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Press Release

US Extradites Former President of Panama to Face Illegal Wiretapping and Embezzlement Charges

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The United States today extradited Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal, who served as President of Panama from 2009 to 2014, to stand trial in that country on four charges related to an illegal wiretapping scheme allegedly conducted while he was in office.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg of the Southern District of Florida made the announcement.

“Following a year of litigation in the United States, former Panamanian President Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal has been extradited to Panama to face charges of embezzlement and illegal wiretapping,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “This extradition is a testament to the Department of Justice’s commitment to honoring our extradition treaty obligations.  I especially thank the hard-working attorneys and international affairs specialists in the Office of International Affairs, as well as our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District Florida, for their tireless efforts in support of this extradition.”

 “Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of Florida, alongside attorneys for the Department’s Office of International Affairs, have worked hard to make sure that former Panamanian President Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal would be extradited back to his home country to face criminal charges,” said U.S. Attorney Greenberg.  “Our Office is committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that justice is appropriately carried out for all parties.  Because of Panama’s partnership with the United States, Martinelli has been returned to Panama.”

Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal, 66, formerly of Coral Gables, Florida, was indicted in Panama for illegally monitoring communications of more than 150 people between 2012 and 2014 using an extensive surveillance system, and for embezzling over $10 million in public funds.  A justice of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic of Panama (the highest court in Panama) issued an arrest warrant for Martinelli on Dec. 21, 2015. 

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, working with the government of Panama, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, and the U.S. Department of State successfully returned the former Panamanian President in response to a request submitted under the terms of the extradition treaty between the United States and Panama.  

According to the information provided by the government of Panama in support of its extradition request, shortly after taking office, Martinelli created the National Security Council, an advisory body to the President containing a “Special Services” unit, which carried out confidential activities at the direction of the President.  The Special Services unit used two multi-million-dollar surveillance systems to illegally intercept and record the private communications from the cell phones and computers of at least 150 individuals whom Martinelli identified as “targets,” including his political allies and opponents and their family members, his business rivals, Panamanian judges, journalists, union activists, U.S. diplomats, and others.  Shortly following the 2014 elections, and before Martinelli left office as President, members of the National Security Council removed much of the surveillance equipment from the Special Services’ office.  The whereabouts of the equipment is currently unknown.

On Aug. 31, 2017, a U.S. magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida ruled that Martinelli could be extradited to Panama on the four Panamanian charges.  Martinelli then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which the federal district court in the Southern District of Florida denied on Jan. 23, 2018. 

Following a thorough review of Martinelli’s case, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan issued a warrant ordering Martinelli’s surrender to Panamanian authorities.  Today, the U.S. Marshals Service executed that warrant, transported Martinelli to Panama, and delivered him to the custody of Panamanian authorities.

With the extradition now complete, the case will now move forward in the Panamanian legal system and any finding of guilt or innocence will be made by Panamanian courts.

The extradition proceedings and subsequent appellate litigation were handled by Acting Associate Director Christopher J. Smith and Trial Attorney Rebecca A. Haciski of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emily M. Smachetti and Adam S. Fels of the Southern District of Florida with the support of OIA Assistant Director Magdalena Boynton and the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section.

Updated June 11, 2018

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 18-757