Money laundering trial against former Panama President Martinelli and others begins

FILE - Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli walks in Tocumen International Airport, followed by journalists as they all wait for Martinelli's sons Luis Enrique Martinelli and Ricardo Martinelli Linares after completing prison sentences in the United States for laundering millions of dollars in bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, in Panama City, Jan. 25, 2023. Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who aspires to return to power in 2024 elections, has been on trial since May 23, 2023 for alleged money laundering in the purchase of a publishing house that publishes national newspapers. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli was among some 20 people who went to trial Tuesday on money laundering charges as he tries to mount a political comeback ahead of next year’s national elections.

Martinelli, who had back surgery last week, was not present. One of his lawyers tried twice to stop the proceedings, but Judge Baloisa Marquínez dismissed the efforts. The former president has denied wrongdoing.

The case, known locally as “New Business,” dates back to 2017 and concerns the purchase of a publishing company that owns national newspapers.

Prosecutors maintain that through a complex series of foreign money transfers totaling $43 million, companies that had won lucrative government contracts during Martinelli’s presidency, funneled money to a front company that was then used to purchase the publisher. The front company collecting the money was called “New Business.”

Martinelli is also expected to go to trial later this year in a case related to massive bribes paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to win government contracts.

Martinelli served as Panama’s president from 2009 to 2014. He is expected to participate in his party’s primaries in July.