Miami (AFP) – Panamanian former president Ricardo Martinelli was extradited to his home country Monday to face charges of spying on journalists and political opponents.
Martinelli, president 2009-2014, was transferred from the federal prison in Miami to the Opa Locka Executive Airport, where he was placed on a flight to Panama City around 6:20 am (1020 GMT).
A handcuffed Martinelli, wearing a tan suit and escorted by US Mashals, greeted reporters gathered to see him at the airport.
“I’m ready to watch the World Cup!” he said, giving a thumbs-up. Panama qualified for the tournament, which begins on Thursday.
Martinelli, 66, is accused of spying on the telephone calls of more than 150 people, including journalists and politicians.
He is under investigation in Panama in about 20 other cases of corruption, but those are not referred to in the extradition request.
Under a 1905 extradition treaty, he can only be tried in Panama for the crimes alleged in the request.
Martinelli was detained in June 2017 and had been incarcerated in Miami since then.
The ex-president claims that he is the victim of a “vendetta” by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, his former vice president.