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FILE PHOTO - Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama smiles during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Interpol has issued an arrest notice for fugitive former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli to face charges he engaged in political espionage during his 2009-2014 term, a senior police official said on Monday.

The Central American country sent the U.S. State Department an extradition request for Martinelli last year, when he was believed to be living in Miami, after he was accused of having used government funds to spy illegally on more than 150 political rivals.

Marcos Cordoba, the police commissioner assigned to Panama's judicial investigations directorate, told Reuters that Interpol had issued a so-called "red notice" for Martinelli's arrest. Such notices are a request by the international police organisation to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition

An attorney for Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the former president has denied any wrongdoing and said on Twitter on Monday that his successor, Juan Carlos Varela, was going after him to divert attention from his own problems.

Varela served as Martinelli's vice president but they have sparred bitterly since the transfer of power.

Panama's Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Martinelli in December 2015 after he failed to turn up at a Panamanian court hearing on his case. He presided over an infrastructure boom that helped give Panama one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas, but his administration was dogged by corruption allegations.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Tom Brown)

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