Panama City (AFP) – Panamanian former president Ricardo Martinelli arrived home Monday after his extradition from the United States to face charges of spying on journalists and political opponents.
Martinelli, who was president from 2009-2014, arrived in Panama City after an early flight from Florida aboard a chartered plane.
A handcuffed Martinelli, escorted by US Marshals, greeted reporters gathered to see him off at the airport in the Miami area.
“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.
Panama has also submitted extradition requests for Martinelli’s sons Ricardo and Luis Enrique, accused of taking $56 million in bribes from the corruption-plagued Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to facilitate contracts.
Supporters of the former president planned to rally later Monday in front of Panama’s Supreme Court.
His return to Panama comes at a time of political turbulence as the country prepares for general elections in May.
Martinelli is barred by term limits from running for president before 2024, but he hopes to run for a mayorship or a congressional seat, his spokesman Luis Eduardo Camacho has said.
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.