Extradited former Panama president Martinelli hospitalized

Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli is escorted to a plane by US marshals at the Opa Locka airport near Miami for extradition to his home country

Panamanian former president Ricardo Martinelli was taken to hospital early Tuesday, one day after he was extradited from the United States to face charges of spying on journalists and opponents.

Martinelli, 66, was suffering from heart problems, said Angel Cedeno, director of the Santo Tomas public hospital in Panama City.

"We have him in intensive care, he's stable and medicated to control his hypertension," Cedeno told reporters.

Martinelli was transferred to the hospital from the El Renacer prison at midnight Monday after receiving permission from the judge handling his case.

Martinelli, president 2009-2014, landed in Panama City on Monday from Florida aboard a chartered plane. He had spent one year since June 2017 incarcerated in Miami.

Martinelli is accused of spying on the telephone calls of more than 150 people, including journalists and politicians.

He is also under investigation in about 20 other cases of corruption.

On Monday a handcuffed Martinelli, escorted by US Marshals, greeted reporters gathered to see him off at the Miami-area airport.

"I'm ready to watch the World Cup!" he said, giving a thumbs-up. Panama qualified for the tournament, which begins on Thursday.

His return to Panama comes at a time of political turbulence as the country prepares for general elections in May.

At a hearing at Panama's Supreme Court on Monday Martinelli warned the judge that he had a serious heart condition

Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli is escorted to a plane by US marshals at the Opa Locka airport near Miami for extradition to his home country