Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli won his party’s primary on Sunday and the right to run for another term in next year’s presidential election, despite charges of money laundering.
Martinelli, who was president of Panama from 2009 to 2014, is accused of buying a majority stake in Editora Panama America in 2010 using illegally acquired public funds.
Last week, the public prosecutor requested a 12-year prison sentence for himself and 12 other defendants.
Nevertheless, on Sunday he won the primaries in his party, known as “Realithando Mitas” (“Goals Achievement”), which he founded in 2021.
Martinelli got 96% of the vote, but turnout was only 25%, according to the Electoral Commission.
The presidential elections in Panama are scheduled for May 2024.
Prosecutors say Martinelli and others used a series of shell companies to steal nearly $44 million in government infrastructure contracts during his presidency.
The prosecution indicates that Martinelli later used part of this money to buy an important stake in the publishing house, whose newspapers adopted an editorial line that promoted the interests of the former president.
For his part, Martinelli denies any illegal gains and says he is a victim of political machinations to prevent him from running for the presidential elections.
Martinelli has been under investigation for several corruption scandals since leaving office.
In 2021, he was acquitted for the second time on charges of espionage and embezzlement of public funds.