Screenshot of the June 12 online edition of El Panama America, a newspaper which Ricardo Martinelli controls. If the order letting him out of preventive detention at El Renacer Penitentiary stipulates that he can’t talk to “the media,” that neglects his beneficial ownership and control of a media empire, which was a major propaganda outlet for his Cambio Democratico party in the recent election campaign. The EPASA publishing company, which also publishes La Critica and Dia a Dia, was allegedly purchased with the proceeds of kickbacks from government contracts, then boosted by government advertising purchases during the Martinelli regime. There is or was a criminal investigation about it, with associates suspected of money laundering in the transactions. But proof of ownership? That’s forbidden under Panama’s corporate secrecy laws.
Martinelli under house arrest
by Eric Jackson
With the prosecutors going out the back door to avoid questions and word of the decision released at 5:40 a.m., Ricardo Martinelli, who fled Panama to avoid prosecution, was released from preventive detention into house arrest on June12. He is now at one of his houses in Altos de Golf.
There will be a hearing on Friday, June 14 in which Martinelli’s lawyers will argue for his release without restrictions and prosecutors will argue to send him back to jail while his trial on illegal eavesdropping without a court order and theft of public services and property is pending. There may be interlocutory appeals to further delay the ongoing trial, in the police and national security agents who carried out Martinelli’s eavesdropping orders have been testifying against him in recent days.
The court reportedly took custody of Martinelli’s Panamanian and Italian passports, forbade him to leave the country, asked the Italian Embassy not to give him a replacement passport and provided that he come to and from court appearances only under police custody. It also forbade him from “talking to the media” or making public comments alluding to his case. It seems that the media which Martinelli controls — the EPASA newspaper chain, NexTV and several radio stations and websites — are not bound by these restrictions, save that he probably gets in trouble of some sort if he is quoted by them.
Martinelli has spent nearly two years behind bars, half of that time in the United States fighting extradition. Prosecutors have asked for a prison sentence of more than 20 years for illegal eavesdropping, illegal use of government property to do this, and theft of the Israeli-made equipment and Italian and Israeli software used in this operation. There is a known enemies list of 150 people, but with all of the people with whom those named enemies held telephone conversations or exchanged emails — including this writer — the number of people whose privacy was illegally invaded is in the thousands.
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