Panama Ex-President Martinelli Granted Asylum in Nicaragua

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(Bloomberg) -- Former Panama President Ricardo Martinelli was granted political asylum in Nicaragua on Wednesday after a high court ruling against him that threatens to upend the presidential election in which he was the frontrunner.

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Martinelli is currently inside Nicaragua’s embassy in Panama City and has filed paperwork that would guarantee his safe passage to that country, his spokesman Luis Eduardo Camacho told reporters.

Panama’s top court on Friday upheld a 10-year prison sentence against Martinelli for money laundering. Polls show the former president leading the race by a wide margin ahead of May 5 election, but the conviction will likely disqualify him from the race. The country’s electoral body must issue a decision on whether or not he can run.

Nicaragua’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement that they had granted Martinelli’s asylum request “considering he is being persecuted for political reasons and that his life, physical integrity and safety are at imminent risk.”

A poll this week showed most voters undecided if Martinelli is barred from the election, with independent lawmaker Zulay Rodriguez leading among decided voters. Rodriguez opposed a new mining contract with Canada’s First Quantum Minerals Ltd. last year.

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