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Panama Bars Ex-President’s Exit Despite Nicaragua Asylum

Panama denied its scandal-plagued former president Ricardo Martinelli, who has taken refuge at the Nicaraguan embassy, safe passage out of the country on Friday, following his granting of asylum by Managua.

Martinelli, who was president from 2009 to 2014, was found guilty last year of using stolen public money to buy a stake in a publishing house. He also received a $19 million fine.

Panama’s Supreme Court last week rejected Martinelli’s final appeal against his almost 11-year prison sentence.

On Wednesday, Martinelli was granted asylum at the embassy of Nicaragua, whose government urged Panamanian authorities to ensure his “prompt departure” to Nicaragua on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement Friday, the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the request for safe-conduct for Mr Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal to leave the territory of the Republic of Panama has been rejected.”

Last week’s Supreme Court decision also dealt a blow to Martinelli’s hopes of reelection in May, with the ex-leader describing the ruling as an “illegal last-minute move” to remove him from the presidential race.

In light of the ruling, Panama’s election authorities are expected to formalize his exclusion from the election.

Panama’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in its statement it had reminded Nicaragua that under diplomatic conventions it is “incompatible” for Martinelli to conduct political activity that “has repercussions and impacts on Panama’s internal politics” from the Nicaraguan embassy.

Managua responded that Panama’s refusal to allow Martinelli safe passage was in “violation of asylum conventions.”

The 71-year-old, who was a millionaire businessman when he became president in 2009, has been investigated for multiple corruption scandals since leaving office.

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

He faces a separate trial, scheduled for after the May 5 elections, over alleged bribery payments during his presidency from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for public works projects in Panama.

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