Top government officials arrested in overnight raids targeting drug trafficking connections

Dec 15, 2023 | 0 comments

Thirty people were arrested Wednesday night and early Thursday, including Wilman Terán, president of Ecuador’s Judiciary Council. Other arrests included the former head of the country’s prison system, prison guards, prosecutors, police officers, judges and a retired general.

Wilman Terán

Called Operation Metastasis by the Attorney General’s office, suspects believed to have protected drug gangs and cartels were arrested in seven provinces. “When there is a linkage between government officials and government employees and drug trafficking organizations, we realize that there is a cancer growing in our society,” Attorney General Diana Salazar said at a press conference describing the operation. “It is time we rescue the country from the hands of criminality.”

Salazar said the raids collected information from computers, cell phones and documents in government and private offices. “I believe the information will explain why drug traffickers and gang leaders escaped arrest and prison sentences. We intend to eradicate the influence of the criminal networks that have become imbedded at all levels of the government.”

In total, the Attorney General’s office says 900 law enforcement officers carried out 75 raids.

In addition to Terán, former national prison director Pablo Ramírez was taken into custody. Ramírez also served as head of the National Anti-Narcotics Directorate in the Guillermo Lasso government,

According to Salazar, the operation was based on months of investigation, much of it focused on the suspects’ relationship with Leandro Norero, who she called “the most powerful drug trafficker in Ecuador” at the time of his 2022 murder in Cotopaxi prison. The leader of the Chone Killers, an affiliate of the Mexican Jalisco New Generation cartel, Norero was known as “El Patrón.” He was also believed to have ties with the so-called Albanian mafia, Salazar said.

Investigation documents obtained by the La Hora newspaper and two news websites show extensive cell phone communication between Norero and the suspects, including Terán and Ramírez. The communication includes text and voice messages to prison administrators, guards, and at least two judges. The investigation also turned up financial records allegedly showing payments to some suspects from members of Chone Killers and Jalisco New Generation.

Norero was believed murdered by prisoners from the rival gang Los Choneros, said to be associated with the Sinaloa cartel. Documents show that Norero made dozens of phone calls to some of the suspects in the days preceding his death. In text messages, he demanded immediate reassignment out of the Cotopaxi prison.

Despite his arrest, National Assembly members from the Construye and Social Christian parties said they would continue efforts to impeach Terán. “We are not surprised by the news but until he is convicted and sentenced, we intend to pursue impeachment for his failure to perform his duties with the judiciary council,” said Assemblyman Jorge Peñafiel. “Again and again, we watched as he supported judges who allowed drug traffickers to go free.”

He added, “Now, maybe, we know why.”

Most of those arrested in Operation Metastasis were arraigned Thursday night in courts in Guayas, Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Santo Domingo del los Tsáchilas, Loja and Manabí provinces. Salazar requested that all defendants remain in custody until trial dates are set.

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