Ricardo Martinelli, ex-President of Panama, sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption

Summary by Martin Mowforth

Key words: Ricardo Martinelli; Panama; money laundering; ‘New Business’ case; Odebrecht corruption case.


In February this year (2024), Ricardo Martinelli, ex-President of Panama from 2009 to 2014, was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for corruption. The Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the sentence passed on Martinelli last July after his last legal appeal had been rejected.

This makes Martinelli, 71 years old, the first ex-President to be sentenced for corruption in the democratic history of Panama. This prevents him from running as a presidential candidate in the elections next May. He had already declared his candidacy for his newly created party, RM or Realizando Metas.

Martinelli (pictured) was charged with money laundering in a case known as ‘New Business’ which involved the purchase of public funds. New Business was the name of a front company which collected approximately $43 million from firms that received lucrative government contracts. Those funds were then used to buy a media conglomerate with control of several national papers.

The ex-President has also been ordered to pay more than $19 million in fines. He also faces charges of money laundering and bribery associated with the case of the Brazilian Odebrecht construction company. Additionally, he is under investigation in Spain in a case of corruption by bribery involving a Spanish Construction company and in a case of spying in Mallorca.

Two of Martinelli’s sons previously served prison sentences in the United States for their involvement in money laundering schemes, and they also face trial in Panama. Martinelli and his sons are banned from entering the United States. The US has also barred former President Juan Carlos Varela from entering the country due to his role in “significant corruption” while in office.