Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli
FILE PHOTO - Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli smiles during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Photo by: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Former President of Panama Ricardo Martinelli said he is willing to run for the upcoming presidential election despite his past conviction for money laundering.

The 71-year-old Martinelli was introduced as a candidate of the Realizing Goals Party during a rally that took place in Panama City over the weekend, where his supporters were seen holding blue and white flags and showing their support for the candidate.

The former president and businessman gave a speech during the rally and addressed the money laundering incident, saying he was not guilty of being involved in any criminal activities.

Instead, he accused the current government of persecuting him ahead of elections. The general elections will be held on May 5.

"The only crime I have committed is to defend the people of Panama, to defend our country from those who want to steal hope," he said, AP News reported on Sunday.

Martinelli, who served as the country's president from 2009 to 2014, is known for investing massive amounts in infrastructure projects for Panama's development purposes.

Last year in July, the former president was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a money laundering case, where he was accused of using undeclared funds from companies that had agreements with Panama's government to acquire a media company that owns various newspapers across the country.

Martinelli purchased the media company with his funds and was freed from the court after he appealed the conviction. However, the case hearing will be held this Friday in Panama's Supreme Court.

According to the country's Supreme Court, anyone convicted for more than five years or more in prison won't be able to run for office. Hence, this Friday will decide whether Martinelli will be able to run for the presidential election or not.

If Martinelli runs for the election, he will be seen locking horns with another former president, Martin Torrijos, who is also equally popular among the voters, as per a recent poll by EcoAnalitic.

Since Martinelli left the office in 2014, he has been linked with several corruption cases. Due to these alleged corruption cases, the United States barred him from entering the country alongside his entire immediate family.

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