Panama ex-President Perez put under house arrest amid money laundering probe

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Panama ex-President Perez under house arrest

PANAMA CITY — Former president Ernesto Perez Balladares was put under house arrest Thursday while authorities investigate accusations that he laundered money.

Perez, who was in office from 1994 to 1999, is suspected of accepting an unspecified amount of money from a casino called Lucky Games SA.

During his term, the government granted the casino an operating license.

Organized crime prosecutor Jose Ayu said he issued the order to ensure Perez does not leave the country.

The former president has refused to comment on the case, but his Democratic Revolutionary Party calls the accusations politically motivated.

The 63-year-old leader was voted into office in 1994, in what is considered the Central American nation’s first democratic election after following a U.S. invasion to topple strongman Manuel Noriega in 1989.

Opponents accuse Perez of living lavishly from the proceeds of illegal dealings during his time in office.

Perez, who owns several luxury homes, a plane, a yacht and luxury cars, says he earned his wealth legally.

It is the first time a former president has been placed under arrest in Panama, where allegations of wrongdoing against politicians rarely gain traction.

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