Panama’s ex-president Ricardo Martinelli was acquitted on charges of spying on political foes and misappropriation of public funds in a court decision Friday.
The case marked the first time a Panamanian former president was tried in criminal court.
The 67-year-old supermarket tycoon was accused of spying on some 150 opponents between 2012 and 2014 as well as using state resources in the pursuit, including $13 million in equipment which subsequently disappeared.
Martinelli “is found not guilty,” said Raul Vergara, one of three judges on the tribunal.
Shouts of joy from Martinelli’s supporters rang out in the courtroom after the verdict was read.
“Thank you to my lawyers, thank you to the Panama authorities, this was a criminal conspiracy,” Martinelli told journalists and supporters.
After his release, Martinelli held a small party at one of his luxurious properties.
Martinelli -- who was president from 2009-14 and fled to Miami in 2015 to avoid arrest -- claims he was a victim of political persecution by the government of his successor Juan Carlos Varela, a former political ally.
Prosecutors had asked for an “exemplary” sentence of 21 years to set a precedent for corruption cases in Panama.