National Police investigators raided the offices of the Chinese construction company Sinohydro Wednesday looking for evidence the company bribed Ecuadorian officials, including former president Lenin Moreno, to obtain contracts and extend deadlines. Sinohydro is best known as the contractor for the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant, one of the largest public works project in Ecuador history.
The plant, the largest hydroelectric generator in the country, has been plagued with technical, operational and environmental failures since it went on line in 2017.
Based on evidence from the so-called INA Papers, prosecutors claim to have “extensive information” that Sinohydro bribed Ecuadorian managers and overseers for favors. Investigators believe bribes were paid to officials of the Rafael Correa government during the bidding process and construction of Coca Codo. In addition, they say they continue to investigate a possible link between former president Lenin Moreno and Sinohydro money.
According to the INA Papers, there is strong evidence Moreno maintained overseas bank accounts that received funds through other overseas accounts connected to Sinohydro.
Wednesday’s raids were conducted at Sinohydro offices in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.
Covid cases hit two-year low
The Public Health Ministry reported Wednesday there were 900 confirmed cases of Covid-19 last week, the lowest number in more than two years. “We have five weeks of steady decline in cases of the virus and we trust that this pattern will continue,” Health Minister Francisco Pérez told the National Emergency Operations Committee. “The reported cases are also growing less severe, requiring less medical treatment.”
Pérez acknowledged there are “undoubtedly” many more cases that are not reported but said those are following the trend of reported cases. “The unreported Covid illnesses are obviously less severe based on our observation of declining hospitalizations.”
Pérez said the Ministry is “tracking” the new Omicron sub-variant Centauro but says he assumes it is already circulating in the country. Centauro currently represents more than a quarter of Covid cases in Europe but, according to researchers, does not present a greater risk of contagion and severity than other Omicron variants.
Inflation rate drops in August
The National Institute of Statistics reported that Ecuador’s annual inflation rate was 3.77% at the end of August, a reduction of almost half a percent from July. INEC said, however, that inflation is running far ahead of the 2021 rate of .89%.
The report said the largest price increases were for industrialized products, recreation and culture, and healthcare, although it said food prices dropped slightly in July and August. “There are two primary factors in the latest statistics,” INEC said. “The first is the national strike in June and the reduction of the price of gasoline and diesel fuel. Prices for food increased during the strike and have subsequently come down.”
INEC said the cost of the basic household family basket was $754.17 in August, a .07% increase over July.
Some push to restore Correa’s pension
Members of the Union of Hope and the Social Christian party in the National Assembly plan to introduce legislation to restore the lifetime pensions of former president Rafael Correa and former vice president Jorge Glas. The pensions were suspended when the two were convicted of corruption in 2017 and 2019. Correa lives in exile in Belgium while Glas is serving two sentences in a Quito prison.
UNES Assemblywoman Pierina Correa, Rafael Correa’s sister, claims the pensions were stopped illegally since the convictions came after Correa and Glas left office. “More important, those convictions were politically motivated and not supported by the facts. Both men will be exonerated when honorable judges are installed to review the cases.”
Ana Belén Cordero, assemblywoman from the Creo party, rejects the plan to reinstate the pensions. “This is absurd. You do not use the people’s money to pay cirminals, especially fugitives from justice,” she said. “This will not pass the Assembly and, even if it does, will be vetoed by the president.”