The Supreme Court of Panama declared itself with no jurisdiction today to try former President Ricardo Martinelli for illegal wiretapping and embezzlement and transferred it to an ordinary court, although he maintained the call to trial issued by a magistrate of the highest court who acted as a magistrate.
With 7 votes in favor, the plenary session of 9 magistrates responded thus to a writ of amparo filed by the defense of Martinelli, who is in preventive prison in Panama since last June accused of four crimes punishable with 21 years of prison.
The Judicial Body wrote on Twitter that the plenary, held in permanent session since Thursday, decreed that "jurisdiction is declined before (a) trial court of the SPA (accusatorial criminal system)" and that "the proceedings are validly assorted in the indictment phase", that is, the appeal to trial.
The indictment phase was carried out by Supreme Judge Jerónimo Mejía acting as a magistrate, who on June 26 called Martinelli to appear in an oral and public trial and established December 11 as the beginning of the proceeding.
Sidney Sittón, one of the defenders of Martinelli, told Efe on Friday that the decision of the Supreme Court to decline jurisdiction in a court of the accusatorial criminal system “annuls” the date of December 11.
He also assured that the former Panamanian president, imprisoned preventively, "is very excited" because he has done "partial justice", with the decision of the Supreme Court to decline in an ordinary court the jurisdiction to judge him.
"He is very excited and pleased" because he has "done partial justice; he is happy because at least the defense was supported," said Sittón.
The defense of the former president, who governed Panama between 2009 and 2014, filed a writ of amparo against the decision of June 25 of the magistrate to maintain the case for illegal wiretapping in the sphere of the highest court.
Martinelli's lawyers had been seeking for months the transfer of the trial to an ordinary court and argued that the former leader resigned last June to his seat in the Central American Parliament (Parlacen), a condition that gave the highest court jurisdiction to know the case.
The Panamanian law establishes that the deputies can only be investigated and judged by the Supreme Court of Justice.
Judge Mejía, who sent Martinelli to trial for the four charges against him by the fiscal magistrate, Harry Díaz, was nevertheless in favor of the trial being continued in the Supreme Court because the former president was a deputy of the Parlacen when he was formally impeached in October 2015.
The plaintiffs in the case also expressed their satisfaction in the decision, knowing that despite transferring the Martinelli case to the ordinary court, the accused "Goes directly to trial and remains arrested," according to one of the victims, Balbina Herrera.
However, Herrera, a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), noted that she is disappointed with the Supreme Court of Justice, which she accuses of not taking on its role and not wearing long pants, which in her opinion, shows that "they were totally discredited", once again.
Mitchell Doens, another PRD politician, former minister and alleged victim of wiretapping, shared the position of describing this decision as positive, stating that both complainants and prosecutors were satisfied with a good job despite the "attitude of some magistrates who were really passing the buck".
Although the decisions of the CSJ are maintained, there are doubts among the complainants regarding the possibility of beginning the trial on the scheduled December 11, for which they would be handling the option of mid-January as the date of the trial.
Despite the uncertainty regarding the decision on the jurisdiction in the case, the vote was overwhelming with a final figure of 7 votes in favor of the ruling filed by the defense of Martinelli, with only 2 votes against that decision.
Above the long explanation of Jerónimo Mejía made a few days ago about the jurisdiction of the CSJ in the case, the magistrates determined that in fact, since the accused is not a deputy or another political official, Martinelli must be brought to an ordinary court for wiretapping.
Sidney Sittón set position on the issue and welcomed the decision of the Plenary of the Supreme Court, while agreeing with the plaintiffs on the trial date, noting that there is no time to set a new trial between now and December 11.
Martinelli, a 66-year-old billionaire businessman who claims he is the victim of "political persecution", is being held in El Renacer prison, just outside the Panamanian capital, since June 11.
That day he was surrendered to Panama by the United States, where he spent a year in preventive detention while the Department of State of that country studied his extradition for this case. EFE