Panama's Martinelli appeals court decision ruling him ineligible for 2024 election

FILE PHOTO: Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli addresses the media while leaving the National Assembly, in Panama City

By Elida Moreno

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) -Panamanian ex-President Ricardo Martinelli and his team have appealed an electoral court's decision finding him ineligible to run in this year's presidential elections, Martinelli's lawyer told Reuters on Thursday.

The court declared him ineligible on Monday, 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.

Martinelli, a 71-year-old supermarket tycoon who governed between 2009 and 2014, has denied wrongdoing and said his sentence is political prosecution.

Most polls before Monday's court ruling positioned him as the favorite to win the election. The electoral court said his running mate Jose Raul Mulino will now appear on the ballot as presidential candidate for Martinelli's political party.

Martinelli has been staying in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama City since February after requesting asylum in the Central American nation.

Written statements in support for Martinelli can be submitted until Friday, said Alma Cortes, Martinelli's lawyer. The aim of the appeal is to eventually bring the case before international legal bodies, she said.

"We are waiting for the respective evaluations and considerations, although we already know that they are not going to change that decision," Cortes said of the electoral court.

Martinelli's spokesperson, Luis Eduardo Camacho, said moving the case before an international court would "claim the justice that has not been done to us in Panama."

Media representatives from the electoral court were not immediately available.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; editing by Cassandra Garrison and Chizu Nomiyama)