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.