Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli

Panama's Supreme Court has denied a petition to suspend the immunity of a former president and current Central American Parliament (Parlacen) deputy, illustrating how powerful figures can use membership in political bodies as a judicial shield.

The court rejected a request from the legal team of former Ecuadorian Congressman Tito Galo Lara, who had sought to revoke the immunity maintained by former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli as a current member of Parlacen.

Lara fled to Panama in September 2013 after an Ecuadorian court convicted him of involvement in a triple murder. He received asylum from Martinelli's government the following month. In May 2014, however, Lara's asylum status was revoked when the Panamanian government claimed it had obtained information providing "full certainty of the existence of common crimes, not political persecution" against the former congressman. 

Panamanian authorities detained Lara in June 2014, and the Supreme Court approved his extradition to Ecuador in August of that year. But Lara fought the proceedings, claiming the Panamanian government, then headed by Martinelli, had accepted a $6 million payment from Ecuador in exchange for his extradition.

Lara's legal team asked Panama's high court to revoke Martinelli's immunity as a Parlacen representative in order to compel the former president to testify, but the court found that lifting Martinelli's immunity would have no effect on Lara's case.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Supreme Court's decision points to the challenges that come with attempting to prosecute powerful political figures accused of malfeasance while in office. Martinelli currently faces several other investigations stemming from his term as Panama's president, including charges of corruption and illegal espionage. Panamanian officials have stripped Martinelli of his immunity with regards to certain charges, and the Parlacen has even previously stated Martinelli enjoys no immunity as a result of his position with the regional organization. And yet, prosecutors looking to bring the former president to court continue to be met with roadblocks. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Panama 

Even without immunity, Martinelli -- like other wealthy and powerful figures -- has other means of avoiding prosecution at his disposal.

Martinelli reportedly fled from Panama in January 2015 after the Supreme Court began investigating him, and according to several media reports, he now resides in an opulent Miami condominium. Martinelli is also reportedly seeking asylum in the United States, but the status of that request remains unclear. Panama's high court ordered his detention last month. Still, as reported by the Panama News, what happens next for Martinelli "depends on a complex matrix revolving around laws and political wills" in both the United States and Panama

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...