What the New Business verdict means for Ricardo Martinelli and for us

G'bye time?
G’bye time? Does he now fade into memory? Archive photo adapted from a Wikimedia photo by Wilson Dias – Agencia Brasil.

The headlines say that he gets 10 years and 8 months
in prison time plus a $19.2 million fine – BUT…

by Eric Jackson
  • Judge Baloisa Marquínez convicted three people as principal authors of the crime of money laundering and two others of being accomplices. She acquitted 10 other individual defendants.
  • Former president Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal received a 10 years and 8 months prison sentence, plus a $19,221,600.48 fine.
  • All shares of EPASA, the parent company of the newspapers El Panama America, La Critica and Dia a Dia, were ordered forfeited to the national government. But there is no court order as to the closure or seizure of those media.
  • The directors of the companies found guilty are barred from conducting business. Two companies set up for the transaction by which Martinelli gained control of the EPASA newspaper chain were ordered dissolved.
  • The sequestration of assets previously ordered against those individual defendants who were acquitted was lifted, EXCEPT THAT some of them are also defendants in other pending Martinelli corruption cases and as to them, the sequestrations continue until the other matters are resolved.
  • Two witnesses who were called to testify by the court were fined $100 each. These were defense witnesses who did not show up.

Yes, Ricardo Martinelli, his lawyers, his newspapers and his cult followers say there will be an appeal, and by past behavior we can be pretty sure that there will be. That appeal would go to the special appeals court for long-pending criminal cases, Judge José Hoo Justiniani. Judge Hoo was appointed to that post by José Ayú Prado, a controversial former high court magistrate who was a Ricardo Martinelli appointee. But if Hoo reverses Marquínez’s decision, the prosecutors could appeal to the Supreme Court, which as of January 1 of this year no longer has any Martinelli appointees on it. A Martinelli loss in the high court could be appealed to the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which would not have to hear the appeal.

Martinelli loses his political rights – to run for office, to hold public posts, to vote – for the 10 years and 8 months of the sentence, even if he gets let out of prison early or gets his punishment commuted to public service work like picking up trash along the highways or beaches. But as far as the Electoral Tribunal is concerned the suspension of political rights is stayed until the judgment is final, which is generally interpreted as until the appeals process has run its course. Some of the former president’s followers say that the plan is to appeal, to delay, to get re-elected president and to issue a self-pardon. There are legal problems to surmount at every step of such a move.

The political effect? Depends upon which segment of the population is considered.

For the dyed-in-the-wool cult followers, it might be a hardening of support. Once upon a time there was a guy who physically attacked the donor base of the religious establishment, who was penalized for that by being tortured to death by way of being nailed on a cross, and look at the effect on that Jewish dissident’s following. There are other examples throughout history. However, Ricky Martinelli isn’t Jesus Christ, nor even a superstar.

For many other Panamanian voters, the loss in the New Business trial will give Martinelli a loser’s aura and thus an impractical choice for president. There may be some folks who were taken by surprise, for whom the guilty verdict comes as a shocking revelation.

Most probably the political effect will be a prompt decline of Ricardo Martinelli’s standing in public opinion polls, which would be exploited by rival candidates and perhaps by foreign governments who do not wish Martinelli well.

The post-verdict spin doctoring is underway. Many a critic will take a ‘I had nothing to do with this decision but think that it’s about time’ approach. Will the US Embassy avoid much comment, so as to protect American citizens from being blamed by some of Martinelli’s supporters? Will Martinelli bring criminal defamation charges against journalists who speak or write the verdict in a way that expresses approval?

It is the editor’s expectation that Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal will not be on next year’s presidential ballot and that his RM party will have to come up with a Plan B. However, there is a lot of time between now and early May of 2024, and the editor lacks the gift and curse of prophecy.


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