SAN JOSE--Nicaragua's government said on Wednesday it had granted asylum to Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli, after the ex-leader, currently facing a lengthy prison sentence at home, requested the protection at Nicaragua's embassy in Panama City. The former president confirmed to Reuters that he had requested asylum in Nicaragua.
His spokesman said he was still in Panama. Martinelli, who is campaigning to return to Panama's presidency in elections later this year, considers himself a victim of political persecution with his life in "imminent" danger, according to a statement from Nicaragua's foreign ministry. Late last week, Panama's top court rejected Martinelli's appeal to annul a nearly 11-year prison sentence due to a conviction last year centering on money laundering charges. Electoral authorities in Panama have not given statements on the status of Martinelli's candidacy since the court's decision to upheld his sentence. Even so, Martinelli, who was president of the Central American nation from 2009 to 2014, has been leading in polls ahead of May's presidential election. Panama's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nicaragua has in the past granted asylum to two former presidents of nearby El Salvador, Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez.