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Panama Ex-Ministers Do Time For Corruption

Two former ministers of former President and presidential hopeful Ricardo Martinelli were sentenced to prison for corruption and money laundering, in a case that also splashes two of the former president’s sons.

Judge Baloisa Marquínez handed down eight convictions, including one for Public Works Minister Federico Suárez during Martinelli’s administration (2009-2014) and another for Jaime Ford, accused of taking commissions on infrastructure projects.

Suárez was sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay a $27.4 million fine, while Ford received six and a half years in prison and an $11.4 million fine, according to the ruling issued Monday.

Ford’s lawyer, Basilio González, said Tuesday that he will appeal this “absurd” sentence. The prosecution is also considering appealing, but to demand convictions for 10 defendants acquitted by the judge.

Ricardo and Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, sons of the former president, are also allegedly involved in this mega-scandal.

However, both have immunity for being alternate deputies of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) and their eventual prosecution must be carried out by the Supreme Court.

According to the prosecution, the accused in the so-called “Blue Apple” case created shell companies to receive money from collecting commissions from contractors to expedite procedures in 2011 and 2012.

The bribe payments, ranging from 5% to 10% of the project value, were deposited in an anonymous corporation called Blue Apple Service.

Martinelli won the 2009 elections on an anti-corruption platform, but more than a dozen ministers were arrested for various scandals during his tenure.

Martinelli himself, who intends to run in the 2024 presidential elections, was convicted at first instance to almost 11 years in prison for money laundering, for acquiring a publishing company with public money.

An appeals court confirmed the conviction on October 24, but a cassation appeal is still possible so it remains unknown whether he will finally be able to run given his legal troubles.

The former president is also facing another trial, along with his sons, for the alleged collection of bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

For this case, the Martinelli brothers were sentenced to two and a half years in prison in the United States. In addition, in January Washington prohibited the former Panamanian ruler and his immediate family from entering that country for acts of “significant corruption.”

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