Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of Florida and their counterparts at the Department of Justice helped the U.S. government on Monday extradite former Panamanian President Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal to stand trial in his country.
Martinelli Berrocal was Panama’s president from 2009 to 2014, before fleeing the Central American country. Federal agencies say the 66-year-old lived in Coral Gables, but other sources, like Newsroom Panama link him to a home on Brickell Avenue in Miami’s Financial District. He faces embezzlement charges and allegations he wiretapped judges, political rivals and others while in office.
“This extradition is a testament to the Department of Justice’s commitment to honoring our extradition treaty obligations,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan said. “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.”
The International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, issued a warrant for Martinelli Berrocal’s arrest in May 2017. About a month later, a U.S. magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida ruled the U.S. could extradite for foreign politician to face charges in his home country. This prompted Martinelli Berrocal to file in federal court in South Florida a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which asks a judge to determine if a person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful. The court denied his petition in January 2018.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan issued a warrant ordering the ex-president to 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,” the Department of Justice said in a statement Monday.
Martinelli Berrocal was indicted in Panama for embezzling more than $10 million in public funds and using an extensive surveillance system to illegally monitor about 150 people’s communications. His nation’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic of Panama, issued a warrant for his arrest in December 2015.
Attorneys Marcos Daniel Jimenez of Coral Gables, David Adrian Howard of Miami, Ann Marie St. Peter-Griffith of Kasowitz Benson Torres, and John Richard Byrne and Jordi CarloSantiago Martinez-Cid of Leon Cosgrove represented Martinelli Berrocal. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and their court filings were not publicly available at press time.
Panamanian officials alleged that soon after becoming president, Martinelli Berrocal launched the National Security Council with a “special services” arm that carried out his confidential instructions. That agency used multimillion-dollar surveillance systems to listen in on and record cell phone conversations and computer communications from “targets,” including Panamanian judges, U.S. diplomats, union activists, political allies and opponents, relatives of politicians and business rivals, according to information in filings to support his 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 Benjamin G. Greenberg of the Southern District of Florida. “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.”