIC PIERMONT (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

Before the annulment, Martinelli was a frontrunner in the polls for the presidential race. However, his disqualification reshapes the political landscape, with his running mate, former Foreign Minister Jose Raul Mulino, now set to appear as the presidential candidate for Martinelli’s political party.

Martinelli, a millionaire businessman-turned-politician, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, claiming to be a victim of political persecution. Nevertheless, his conviction marks a significant milestone as he becomes the first former president of Panama to be convicted of a crime.

Despite his legal battles, Martinelli’s influence remains palpable. He oversaw a period of substantial infrastructure development during his presidency, including the construction of Panama City’s first subway line. However, his tenure was marred by allegations of corruption, leading to international repercussions such as being barred by the US government from entering the country due to his involvement in “significant” corruption.

Martinelli still faces legal challenges, including a separate trial over alleged bribery payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for public works projects in Panama. As the political landscape continues to evolve, Panama braces for a presidential election without one of its most controversial figures at the forefront.

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