Miami-Dade County

Martinelli has a friend in Regalado as he awaits extradition

Ricardo Martinelli, former president of Panama
Ricardo Martinelli, former president of Panama El Nuevo Herald

Former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli has a friend in Miami’s mayor as he awaits word on whether he’ll be extradited to his former country on charges that he illegally spied on his enemies and allies.

Martinelli, who was living in the Miami area for two years before his June arrest near his Coral Gables estate, is accused of intercepting and recording the private conversations of political opponents and allies, judges, journalists, businessmen and union activists. He has been charged in Panama with interception of communications, and tracking, persecution and surveillance without judicial authorization, along with two additional embezzlement offenses, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami.

The 65-year-old is being held at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. Federal Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres denied him bond, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday denied an emergency petition to consider a request for bail.

That same day, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado wrote a letter of support to Torres. Regalado said he met Martinelli back when he was still Panama’s president and again after Martinelli moved his family to the Miami area in 2015 after his country’s Supreme Court opened an investigation into allegations that he had helped embezzle $45 million from a government school lunch program.

In an interview, Regalado said he wrote the letter upon the urging of Mayin Correa, a former Panamian official and radio journalist who worked with the mayor decades ago when he was a newsman in the U.S. on WQBA. Regalado said Correa told him Martinelli has a heart condition.

“Even with the actual issues due to the political climate in Panama, I know that President Martinelli has many friends in Miami that vouch for him,” Regalado wrote on city letterhead. “President Martinelli has health issues and needs to be home with his family while he awaits the resolution of his case in the U.S. courts.”

Torres has said he expects to rule on whether there is enough evidence to extradite Martinelli following an Aug. 22 hearing.