February 24, 2015 / 4:03 AM / in 3 years

Ex-Panamian supreme court chief pleads guilty to corruption

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - A former president of Panama’s supreme court has pleaded guilty to charges of illicit enrichment as well as falsifying documents and will serve a five-year jail sentence, authorities said on Monday.

Alejandro Moncada Luna smiles while appearing in front of a congressional committee in Panama City October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Alejandro Moncada has been under house arrest since October and accepted the charges as part of a deal struck between his defense team and the prosecution, congressman Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, the prosecutor in the case, told a news conference.

Under Panamanian law, supreme court judges can only be investigated by members of the country’s Congress.

He will serve a jail term of 60 months, Gonzalez said, although it was not yet clear whether he would have to go to prison or could see out the sentence under house arrest.

Moncada came under investigation after media reports said he had bought apartments for some $1.7 million in cash without being able to justify where the money came from. Separate charges of money laundering against Moncada were dropped.

Defense lawyers told reporters that Moncada, who had long denied the charges against him, accepted the deal because of his health, which has deteriorated in recent months.

Moncada, due to sit in the supreme court until 2020, was appointed by former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, a bitter rival of current President Juan Carlos Varela.

Gonzalez is himself wanted in the United States on charges he shot and killed U.S. Army Sgt. Zak Hernandez in June 1992. He was acquitted at a 1997 trial in Panama.

U.S. authorities said Gonzalez’s trial was marred by jury-rigging, witness intimidation and government harassment.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Editing by Paul Tait

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