Former president Moreno and his family face bribery charges in Chinese hydroelectric project scandal

Feb 23, 2023 | 22 comments

Former President Lenin Moreno and 36 others will be charged with bribery in connection with the construction of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric project. According to the Attorney General’s office, the case stems from an investigation of offshore companies allegedly used to conceal illicit payments from a Chinese contractor between 2009 and 2018, when Moreno served as vice president to Rafael Correa.

In addition to Moreno, his wife Rocío González, daughter Irina Moreno, two brothers and two sisters-in-laws will be charged, prosecutors announced.

Former president Lenin Moreno

Attorney General Diana Salazar said her investigation “reveals a corruption structure around the Coca Codo Sinclair hydro dam of interstate and transnational scope” that continued throughout the construction of the project. She said details of the case would be revealed at a National Court of Justice hearing March 2.

With a total cost of $2.25 billion, the Coca Codo Sinclair project on the Coca River in Napo Province represented one of the largest public expenditures in Ecuador history.

The bribery charges against Moreno first surfaced in early 2019 when the so-called INA papers, based on the name of a company registered in Belize and Panama, allegedly showed a link between the Moreno family and the Chinese Coca Codo Sinclair contractor, Sinohydro. According to information published on the La Fuente website, the contractor deposited $18 million in a Panamanian bank account that was then dispersed to INA and other offshore accounts.

INA was registered in the name of one of Moreno’s brothers, Edwin Moreno.

In total, Salazar estimates $76 million in bribes were paid by Sinohydro during the construction of Coca Codo Sinclair.

At the time, Moreno pushed back against the accusations, claiming they were part of a smear campaign promoted by Correista members of the National Assembly. He said he had ended his association with INA in 2013.

A statement released by Salazar’s office described bribery in this case as public employees acting under government authority, demanding and receiving economic benefits from a contractor. “Bribery is punishable by imprisonment from one to five years, according to current criminal regulations. In addition, if the public official resorts to bribery to commit another crime, the penalty increases from five to seven years,” the statement said.

As he did in 2019, Moreno denied the charges. “As I said four years ago, I did not have any responsibility in the contracting of the most emblematic work of the Citizen Revolution. Coca Codo Sinclair was managed by competent state authorities at the time while I exercised my functions as Vice President.”

He added that when he assumed the presidency in 2017, he denounced more than 600 projects carried out during the Correa administration that were “overpriced, mismanaged and unfinished.” Moreno said evidence of corruption was turned over to the Attorney General’s office at the time.

Since leaving office in 2021, Moreno lived for five months in the United States before relocating to Asunción, Paraguay to assume duties as commissioner on disability issues for the Organization of American States.

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