Ex-Panamanian president gives thumbs-up as he's extradited from U.S. to face charges
Ricardo Martinelli, 66, is accused of embezzlement and illegally intercepting communications
Former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli returned to Panama to face political espionage and embezzlement charges after being extradited from the United States on Monday.
Panama's foreign ministry said that the U.S. turned Martinelli over at Panama City's international airport after a plane carrying him from Miami landed.
U.S. State Department spokespeson Heather Nauert said in a statement that it will be for Panamanian courts to determine Martinelli's guilt.
Martinelli had been jailed in Miami since his arrest at his home in June 2017.
The 66-year-old was Panama's president from 2009 to 2014. The supermarket magnate is accused of embezzlement and illegally intercepting the communications of dozens of people during his administration, including journalists, activists and civil servants.
Nauert said that Martinelli's extradition followed normal procedures established by the countries' bilateral extradition treaty. Martinelli had initially contested his extradition in the U.S., but dropped his appeals.
His wife Marta de Martinelli said Monday that he went along with the extradition because he did not feel well.
"He is returning because of a health problem," she said. "His lawyers are almost certain that he can get bond."
Martinelli appeared handcuffed in photos shared by Panama's security ministry and was transported to the Renacer prison, where former strongman Manuel Noriega, who died last year, had been held.
Martinelli's sons are wanted in the massive corruption scandal involving Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company.
Authorities allege Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enriquez Martinelli were paid $49 million by Odebrecht through a network of shell companies between 2010 and 2014.
Odebrecht allegedly paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes in association with infrastructure projects in 12 countries in South and Central America, leading to several arrests and political resignations in the region.
With files from Reuters