- Panamá Today
The Supreme Court of Panama held on Monday the indictment hearing against Ricardo Martinelli for the case of illegal wiretapping during his term (2009-2014), amid claims by the defense that alleges that the court lost jurisdiction after the resignation of the former president as deputy.
Martinelli, 66, and extradited by the US on June 11, submitted by third party last Friday before the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) his letter of "irrevocable resignation" as a deputy of that body, a position to which he was entitled for having been President of a member country.
After Martinelli’s resignation as a deputy, the case of illegal wiretapping, for which prosecutor Harry Díaz requests up to 21 years in prison for the former head of state, leaves the sphere of the Supreme and is brought to the ordinary courts.
The defense representing the former president said that the hearing on Monday should not be held for "procedural economy", although the Supreme Court, which convened on the 15th at the request of prosecutor Díaz, has not officially set his position on the matter.
Martinelli is being held in the El Renacer, a minimum-security prison located outside the capital of Panama, since he arrived from the United States, where he was imprisoned for one year because of the request for extradition in the case of wiretapping.
The former president left Panama on January 28, 2015, the same day he was opened the first of about 10 criminal cases by the Supreme Court, although he can only be prosecuted for wiretapping since he was extradited under the specialty provision enshrined in a bilateral treaty of 1905.
Through his spokesman Luis Eduardo Camacho, Martinelli announced that on Sunday he began a hunger strike to claim that he is subject to "political persecution".
In a handwritten letter whose photo was released by Camacho, who was also his communications minister, the former president said he will refuse to appear at the hearing scheduled for Monday.
"On Friday, June 22, my resignation as a deputy was formalized in Parlacen, which means that the Supreme Court of Justice lost all jurisdiction to hear complaints against me," reads the handwritten letter.
There is controversy in Panama over the path to be followed by the resignation letter sumitted to Parlacen to be seen by the plenary of that regional body, which must formally inform the Panamanian authorities that Martinelli is no longer a regional deputy.
Attorney Ángel Álvarez, who represents several alleged victims of wiretapping, told Efe that beyond the procedures to deliver the letter the important thing is that "the Parlacen officially notifies to the Panamanian Justice that the procedure was completed" , and "this can take a day or 4 months".
"The only foreseeable thing here is that the detention (of Martinelli) is going to be maintained (...) no arrest warrant disappears by grace, you need a ruling that revokes it," Álvarez said.
The plenary of the Supreme denied this week to change the detention in prison for a house arrest, as requested by the defense, and rejected two habeas corpus in favor of Martinelli.
Concerning the hearing on Monday, attorney Álvarez did not dismiss that presiding judge Jerónimo Mejía open it to say that he will not take "any decision until the Parlacen" sets its position on Martinelli’s resignation, which, he said, would be wise.