Panama's Electoral Tribunal has lifted former President Ricardo Martinelli's immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for authorities to investigate him for alleged corruption.

The lifting of Martinelli's immunity as a member of the Central American parliament had been requested by Panama's Supreme Court and frees it to proceed with his prosecution. The decision was made Tuesday and announced the following day.

The billionaire supermarket magnate faces accusations that 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 persecution by his successor, Juan Carlos Varela. He has left the country and his whereabouts are unknown.

Martinelli governed Panama from 2009-2014, a period of high economic growth but also of corruption, his critics say.