Martinelli trial set to start
by Eric Jackson
A card misplayed and probably at the wrong time. Ricardo Martinelli can’t be accused by ordinary prosecutors or tried by ordinary courts because he has legislative immunity as a member of the do-little Central American Parliament (PARLACEN). Only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over those with legislative immunity. So after a long run on the lam, Martinelli was returned to Panama in handcuffs by US marshals, assigned to special luxury acommodations in El Renacer Penitentiary near Gamboa, and rather immediately ran a malingering ruse that got him send not to the private hospital of his choice but to the prison ward at Santo Tomas Hospital. He refused to let government medical examiners look at him, but they did have access to all the records and opined that Martinelli did not require hospitalization. A subsequent scheduling conference was turned into a bail hearing at which a squad of lawyers argued that their client deserves bail and at which Martinelli’s answers to questions about such lies that he told the court as the one about him having cancer were incoherent.
Former justice minister and La Estrella columnist Mariela Sagel described that part of the scheduling conference / bail hearing proceedings in this way:
I witnessed it as if there was something that does not fit into the circus concept, because you go to a circus to relax. After he had said he had cancer at his first appearance, he said he did not know who invented that. He was the same mentally unbalanced man who ruled the country for five years….
A nine-member panel unanimously decided to keep Martinelli in jail. The following day two very strange habeas corpus action were filed to get Martinelli out of jail, and these were summarily dismissed.
Ah, but he had his ace in the hole. Now that he had annoyed the entire high court — including his own appointees — Martinelli could dispense with them and try his luck with the ordinary penal system by resigning from PARLACEN, thus depriving the high court of jurisdiction. (Set aside for a moment the largely unexplored constitutional power of superintending control that the Panamanian Supreme Court holds over lower tribunals.) For this maneuver, back in a Miami jail cell Martinelli drafted his letter of resignation to PARLACEN, including his address at the time in the Miami Federal Detention Center.
WHAM! Martinelli slammed his ace in the hole on the table, by way of sending that previously drafted missive to the Central American Parliament.
There it was found formally and legally deficient, and rejected. Unless and until Martinelli gets a formal resignation submitted and accepted, he remains a member of PARLACEN and subject to the high court’s jurisdiction with no questions approaching the level of merit. Such a procedure might be jammed through the Central American body later this week, but it will only meet for a couple of days and then it goes on recess for more than two months.
So Martinelli declared that whatever the case, he has resigned from PARLACEN, he does not recognize the authority of the Supreme Court in his case, he will not attend any high court hearings and he’s on a hunger strike.
Next up is a Monday hearing at which formal charges are read to Martinelli and the date for an oral trial set. But the main order of business is a set of decisions about which evidence does or does not get incorporated into the case.
Were somebody to want to force the issue, since Martinelli is in custody the court might order that, kicking and screaming as he might be, he should be forcibly brought before the court. That could make for an interesting and politically powerful perp walk. Or they could let Martinelli sulk in his prison cell, watching the wide screen TV, while lawyers attend or didn’t attend the hearing set for 9 a.m. on June 25, wherein arguments are to be had about evidence in the criminal case against Martinelli for illegal eavesdropping, improper private use of government equipment and programs for that, and the theft of the Israeli machines and Italian and Israeli programs that enable those machines. Conviction on the eavesdropping charges alone could only result in a short prison sentence that could be avoided by payment of a fine. Conviction for theft of equipment and programs worth millions of dollars would likely result in a longer prison sentence that could not be avoided by payment of money.
It appears that the biggest legal controversy at the evidentiary part of the hearing will be about whether and for what purposes to admit a DVD disc with an anonymous and intentionally distorted 40-minute video recording of someone who says he was involved in the installation and use of the surveillance system. Martinelli had and used the ability to turn people’s cell phones and computers into room bugs and tracking devices. His people could turn on the laptop in a person’s home to see if anyone was present, so as to know a good time for an illegal break-in. They could listen in on domestic arguments, and in the case of a really lurid one, could and did post it on YouTube. Testimony by various witnesses has it that Martinelli was particularly interested in recordings of the sexual encounters of his targets. The gist of the whole story is on that DVD and has been largely corroborated by other means. In a companion case about the wiretaps, in the ordinary courts against persons without legislative immunity, there are some 75 prosecution witnesses.
In Panama there is no “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine to throw out evidence discovered after a lead is given by something that’s inadmissible. Panamanian law allows a lot of things that would be excluded as hearsay into evidence, but by the nature of such proofs their value is downgraded. What gets in and what does not, in an oral trial that might follow within a matter of a few days after the June 25 hearing.