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Another former Panamanian minister arrested in graft probe

June 5, 2015

PANAMA CITY – A former Panamanian government official was arrested Thursday night over suspected corruption, the latest ex-minister to be nabbed in a widening graft probe into the administration of ex-President Ricardo Martinelli.

Former Agriculture Minister Óscar Osorio was arrested after a lengthy interrogation over the award of a public contract to an Ecuadoran company, for which onetime Vice President Felipe Virzi was arrested Wednesday.

Anti-corruption prosecutors ordered Virzi’s arrest after probing the awarding of an irrigation system contract and alleging he received a $5 million payment.

Attorneys for Osorio and Virzi told journalists their clients were innocent.

Numerous close associates of Martinelli have been swept up in an anti-corruption probe that may be zeroing in on the former president who held office from 2009 to 2014.

A former economy minister was arrested Monday, while an ex-social development minister was jailed March 4.

President Juan Carlos Varela estimates the corruption under Martinelli at some $100 million.

Martinelli, 63, who has left the country, says the investigation is politically motivated.

On his Twitter account Friday, Martinelli called the charges “political persecution.”

The ex-president is under investigation by Panama’s Supreme Court in a case involving multi-million-dollar cost overruns in food contracts for the country’s public schools.

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