Ex-Panamanian president wants freedom while fighting extradition


By Zachary FagensonMIAMI, June 20 (Reuters) - Former Panamanian President
Ricardo Martinelli will ask a federal judge to release him from
U.S. custody on Tuesday while he fights extradition to the
Central American country for allegedly spying illegally on
political rivals, charges that he has denied.
    Martinelli, who is accused of using public money to spy
illegally on more than 150 political rivals during his 2009-2014
term as president, has been held in the United States since his
arrest outside Miami last week. [nL1N1JA1LY]
    Ahead of his bond hearing in a Miami court on Tuesday
afternoon, U.S. prosecutors said in a filing that they are
fulfilling a treaty obligation with Panama in requesting that
Martinelli continue to be held.
    The U.S. Attorney's Office also said the former leader could
be a flight risk.
    Lawyers for Martinelli, 65, said he has lived openly in the
United States since 2015, knowing he might be arrested but doing
nothing to elude it.
    They argued Martinelli is being targeted as a result of a
"personal vendetta" by Panama's current president, Juan Carlos
Varela, who visited U.S. President Donald Trump at the White
House on Monday.
    Varela was Martinelli's vice president, but the two are now
rivals. Last month, Martinelli said on Twitter that Varela was
going after him to divert attention from his own problems.
    "Panama's purported charges against President Martinelli are
legally defective, lack probable cause and are transparently
motivated by politics," the former leader's lawyers said in
their motion seeking bail.
    Martinelli's attorneys also said he had already left the
country to seek political asylum in the United States before
charges were leveled by Panama.

 (Additional reporting and writing by Bernie Woodall in Fort
Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Phil Berlowitz)
 ((bernie.woodall@thomsonreuters.com; +1-954-440-2927; Reuters
Messaging: bernie.woodall.thomsonreuters@reuters.net))


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