Panama retries ex-president accused of spying on opponents

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli went on trial for a second time Wednesday on charges that he tapped the phones of opponents and journalists.

Martinelli, 69, was acquitted of similar charges in 2019, and was dismissive of Wednesday’s proceedings as well.

Noting his supermarket chain is celebrating its 35th anniversary and generates more employment and pays more taxes than any other business in Panama, he said: “I should be there working instead of attending a political trial that was already decided.”

Martinelli, who governed Panama from 2009 to 2014, entered the court using a walker for stability after having back surgery last month and wearing a face mask.

In August 2019, he was acquitted on espionage and embezzlement charges and released from custody. The court found that prosecutors had violated due process after a five-month trial. The court also criticized the prosecution’s evidence.

But the government won on appeal, arguing there were sufficient elements for a new trial.

As president, Martinelli allegedly spent millions of dollars on sophisticated spying equipment from Israel. Prosecutors say he intercepted communications from opposition politicians and others.

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