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Source: Panama Supreme Court OKs probe of corruption charges against ex-President Martinelli

  • Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli answers questions during an interview at a hotel in Guatemala City, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. Panama's Supreme Court has decided to open a corruption probe against the billionaire supermarket magnate over allegations he inflated contracts worth $45 million to purchase dehydrated food for a government social program. Martinelli has denied the charges and says he is the target of political persecution by his successor, Juan Carlos Varela. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

    Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli answers questions during an interview at a hotel in Guatemala City, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. Panama's Supreme Court has decided to open a corruption probe against the billionaire supermarket magnate over allegations he inflated contracts worth $45 million to purchase dehydrated food for a government social program. Martinelli has denied the charges and says he is the target of political persecution by his successor, Juan Carlos Varela. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)  (The Associated Press)

  • Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli answers questions during an interview at a hotel in Guatemala City, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. Panama's Supreme Court has decided to open a corruption probe against the billionaire supermarket magnate over allegations he inflated contracts worth $45 million to purchase dehydrated food for a government social program. Martinelli has denied the charges and says he is the target of political persecution by his successor, Juan Carlos Varela. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

    Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli answers questions during an interview at a hotel in Guatemala City, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. Panama's Supreme Court has decided to open a corruption probe against the billionaire supermarket magnate over allegations he inflated contracts worth $45 million to purchase dehydrated food for a government social program. Martinelli has denied the charges and says he is the target of political persecution by his successor, Juan Carlos Varela. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)  (The Associated Press)

Panama's Supreme Court is opening a corruption investigation of former President Ricardo Martinelli

A person close to the high court says that nine judges voted unanimously Wednesday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Martinelli. The person insisted on speaking anonymously because the ruling hasn't been made public.

Martinelli has denied the charges and says he's the target of a smear campaign by his successor and former ally, President Juan Carlos Varela.

The supermarket tycoon traveled Wednesday to Guatemala to attend a session of the Central American parliament amid media speculation he would seek asylum.

The investigation centers on the testimony of a former aide who accused Martinelli of ordering him to sign an inflated $45 million contract to purchase food for a government-run social program.