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Judges says Martinelli was guilty of extortion

Temas:

Naples judges who handed down a three-year prison sentence against Valter Lavítola confirmed that they found evidence that former President Ricardo Martinelli was guilty of extortion.

Judges Giovanna Cepalluni, Alessandra Cataldi and Bárbara Mendia issued a decision March 7 that found that Martinelli extorted and intimidated the Italian company Impregilo for more than $20 million to build a hospital in Veraguas promised by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2010. The judges found that Lavitola was a "spokesperson with the intention of discrediting Impregilo for Martinelli."

Martinelli is described in the sentence as an accomplice, according to sources in the Naples Prosecutor's Office. This opens the door for legal action against Martinelli. American businessman Rogelio Oruña, who would have received the contract to build the hospital, is also named.

The 41-page ruling says that the sentence handed down against Lavítola is part of a "greater criminal action" of international corruption based on the evidence, which included taped telephone conversations, testimony and other evidence.

The evidence was so overwhelming that the judges extended the one-year sentence sought by prosecutors to three years. 

"It is obvious that there was an unlawful agreement between Impregilo and Martinelli, which consisted of a non-written commitment to finance the hospital in exchange for the award of Metro contracts," said the ruling. "It seems clear that such an agreement was intended to alter the regular development of the public tender for the award of the project."

It added that it was clear that the contracts issued by the Metro were marked by the "constant and active presence of Valter Lavítola," citing statements by then-director of Impregilo, Massimo Ponzellini.

"Lavitola made us understand that President Martinelli wanted economic recognition for awarding the tender for the Metro to Impregilo," Ponzellino said.

The investigation into the corruption allegations between Panama and Italy have been ongoing for more than four years. It also involves alleged bribes paid by defense consortium Finmeccanica for a lucrative contract and attempts to solicit bribes from the company Svemark for the construction of prisons.

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