Sons of Panamanian ex-president released from US prison

The two brothers are expected to return to Panama on Wednesday, where they and their father face corruption charges.

Two sons of Panama’s ex-President Ricardo Martinelli are expected to return to the country after completing prison sentences in the United States for their involvement in an international corruption scandal.

Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Martinelli Linares are slated to arrive in Panama on Wednesday evening after being released earlier in the day, shortly before the completion of their three-year prison sentence in the US.

They were convicted of conspiring to launder millions of dollars in bribes for the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

This August, the brothers are scheduled to go on trial again, this time in Panama, for their involvement in the scandal during their father’s time in office between 2009 and 2014. The brothers admitted to receiving $28m in bribes from the construction group, of which about $19m passed through US accounts.

Their father, the elder Martinelli, is also waiting to be tried on money laundering charges in the Odebrecht case but has said he will run for president again in 2024. Another former president, Juan Carlos Varela, is also scheduled to be tried in the August case, which includes charges against 36 people.

In 2016, the Odebrecht construction company admitted to paying out about $788m in bribes between 2001 and 2016 to win contract bids in Panama and 11 other countries. It paid the US $3.5bn in penalties.

In December 2021, the two Martinelli brothers pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering after they were extradited from Guatemala to the US. They were detained in Guatemala for 23 months before their extradition.

In May last year, they were sentenced to three years in US prison but were released on Wednesday after serving a total of about two and a half years, including time already spent in detention before their conviction. The AFP news agency reported that the brothers’ early release came as the result of good behaviour.

Their return to Panama is being followed closely, particularly as the August trial approaches. Panamanian Attorney General Javier Caraballo made a statement on Tuesday calling for the brothers to face justice in the country.

The brothers have paid a $14m bond in advance to avoid being jailed in Panama as they await trial on charges of money laundering and corruption.

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