Defense minister orders ‘deep’ investigation of Big Money’s access to military headquarters

Apr 9, 2022 | 15 comments

Minister of Defense Luis Hernández has ordered what he calls a “deep and wide” investigation of how a car and van filled with cash gained access to the national defense headquarters parking lot Thursday and why “Big Money” Don Naza was admitted to the main building of the complex.

Police load sacks of cash into a cruiser Thursday at the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Quito.

“A number of very serious military protocols were violated in the incident and I want to find who was responsible and why the violations occurred,” Hernández said Friday. “We will conduct an extensive review of all personnel involved, review security video and written reports. If criminal activity happened, and I have a suspicion that it did, we will expose it and make arrests. Our policy is zero tolerance for activity that violates our code of honor.”

He added: “Everyone working Thursday in the facility is currently a suspect.”

In a video post on social media, Hernández said it was “incredible” that vehicles filled with cash, one of them with fake registration and an unregistered license plate, could gain access to Ministry headquarters. “The guards are instructed to check the records of all entering vehicles and conduct a search of those not belonging to authorized personnel.”

He is also demanding to know how Miguel Nazareno, alias Don Naza, was allowed entry to the Ministry headquarters building. “Because of the ongoing investigation in Los Rios, he is on the list of persons not allowed on the premises.”

A social media ad for “Big Money” posted last year.

Hernández speculated that Nazareno, a former army officer, showed counterfeit military ID. “If this was the case, this should have been checked, which would have revealed he is on the non-entry list.”

Five people in the car and van were arrested in the Ministry parking lot and what was described as a “very large amount of cash” was confiscated. Nazareno, already in the building at the time of the arrests, escaped through a side entrance.

Nazareno and his Quevedo -based “Big Money” investment and loan operation offered high interest rates on investments and was shut down in June 2021. According to one investigator, the operation appears to have been involved in laundering drug money. Nazareno has not been arrested but he has failed to show up for three court appearances related to the case.

The investigator speculated that Nazareno’s presence at military headquarters could suggest an attempt to bribe military officers in charge of drug interdiction activities in Guayas, Santa Elena, Manibi and Esmeraldas Provinces. “Military operations, including new radar operations, are making it more difficult to offload and repack drug shipments and we know that the traffickers are upset about these efforts.”

The investigator, who spoke to a Manta radio station on condition of anonymity, said it is also possible that the cash was intended for Ministry personnel who had invested in “Big Money.” In some cases, the scheme paid 20 percent interest a week on investments. “I don’t think this is a suitable explanation,” he said. “Why would Don Naza himself be at the headquarters.”

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