Panama arrests supreme court judge on suspicion of corruption

A Panamanian supreme court judge who previously headed the tribunal has been placed under house arrest and suspended from his post pending an investigation into suspected corruption, a congressional committee said on Monday.

Alejandro Moncada is suspected of crimes including money laundering and illicit enrichment, marking the first case of its kind for the Central American country, according to the committee formed a few weeks ago to investigate the judge.

"In the view of this committee, the suspension is justified due to the existence of enough incriminating evidence against the accused relating to the deed reported," said Congresswoman Katleen Levy, a spokeswoman for the committee.

Levy did not elaborate on any evidence.

The congressional committee was created after media reports last month accusing Moncada of purchasing expensive apartments in Panama with illicit means.

Moncada rejected the accusations on Monday and said he had been set up by political enemies following the order for his arrest.

Due to sit in the supreme court until 2020, Moncada was appointed by former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, a bitter rival of new President Juan Carlos Varela.

Once Martinelli's ally and vice president, Varela became a staunch critic of the supermarket tycoon and pledged to clean up the corruption he said the former president had left behind.

However, Varela's government has said little on the investigations into Moncada, which are continuing.

Moncada remains on the supreme court but is barred from performing his duties as well as from leaving his residence or the country without a court order. His properties will be held by the ministry of finance during the probe, Levy said.