Former Panama president's sons return after U.S. conviction for money laundering

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli returned to their country on Wednesday, after serving a sentence in the United States for money laundering in a case linked to the Odebrecht scandal, a spokesperson for the family said.

The sons of Martinelli - Luis Enrique Martinelli and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli - pleaded guilty of acting as intermediaries for some $28 million in bribes paid by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht to a Panamanian official while their father was president from 2009 to 2014.

They were sentenced to three years in prison, which they served partly in Guatemala and New York.

The brothers' lawyers told local media earlier on Wednesday a fee of $14 million had been paid so they would not be put back in detention.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement also on Wednesday saying the government will bar Martinelli from entering the country due to his role in acts of corruption.

Odebrecht confessed to having paid millions in bribes in Latin America since the mid-2000s to obtain sought-after public contracts.

In Panama, the investigation implicated around a hundred people, including former presidents Martinelli, and his successor Juan Carlos Varela, who left office in 2019.

The arrival of the brothers has caused a stir in Panama as the country is preparing for its 2024 general elections, in which Martinelli will seek to be elected president for a second term despite pending trials.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Sarah Morland & Simon Cameron-Moore)