MEXICO CITY: A Panamanian court has ordered the arrest of former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, who has been granted political asylum in Nicaragua and is being housed in the country's embassy, Sputnik quoted media reports on Friday.

The court ordered the preventive detention of the former president in a trial followed by a crime of money laundering, the La Estrella de Panama newspaper reported.

On Feb 8, Martinelli requested asylum at the Nicaraguan embassy, claiming political persecution and a threat to his life and safety. The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry said that a request for guarantees for Martinelli's departure from the country had been presented to the Panamanian government.

The Panamanian government rejected the Nicaraguan authorities' request and warned him against making political statements while in the embassy, saying that they would be considered interference by Nicaragua in Panama's internal affairs. Managua responded by claiming a violation of the Havana Convention on the right to asylum, stressing that granting asylum to the politician was in accordance with international law.

Martinelli, who was a presidential candidate in the upcoming election in Panama, said before he was granted asylum that incumbent President Laurentino Cortizo planned to assassinate him before the May 5 vote.

In July 2023, Martinelli was found guilty of using public funds to buy Panama's three largest newspapers in 2010

Martinelli is also on trial in another money laundering and bribery case involving Odebrecht S.A., a global construction conglomerate based in Brazil. The politician also appeared in the so-called Pandora Papers, a trove of leaked documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2021 that revealed secret offshore accounts held by 35 world leaders. Martinelli was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. He has rejected the allegations and called the court’s ruling the worst judicial outburst in Panama's history. -Bernama

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