Panama president wanted to wiretap rivals -WikiLeaks

PANAMA CITY, (Reuters) – Panamanian President  Ricardo Martinelli tried to bully the U.S. Drug Enforcement  Administration to turn its wiretapping programme on political  rivals, a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks said.
Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon elected last year, sent a  “cryptic” message to the U.S. ambassador in Panama which said,  “I need help with tapping phones,” according to the cable from  August 2009 published by Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Ricardo Martinelli
Ricardo Martinelli

“He made reference to various groups and individuals whom  he believes should be wiretapped, and he clearly made no  distinction between legitimate security targets and political  enemies,” the cable written by then Ambassador Barbara  Stephenson said.
When the ambassador refused, Martinelli complained she was  being “too legal” and made an implicit threat to stop helping  the U.S. government with anti-narcotics operations in Panama if  he could not get help with wiretaps, the cable said.
Martinelli said in a statement yesterday the cable was a  “misinterpretation” and denied asking to intercept politicians’  phone calls. He said the government remained committed to  fighting drug traffickers and money laundering in Panama.
The publication of the diplomatic messages is the latest  example of the ability of WikiLeaks, founded by Australian  Julian Assange, to cause international embarrassment.
A scandal over wiretapping could cause a serious challenge  to Martinelli’s popularity. The conservative business leader,  who is one of Panama’s richest men, has a nearly 60 percent  approval rating. But the U.S. cable expressed worry that  Martinelli was willing to bend the law to reach his political  goals.
“His penchant for bullying and blackmail may have led him  to supermarket stardom but is hardly statesmanlike,” the cable  said.

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