Jerónimo Mejía sets a December 11 court hearing for Ricardo Martinelli
by Eric Jackson
Most probably Ricardo Martinelli will not be in Panama on the morning of December 11, when magistrate Jerónimo Mejía has scheduled a hearing for formal charges of illegal electronic eavesdropping to be filed against Ricardo Martinelli. In an ordinary proceeding — which would not be before the Supreme Court as this case is — the prosecutor would read the charges, defense lawyers would assert their objections to the accusations, the accused would enter a plea and there would be a decision about bail, pretrial detention or travel restrictions and perhaps a trial date would be set. Here magistrate Harry Díaz, acting as prosecutor, will assert the charges, defense lawyers will object in the former president’s absence and if Mejía accepts the charges for further proceedings there will probably be an application to INTERPOL for a “red notice” that serves as an international request for the accused’s arrest and extradition.
If INTERPOL does issue a red notice, then the ball goes into Barack Obama’s court — he could ignore the extradition request, have Martinelli arrested or dawdle to give Panama’s former president time to flee to a third country that would have him. The Obama administration, with or without any formal charges from Panama, has always had the power to expel Ricardo Martinelli from the United States. It is not particularly clear whether President Juan Carlos Varela really wants Martinelli sent back here for trial, but his public position is that he won’t interfere in matters that are up to courts and prosecutors.
If Martinelli comes or is sent back here, it is unlikely that he would stand trial before January. Come January 1, unless the legislature rejects one or more nominees, one-third of the Supreme Court will be new and there will no longer be a majority of Martinelli appointees. The process of appointing new magistrates and suplentes for two high court members who were removed and of replacing a third whose term ends on December 31 is underway.