PANAMA CITY – A former Panamanian government official was arrested Thursday night over suspected corruption, the latest ex-minister to be nabbed in a widening graft probe into the administration of ex-President Ricardo Martinelli.
Former Agriculture Minister Óscar Osorio was arrested after a lengthy interrogation over the award of a public contract to an Ecuadoran company, for which onetime Vice President Felipe Virzi was arrested Wednesday.
Anti-corruption prosecutors ordered Virzi’s arrest after probing the awarding of an irrigation system contract and alleging he received a $5 million payment.
Attorneys for Osorio and Virzi told journalists their clients were innocent.
Numerous close associates of Martinelli have been swept up in an anti-corruption probe that may be zeroing in on the former president who held office from 2009 to 2014.
A former economy minister was arrested Monday, while an ex-social development minister was jailed March 4.
President Juan Carlos Varela estimates the corruption under Martinelli at some $100 million.
Martinelli, 63, who has left the country, says the investigation is politically motivated.
On his Twitter account Friday, Martinelli called the charges “political persecution.”
Otro claro ejemplo de persecuciôn política es inventarle casos a todos los ministros y ahora a Alma Cortez. Por eso el pais está paralizado,
— Ricardo Martinelli (@rmartinelli) June 5, 2015
The ex-president is under investigation by Panama’s Supreme Court in a case involving multi-million-dollar cost overruns in food contracts for the country’s public schools.