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Panama court orders arrest of ex-president for spying

Ricardo Martinelli faces up to 21 years in prison on charges of running an illegal spy ring. The former Panamanian president said he is the target of a politically-motivated case encouraged by the current president.

Panama's Supreme Court on Monday ordered the detention of former President Ricardo Martnielli over allegations he used public funds to illegally spy on opponents.

According to the court, the supermarket magnate illegally intercepted communications of more than 150 people during his 2009 to 2014 administration, including activists, politicians, union members, lawyers and doctors.

He was formally stripped of his immunity from prosecution in the case.

The provisional detention order "is fully justified because of the evident inattention to the process on the part of the investigated person," said Panamanian judge Luis Mario Carrasco.

However, 63-year-old Martinelli believes the court's motive stems from a falling-out with current President Juan Carlos Varela, who the ex-Panamanian lead says is seeking revenge.

"Like those now detained illegally, I'm a victim of rigged proceedings, of coerced or manufactured witnesses and it is ever more evident the violations to the presumption of innocence and due process," Martinelli wrote in an open letter published earlier this month.

The ex-president also took to Twitter to voice his concern over the latest development in his case.

"Round 1 of the impeachment: without being on record, without charge, without proper notice and without trial, the provisional detention was ordered," Martinelli said in a tweet.

Under his administration, Panama witnessed a public works boom and one of Latin America's fastest growing economies.

It is unclear how the court will proceed with Martinelli's detention since he has not been seen in the Central American country for months. He fled Panama in January, with media reports claiming he likely lives in Miami.

Watch video 01:41

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ls/jil (Reuters, AP)

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