PANAMA CITY — Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli denied Saturday that he asked the United States to help install phone taps on his political opponents, but acknowledged a request for help against criminals and organized crime figures.
A leaked US diplomatic cable from Aug. 22, 2009 quotes then-US ambassador Barbara Stephenson as saying the newly elected conservative president asked for help with wiretaps soon after he took office on July 1.
One of Martinelli's top officials later told a US Drug Enforcement Administration official the taps would be aimed at possible attempts by leftist governments in the region to interfere in Panamanian politics, and people targeted by anti-corruption or anti-drug campaigns.
The memo published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais said Stephenson thought Martinelli was not making a distinction between legitimate security targets and political opponents.
In a statement, Martinelli's office said "help in tapping the telephones of politicians was never requested," adding "any such interpretation of that request is completely mistaken."
The government called it "a mistaken interpretation by US authorities of the request made for assistance in combating drug trafficking, crime and organized crime."