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Panamanian Candidate, Facing Prison, Vows to Campaign From an Embassy

As Panama jumps into its boisterous Carnival period, the celebrations this weekend come amid a bizarre political drama playing out in the capital.

A former president, who is also a top contender in this year’s presidential election in May, has holed himself up in the Nicaraguan Embassy in Panama City, accompanied by his furniture, including a sofa and a desk, as well as his dog, Bruno.

Ricardo Martinelli, a 71-year-old conservative businessman who led Panama from 2009 to 2014, was granted asylum by Nicaragua this week after Panama’s Supreme Court denied his appeal of a money-laundering conviction that carried with it a 10-year prison sentence.

Mr. Martinelli, who has faced other criminal investigations, contends not only that the case is politically motivated, but also that Panama’s president and vice president want to kill him.

Instead of going to prison, he said he intends to continue his presidential campaign from the grounds of the embassy, even though Panama’s Constitution prohibits someone who has been sentenced to five years or more for intentionally committing a crime from running the country.

“You have to be very cowardly to disqualify a presidential candidate who is first in the polls,” he said in a statement posted Wednesday on X, the social media platform. He added: “That is an attack against democracy.”

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