PANAMA CITY: Panama denied a request from Nicaragua to allow safe passage for ex-president Ricardo Martinelli to leave the country, the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday, after Nicaragua granted asylum to the former leader.
Martinelli is a declared presidential candidate in Panama’s upcoming May election, but a nearly 11-year prison sentence handed down last year for money laundering has cast doubt on his ability to run for his old job.
The combative former leader moved to Nicaragua’s embassy after Panama’s top court rejected an appeal to annul the sentence.
Panama’s constitution bars anyone sentenced to a prison term of five years or more from serving as president, although electoral authorities have not announced any potential disqualification of candidates.
Panama’s foreign ministry urged Nicaragua to avoid exceeding its functions, adding that any action or declaration Martinelli makes from there that impacts Panama’s domestic policy will be seen as interference and have diplomatic consequences.
Martinelli’s running mate, vice-presidential hopeful Jose Raul Mulino, wrote on X that he sees an international conflict coming between the two nations, noting that any asylum decision should be taken by the country it is directed at.
Earlier yesterday, senior US diplomat Brian Nichols described Nicaragua’s decision to grant asylum to Martinelli as undermining the rule of law.