April 9, 2015 / 3:18 AM / 3 years ago

Panama election body withdraws ex-President Martinelli's immunity

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama’s election authority on Wednesday said former President Ricardo Martinelli would no longer be immune from prosecution, in a move that will allow the country’s top court to investigate alleged corruption cases during his time in office.

Panama's former president Ricardo Martinelli (C) stands outside the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) in Guatemala City January 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

In January, the court said it would investigate Martinelli for suspected “crimes against public administration.” The supermarket magnate oversaw a public spending-led boom while in office between 2009 and 2014.

The case against Martinelli, who has not been in Panama since the investigation was announced, was brought to the court after two of his ex-officials were arrested on multi-million dollar embezzlement charges.

At the time, the supreme court asked the electoral tribunal to make an exception to a rule which says political party leaders have special immunity from prosecution. Martinelli is president of his Democratic Change (CD) party.

On Wednesday, the tribunal agreed to a petition to lift the immunity.

“(The election authority agrees) to lift the immunity (Martinelli) has in his role as president and legal representative of the Democratic Change party,” it said in a legal judgment.

In response, Martinelli’s legal team presented a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the Panamanian state, arguing the move was politically motivated revenge by Martinelli’s former ally and current president, Juan Carlos Varela.

The move comes just two days before leaders from across the Americas, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro, gather for an historic regional summit in Panama.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Editing by Michael Perry

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