May 24, 2018 / 2:24 PM / in a month

Panama's ex-president to stop fighting extradition from U.S.

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli will no longer fight extradition from the United States to his homeland, his lawyer said on Thursday, where Martinelli will face charges that he organized a scheme to spy on political rivals.

Martinelli is accused by Panamanian prosecutors of using public money to spy on more than 150 political rivals during his 2009-2014 term. He denies those charges.

In a handwritten note distributed by his lawyer Sidney Sitton, the ex-president said his extradition to Panama is now “in the hands of the (U.S.) Department of State.”

Sitton said he expects the extradition to be finalized in less than 30 days, and that Martinelli was no longer seeking asylum in the United States.

“He maintains his innocence and will now face the savage state ruled over by his former vice president who is full of hate and pursuing him,” said Sitton.

Lawyers for Martinelli, who was arrested in Coral Gables in Florida last June, argue that their client is the target of a politically motivated prosecution by President Juan Carlos Varela, who was previously Martinelli’s vice president.

Prosecutors have accused Martinelli of diverting more than $13.4 million in public funds to fund a surveillance system to listen in on his rivals.

Martinelli, a wealthy businessman through his ownership of supermarkets, had been held in federal detention in Miami at the request of the Panamanian government.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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