Scandal-ridden former Panama president Ricardo Martinelli on Tuesday went on trial on charges of money laundering, clouding his chances of standing in next year's election.
Martinelli is one of 15 people accused of having bought, in 2010, a majority share in the Editora Panama America publishing house using state funds.
Martinelli, who was president from 2009-14, was not present at the opening of the trial having presented a medical disability certificate due to an operation on his shoulder.
According to prosecutors, the defendants used a series of front companies to siphon off almost $44 million from state infrastructure contracts during Martinelli's presidency.
Martinelli then allegedly used part of this money to buy a controlling stake in the media company, whose newspapers adopted an editorial line that promoted the ex-president's interests.
Supermarket magnate Martinelli denies having received "any ill-gotten gains" and claims to be a victim of political persecution to prevent him from standing in the May 2024 presidential elections.
The 71-year-old is also accused in a separate case of laundering money from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
In 2016, Odebrecht pled guilty in a Brooklyn court to paying more than $788 million in bribes to government officials and political parties, mainly in Latin America, to win infrastructure contracts.
The Brazilian company admitted paying bribes worth $59 million in Panama in exchange for contracts to build public works.
Martinelli has been investigated for multiple corruption scandals since leaving office. In 2021, he was acquitted for a second time on charges of espionage and embezzlement of public funds.
© Agence France-Presse
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