Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli was extradited to Panama in handcuffs Monday on charges that he illegally spied on private citizens and political rivals using sophisticated hacking devices during his term in office between 2009 and 2014.
A plane carrying Martinelli departed Miami on a U.S.-government chartered jet shortly before 7.30am EST, according to a source familiar with the details. Panama's Foreign Ministry later confirmed the former president was taken him into custody after the plane landed.
Official photos of his arrival in Panama showed him wearing a beige prison shirt and black sneakers. He was taken to Renascer jail near the banks of the Panama Canal, where former dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega was held until his death last year.
In 2015, Panama's Supreme Court ordered Martinelli's arrest over accusations that he used public funds to illegally spy on more than 150 prominent people. Days earlier he had left the country and flown to the United States.
Martinelli denies any wrongdoing and says the charges against him are politically motivated.
An extradition request was issued and Martinelli was taken into federal custody near his home in Coral Gables, Florida, in June 2017.
He applied for political asylum, saying the allegations against him were part of a political vendetta by his former Vice President Panama's current leader, Juan Carlos Varela, and his legal team launched a series of appeals against the extradition.
"Panama and the United States have proven that no matter how wealthy or once powerful an alleged felon may be – to include an ex-President – no one is above the law," said former U.S. ambasador to Panama, John Feeley, writing in a oped for Univision.
As a result of the extradition, Varela delayed his scheduled departure Monday for Russia to attend the opening of the World Cup in which Panama is competing for the first time.