Sons of former President of Panama extradited to US after multiple country chase

Brooklyn court plans to bring former Panamanian president’s son to justice on Saturday over money laundering extradition case that prosecutors say involved a stealthy jaunt to the Bahamas over false information ID cards and a private jet idling on a tarmac in Guatemala.

The accused, Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares, was captured in Guatemala last year with his brother and charged in February. He was extradited to the United States on Friday and will be charged in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, prosecutors said.

The cases against Mr Martinelli Linares and his brother are linked to the US government’s larger investigation into Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction conglomerate which prosecutors say paid nearly $ 800 million in bribes to officials and political parties in several countries. In 2016, Odebrecht and its petrochemical affiliate, Braskem, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in the Eastern District Court and agreed to pay at least $ 3.5 billion in penalties.

Martinelli’s other brother, Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, 39, was extradited to the United States last month and pleaded guilty in Eastern District Court last week to laundering $ 28 million in part of the Odebrecht ploy. He could serve up to 20 years in prison.

The brothers’ father, Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal, 69, ruled Panama from 2009 to 2014 and has said he could run for president again in 2024. Four years after leaving office, he was extradited from the United States to Panama to face charges relating to an illegal wiretapping system that prosecutors said they conducted during his tenure. A Panamanian court acquitted him of the charges last month.

Federal prosecutors on Friday night said in a letter to an Eastern District judge that Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares had been charged with conspiracy to launder tens of millions of dollars in bribes “on behalf of ‘a close relative who was a senior government official in Panama’ from 2009 to 2014. Prosecutors used similar language in his brother’s case.

Friday’s letter did not mention the name of the former president.

U.S. prosecutors have accused the Martinelli brothers, who reside in both Panama and Italy, of hiding the Odebrecht program proceeds in part through financial transactions made through U.S. banks, some of which are in New York. The Panamanian government has also solicited them for their involvement in the program.

For years after Odebrecht’s guilty plea in 2016, U.S. prosecutors said the Martinelli brothers met with U.S. officials to discuss the case and possibly the logistics of potential plea deals.

But in June 2020, the brothers left for the Bahamas, traveling on an “unknown ship” and escaping U.S. border controls, prosecutors said in their letter on Friday.

In the Bahamas, the brothers, along with the wife and children of Mr. Luis Martinelli Linares, boarded a private plane and flew to Panama, prosecutors said. But the plane was turned back due to travel restrictions linked to the pandemic, so they flew to Costa Rica and then El Salvador – just as the Eastern District Federal Court issued arrest warrants against them. .

The brothers then traveled by Uber from El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, to the Guatemalan border, prosecutors said. At the time, Guatemala did not allow visitors, but the brothers were able to slip in by falsely presenting themselves as officials of the Central American Parliament.

The brothers then obtained emergency humanitarian permission from the Panamanian health minister to enter the country, prosecutors said. But on or around July 6, they were arrested at an airport in Guatemala City as they attempted to board the family’s private jet and fly to Panama.

Representatives for the Martinelli brothers could not be reached for comment on Friday evening.

Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, who was extradited to the United States last month and pleaded guilty to money laundering last week, is in custody pending his conviction in May 2022, prosecutors said.

In their Friday letter to Judge Robert M. Levy, a team of prosecutors led by Breon S. Peace, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, described Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares as “a substantial and proven flight risk” .

“Given the actions of Ricardo Martinelli Linares over the past few years, it is clear that he will do anything to avoid prosecution in the United States and return to Panama, even despite the separate criminal charges pending against him there.” , prosecutors said.

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