Government ackowledges possible drug connections with top officers, orders review of financial records

Dec 16, 2021 | 9 comments

Stunned by chargers that top officers of the National Police and Army are involved in drug trafficking, Interior Minister Alexandra Vela, announced an investigation Wednesday of 19 police commanders. She asked the Superintendency of Banks to review the bank accounts and financial transactions of the officers.

Interior Minister Alexandra Vela, left, with National Police Commander Tannya Varela at a Wednesday press conference.

The claim that Ecuadorian commanders and generals are being paid by drug cartels was made Saturday by the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Michael Fitzpatrick, who said that hundreds of U.S. visas of police and military officers and their families have been cancelled. The ambassador did not give names of the so-called “narco generals” but said he would provide evidence to the Ecuadorian government. He said the U.S. is conducting its own investigation.

After claiming Monday that no active duty officers were involved in drug activity, the government acknowledged Wednesday it had uncovered “disturbing information about some personnel.” Vela offered no details but said she was in touch with Fitzpatrick and the U.S. Embassy on the matter. She said she is awaiting the list of police and military personnel whose travel visas have been cancelled.

Wednesday morning, the attorney for National Police Commander Víctor Araus acknowledged that Araus’s visa had been cancelled. Araus was summoned to the U.S. Embassy where he was personally handed the cancellation notice. In a press conference, attorney Diego Chimbo said the visa cancellation was part of a “smear campaign” against his client by other officers within the National Police. “These people provided fraudulent information to the U.S. government that my client was involved in illegal activity,” he said. “The U.S. government did not investigate this matter but decided to withdraw the visa anyway. Víctor Araus is innocent and a full investigation will prove this.”

In a press conference with police General Tannya Varela, Vela said her office is dedicated to “determining the truth” about the charges made by the U.S. government. “It is my intention and duty to make certain that Ecuadorians have absolute assurance that their police and military officers are in full compliance with the ethical standards that their jobs require. The reputation of our most important institutions is at stake in this case.”

Vela said that the investigation of financial records, to be conducted by the Financial Analysis Unit of the Bank Superintendency, will be conducted as quickly as possible. She added she has the full support of President Guillermo Lasso. “The president is committed to eliminating corruption in all aspects of the government,” she said. “It has been allowed to fester for far too long.”