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US Judge Approves Extradition of Former Panamanian President

FILE - Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli answers questions during an interview at a hotel in Guatemala City, Jan. 28, 2015.

A U.S. federal judge Thursday approved the extradition of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli to face charges of corruption and spying on his political opponents.

Judge Edwin Torres in Miami wrote that there are "reasonable grounds to suppose him guilty of all or some of the offenses charged ... good faith to the demanding government requires his surrender."

Martinelli's lawyers said they would appeal. It is up to the State Department to decide whether he will be sent back to Panama.

Martinelli was president of the South American country from 2009 until 2014.

He fled to Miami in January 2015, just days before the Panamanian Supreme Court opened a corruption investigation against him. U.S. authorities arrested him in June.

Martinelli, a wealthy supermarket magnate, is suspected of embezzling millions of dollars from a public school lunch program for poor children and using that money to set up equipment to spy on his political opponents.

He has denied the charges, calling them politically motivated.