Following the release of thousands of documents from the collapse of the Cuenca-based financial cooperative Coopera, Ecuador’s anti-corruption czar Iván Granda said that government officials are to blame for poor oversight as well as a subsequent cover-up.
The 2013 Coopera failure left 113,000 account holders locked out of $48 million in savings, including an estimated 400 Cuenca expats. Although the vast majority were eventually reimbursed, some large investors may never reclaim all their money, their losses estimated at as much as $15 million.
Granda questioned why the government of former president Rafael Correa sealed the files from the Coopera investigation, saying he believed it was because of poor monitoring by the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion (MIES) and the Superintendencia of Popular Economic Solidarity (SEPS). In particular, he said former MIES director and current Azuay National Assemblywoman Doris Soliz and former SEPS director Patricio Rivera may be investigated for their role in the debacle.
In addition, Granda questioned the government’s failure to vigorously pursue three Coopera officials who fled the country following the collapse. He said Claudio Alvarado, Luis Carmona and Marcelo Vega Gasparutti, all wanted for bank fraud, will immediately be put on Ecuador’s “Most Wanted list.” The three are believed to be living in the Miami, Florida area.
Granda says that the declassified documents provide details of how Coopera laundered money through banks in Venezuela, Panama, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Argentina, Colombia and the U.S., building a “pyramid scheme” operation that fell apart when on-hand funds could not cover expenses and customer withdrawals.
Most movement of money to overseas banks was conducted through “ghost companies” created by cooperative officials, Granda said.
Coopera customers were attracted by interest rates as high as 14 percent and by the cooperative’s promise to assist poor farmers and businesses in southern Ecuador. Coopera officials held a number of seminars from 2011 through 2013 to attract expat investment, emphasizing their efforts to improve the lives of the poor. “In the end, it was all a scam,” Granda says. “The government should have recognized what was happening much sooner and stepped in to stop it.”
Most Coopera account holders were from Cuenca and Guayaquil.
Coopera general manager Rodrigo Aucay was tried and convicted following the collapse. According to documents released Wednesday, he was a friend and supporter of Correa, which Granda says could have been a factor in government inaction and the classification of documents.