Ricardo Martinelli, a former president of Panama, was taken into custody by United States marshals on Monday night at his home near Miami, raising the likelihood that he could be sent home to face charges of corruption and illegal spying.
Mr. Martinelli, who left Panama in 2015 and was living in Coral Gables, Fla., is to appear Tuesday before a federal magistrate for an extradition hearing, the Marshals Service said.
Mr. Martinelli’s office issued a statement saying that the former president had requested political asylum in the United States. “The United States is a democracy where laws and the rights of citizens are respected,” the statement said.
The government of Panama sent a request to the United States in September for Mr. Martinelli’s return. Officials said his home had been under surveillance for the last two weeks.
In addition to being sought in the spying case, Mr. Martinelli is also embroiled in a bribery scandal related to the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, a sprawling investigation that has ensnared prominent politicians across Latin America.
Mr. Martinelli, who was president from 2009 to 2014, is accused of using public funds to spy on about 150 prominent Panamanians, including politicians, union activists and even doctors. The government of his successor, Juan Carlos Varela, began the investigation and in late 2015 ordered Mr. Martinelli’s arrest.
But days before the nation’s Supreme Court had issued the arrest warrant, Mr. Martinelli fled the country and responded to the charges against him on Twitter, calling them baseless and part of a political vendetta by Mr. Varela, his former vice president.
This month, Mr. Martinelli wrote: “They wanted to blame everything on me and my family. When we divulge, we’ll divulge the whole truth and in addition to surprises, there will be many people surprised.”
Late last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had to release a helicopter it had seized from the Martinelli family. On Twitter, the former president vowed that the government would be sued for civil damages. He posted checks that purported to show how he had paid for it legitimately — and not through corruption in the Odebrecht case, as had been suggested.
During Mr. Martinelli’s tenure, well-connected individuals in Panama received about $59 million in bribes from Odebrecht, according to United States officials. Two sons of Mr. Martinelli are wanted by Interpol over accusations that they accepted bribes.
Their father’s arrest comes weeks after the death of the former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, who also found himself detained by the United States and at odds with its criminal justice system.
Mr. Martinelli, a supermarket magnate, presided over a boom in development and infrastructure projects in Panama. The nation became a regional hub for finance and offshore banking, a reputation that was heavily tainted by the release of the Panama Papers, which outlined the extensive use of offshore accounts for the wealthy to hide money.
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