Panamanian electoral court bars former president Martinelli's candidacy in May elections

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PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) — Panama’s Electoral Tribunal has disqualified former president Ricardo Martinelli’s candidacy in the country’s May 5 presidential election because of a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering he received last year, the tribunal’s presiding magistrate said Monday night.

Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon who was president of Panama from 2009 to 2014, was convicted last July of money laundering in a case involving the purchase of a media conglomerate with public funds.

Panamanian authorities last month ordered Martinelli’s arrest and the former president has been holed up in the Nicaraguan Embassy since receiving political asylum there.

Magistrate Alfredo Juncá said the tribunal’s decision to disqualify his candidacy came after his sentence was upheld on Monday.

The 71-year-old Martinelli is the presidential candidate of his party even though Panama’s constitution bars anyone sentenced to five years or more for a crime from holding elected office.

Martinelli’s running mate, former Foreign Minister José Raúl Mulino, was authorized by the tribunal to continue alone on the ballot as the presidential candidate. Martinelli was also disqualified from running for a legislative seat.

Martinelli has denied wrongdoing and maintains he is the victim of political persecution.

Martinelli, a populist who oversaw a period of big infrastructure projects, including construction of the capital’s first subway line, is the first former president convicted of a crime in Panama.

Last year, the U.S. government barred Martinelli and his immediate family from entering that country, based on what it called his involvement in “significant” corruption.