Son of Panama’s ex-president pleads guilty in US corruption case

Luis Enrique Martinelli pleaded guilty to money laundering in scheme involving Brazil conglomerate Odebrecht

The son of Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli has pleaded guilty to money laundering as part of a massive corruption scheme involving Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht, United States prosecutors said.

Luis Enrique Martinelli admitted to conspiring with his brother Ricardo to establish offshore bank accounts “to receive and disguise over $28m in bribe proceeds”, the US Department of Justice said in a statement on Thursday.

“To advance the scheme, Luis Enrique Martinelli agreed with others to cause the wiring of the Odebrecht bribe funds into and out of the United States, and used some of the proceeds of the scheme to purchase a yacht and a condominium in the United States,” the statement reads.

The 39-year-old acknowledged that some of the money was used to buy a yacht and a condominium in the US, according to the department.

Sentencing for Martinelli, who was extradited to the US just weeks ago from Guatemala, is scheduled for May 20 next year. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the Justice Department said.

His brother remains in custody in Guatemala, awaiting extradition. Both were arrested there in July while attempting to travel to Panama and charged in relation to the scheme.

Their father Ricardo Martinelli, Panama’s ex-president, is himself under investigation in the Odebrecht scandal, but has announced his intention to seek re-election in 2024.

Investigations into Odebrecht have tarnished many leaders and political parties in Latin America. Former bosses of the company have admitted in court of illegally distributing millions of dollars of bribes, in exchange for public contracts.

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