An old prosecution diagram of the New Business case. Since then attorneys general and prosecutors on the case have changed, defendants have been added and subtracted, in one case has been given temporary immunity, and in several other cases have gone on the lam.
Martinelli’s eligibility to run for office and ownership
of his newspaper chain at stake in April 17 trial
by Eric Jackson
The final pretrial touches have been added to a case so old that previous inquisitorial system rules rather than the more modern accusatorial criminal procedure will apply. Former president Ricardo Martinelli and his phalanxes of lawyers have stalled it that long. It’s about allegations that public works contracts — the construction of a new legislative office tower and widening of the road between Arraijan and La Chorrera — generating kickbacks that were then used for a company controlled by then-president Martinelli to buy the EPASA newspaper chain, which includes El Panama America, La Critica and Dia a Dia. These media have poured out a steady stream of Martinelista ever since their acquisition in 2010, and continue to publish invective against political enemies, hostile witnesses and the legal systems of several countries.
Today his media attack the judge.
Judge Baloisa Marqínez has ruled out dozens of documents and depositions proffered by the various parties to be introduced as trial evidence, but the recorded testimony of 37 witnesses to the facts, five detectives, and five experts will be entered into the record. Another 59 documents are admitted as proofs.
If a lawyer or defendant is absent and submits a doctor’s note — a boringly regular Martinelli tactic — the trial will happen next month with public defenders set to stand in. There are 15 defendants expected to be in the dock. One has been excused due to the temporary immunity of being a political candidate, and three others have been declared “en rebeldia” as they have gone into hiding in parts unknown. Orders for their immediate arrest and preventive detention have been issued and notice of their flight has been sent to INTERPOL. The trial is expected to take a week and a half.
The graft allegations appear to be almost a side issue. The alleged laundering of the proceeds through a Panamanian law firm, 13 banks in four countries and 18 private companies are the main gravity and complexity here. A conviction for the 70-year-old Martinelli would likely result in the suspension of his political rights and knock him off the ballot next year. Perhaps a more interesting and related question in the event of a guilty verdict is whether the court would order the confiscation of the EPASA newspaper chain as stolen property, or allow Martinelli to sell it to family or friends and continue its function as a propaganda outlet.
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