Ex-Panama president's sons get 3 years prison in Odebrecht bribery case

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NEW YORK, May 20 (Reuters) - Two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli were sentenced to three-year prison terms on Friday in a U.S. court for helping launder millions of dollars in bribe payments that Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht made to a high ranking Panamanian official.

Federal prosecutors had sought prison sentences of between 9 and 11 years for Ricardo Martinelli, 43, who shares his father's name, and Luis Martinelli, 40.

The defendants acknowledged creating offshore bank accounts and shell companies to receive bribe payments when their father was president from 2009 to 2014, and pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy last year.

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Defense lawyers argued that the Martinellis should spend no more time in custody in part because they had acted at the behest of their father, identified as the recipient of the bribes.

"I really wanted to please him, to keep him happy, to keep him proud," Luis Martinelli said at the sentencing hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. "That's not to say I am not responsible for my actions."

The younger Ricardo Martinelli also said he regretted his actions and hoped his guilty plea would help "establish accountability in my home country."

U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie said he understood their father's influence, but that the men made a mistake by returning to Panama from the United States in 2020 after initially cooperating with prosecutors.

The men were extradited last year after being arrested in Guatemala.

James McGovern, a lawyer for Luis Martinelli, told reporters after the hearing he expected the men to receive credit for the nearly two years they were detained in Guatemala and six months in a Brooklyn jail.

The case arose from Odebrecht's 2016 guilty plea to bribery and money laundering charges related to the payment of more than $700 million in bribes to officials across Latin America to win contracts. read more

The elder Ricardo Martinelli has not been convicted of any crimes, but remains under investigation in Panama because of a separate probe concerning Odebrecht. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York Additional reporting by Elida Moreno in Panama City; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool

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