A court has cleared former Panama President Ricardo Martinelli of espionage charges. He was accused of spying on politicians and journalists while he was president from 2009 to 2014.
A Panama court on Friday declared former President Ricardo Martinelli not guilty of espionage and ordered his immediate release.
Martinelli was president of Panama from 2009 to 2014 and was accused of embezzlement and illegally monitoring the phone calls and communications of some 150 people, including politicians and journalists.
In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel ruled that prosecutors had "failed to prove" the charges and that "reasonable doubts" had arisen about the allegations against Martinelli. Prosecutors had been seeking a prison term of 21 years.
Martinelli, a 67-year-old billionaire businessman, had long denied the accusations, insisting he was the victim of "political persecution" orchestrated by his former vice president, Juan Carlos Varela.
Martinelli had been living under house arrest after spending a year in protective custody in a Panamanian jail
"Thanks to my lawyers justice was done. This was a conspiracy of Juan Carlos Varela and Ronaldo Lopez," Martinelli said Friday, singling out the country's former national security council secretary as well.
Prosecutors say they plan to appeal the decision.
"We want justice," state prosecutor Carlos Herrera Moran said. "We will continue fighting for the victims because here there were hundreds of victims whose rights were violated and whose privacy was violated."
"We will go to the supreme court and as far as necessary," he added.
Martinelli is the founder of Democratic Change (CD), one of the country's most important political parties. He was extradited to Panama from the US in June 2018.
The former president had been under house arrest since June after spending a year in detention in a Panamanian jail. The court on Friday also lifted a measure that prevented Martinelli from leaving the country.
bw/kl (Reuters, EFE)