Panama sends U.S. extradition request for ex-president Martinelli

September 27, 2016 12:26 PM EDT

Panama's former president Ricardo Martinelli (C) stands outside the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) in Guatemala City January 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

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PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama has sent the U.S. Department of State an extradition request for former President Ricardo Martinelli to be returned to the Central American nation, a spokesman for Panama's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Martinelli, who is accused of using public money to spy illegally on more than 150 people, left Panama in January 2015 and is believed to be living in Miami.

The former president presided over an infrastructure boom and Latin America's fastest economic growth in recent years but his administration was tainted by allegations of corruption.

In response to the extradition request, Martinelli lashed out at current government and described himself as a victim of a politically motivated witchhunt.

"Diverting attention with a political persecution from the dullest, most inept and corrupt government doesn't achieve anything for the people," he said in a Twitter post.

In December, a U.S. federal judge identified Martinelli as one of several alleged co-conspirators in an unrelated bribery scheme that helped software giant SAP sell millions of dollars in software to Panama.

The extradition request was made on Monday, the government spokesman said, adding that there was no timetable for his potential return due to an analysis of the request that would have to be carried out by U.S. authorities.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno in Panama City and Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City; Editing by Bill Trott)

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