Thu, 28 May 2020

Former Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for corruption during his 10-year term in office, the attorney general's office said on Tuesday.

Correa - who was president from 2007 - 2017 but now lives in exile in Belgium, where his wife was born - was one of 18 people convicted of bribery, the office said.

READ | Ecuador voters bar ex-president Correa from comeback

Correa, one of the feistiest characters in Latin American politics, has always claimed to be a victim of political persecution. He accuses his country's judges of complicity and hit out at the sentence.

"I know the process and what the judges say is a LIE. They've proved absolutely NOTHING. Pure false testimony without evidence," he wrote.

He was found guilty of accepting funds from private businesses for his 2013 election campaign in return for state contracts.

Political career

Attorney General Diana Salazar says various businesses paid $7 million in bribes to secure those contracts.

Correa, a leftist economist by training, was implicated over a $6 000 payment to his private account, which he claims was a loan.

Among the others sentenced on Tuesday was former vice president Jorge Glas, who since 2017 has been serving a six-year prison sentence in a separate case for accepting a bribe from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Glas was vice-president under Correa from 2013 - 2017 before he was re-elected under current President Lenin Moreno, only to be suspended several months later over the Odebrecht scandal.

Correa preceded Moreno in office and battled him for control of the Country Alliance party.

The court also banned all those convicted from political "participation" for 25 years.

In any case, Ecuador's constitution bars those convicted of bribery, illicit enrichment and embezzlement from standing for public office, meaning Correa's political career is finished.

"This was what they were looking for: manipulating justice to achieve what they never could at the ballot box," said Correa, who turned 57 on Monday.

The former leader said he was "concerned" for his colleagues, adding: "For sure we'll win (an appeal) at the international level because all this is ridiculous."

Alexis Mera, the former legal secretary to the presidency under Correa, said he would appeal his own conviction, claiming it was "full of lies".

"I never received campaign money and I proved it," he said.

Mera claims his conviction is based on a simple receipt for $80 000 for legal services that he says doesn't include his signature.

Correa is considered a fugitive by the Ecuadoran courts. He was also wanted for the alleged kidnapping of an opposition lawmaker but cannot be tried in absentia on that charge.

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