US arrests former Panama president sought for extradition

FILE.- In this March 24, 2017 file photo, Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli gestures during a meeting with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City, Monday, March 24, 2014. U.S. authorities have arrested Monday June 12, 2017 former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on an extradition warrant from his country. U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Manny Puri says Martinelli was in custody Monday evening at a federal detention center in Miami. He is accused of corruption and spying on opponents in Panama. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

MIAMI (AP) — U.S. authorities arrested former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli Monday in Florida on an extradition warrant from his country, where he is accused of political espionage and corruption.

U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Manny Puri says Martinelli was in custody at a federal detention center in Miami. The former president was arrested near his home in Coral Gables, Florida.

Martinelli is expected to appear before a judge for an extradition hearing.

Panama’s government requested Martinelli’s extradition last September to face accusations he spied illegally on his political rivals and intercepted the telephone calls of more than 100 people, including politicians, business and labor leaders, and critical journalists.

The former president from 2009-2014 has denied wrongdoing and contends the case is political persecution by his successor.

In Panama, lawyers on Martinelli’s defense team said the extradition process would proceed normally.

“The defense for ex-president Martinelli is going to exercise all the rights and guarantees offered under the rule of law,” said lawyer Carlos Carrillo. “It is totally false that a request for political asylum was denied.”

Martinelli is also accused of corruption in Panama, but those cases have stalled in the courts.

In February, prosecutors in Panama said they were seeking international help in detaining two of his sons in relation to an alleged scheme to launder bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

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