The “heaviest sentence” provided for, 12 years in prison, was requested by the prosecutor on Thursday in the money laundering trial of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who aspires to run for a new term in the 2024 elections.

Mr. Martinelli and 14 of his co-defendants are being prosecuted for the purchase in 2010 with public money of a majority stake in the media group Editora Panamá América, which owns the newspaper of the same name and the popular newspapers Crítica and Día a Día.

“We request (…) the conviction” of Ricardo Martinelli and twelve of his co-accused, prosecutor Emeldo Marques said on the eighth day of the trial, recommending the imposition of the “heaviest penalty” of 12 years in prison provided by the Panamanian criminal code. Instead, he asked for the acquittal of the other two defendants.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the media group was acquired through a network of various anonymous companies, into whose accounts an amount of $43.9 million was opaquely deposited, resulting from bribes allegedly received by the former president (2009-2014) in exchange for assignments public works.

The populist former president did not attend the hearing, which was broadcast live on the official Panamanian justice website. His lawyers presented the court with a medical certificate stating that he had recently undergone spinal surgery.

The former head of state, a wealthy 71-year-old businessman, who in particular owns a supermarket chain, declares his innocence, assures that he has never misused even a “five cent” and denounces the “political trial”, which according to him has the sole purpose of not appearing again to the presidency in the elections to be held in a year, in May 2024.

Posts on social networking sites are already promoting his candidacy, while his lawyers have multiplied their objections and appeals during the trial, which have been rejected one after the other, and there have been several surprises in the hearing.

Mr Martinelli also faces bribery charges in the much-vaunted Brazilian construction company Odebrecht scandal, which has swept presidents and other politicians across Latin America.

And yet, he still faces a criminal charge for allegedly receiving kickbacks for public works contracts during his tenure.

Several opinion polls want – despite his judicial adventures – Mr. Martinelli, a politician with an often extremely sharp speech, to be the favorite ahead of next year’s presidential elections. However, most Panamanian parties have not yet nominated their candidates, pending internal party procedures.