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Panama upholds ex-President Martinelli's ban from 2024 election

Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli kicks-off 2024 presidential campaign, in Panama City

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama's electoral court announced on Sunday it had upheld its decision to ban ex-President Ricardo Martinelli from running in the 2024 general election, following the review of a challenge presented by Martinelli's defense to annul the prohibition.

The court declared him ineligible earlier this month, citing his inability to run due to a nearly 11-year prison sentence for money laundering. Panama's constitution bars anyone sentenced to a prison term of five years or more from serving as president.

Most polls published prior to the ban positioned Martinelli as the favorite to win the election.

The electoral court said his running mate, Jose Raul Mulino, will appear in the ballot as presidential candidate for Martinelli's political party.

"Disqualifying Ricardo Martinelli is a political and coward decision," the former president's spokesperson said in a social media post, adding the move will only fuel Mulino's candidacy.

Martinelli, a 71-year-old supermarket tycoon who governed between 2009 and 2014, has denied wrongdoing and said his sentence is political. He has been living in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama City since he requested asylum after a court ruling found him guilty of money laundering.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Sandra Maler)