Rafael Correa will not be a candidate for vice president on the February election ballot. On Monday, Ecuador’s National Court of Justice confirmed the ex-president’s conviction on bribery charges, effectively ending his political career.
The three-judge panel ruled that appeals filed by Correa and 15 other defendants were without merit in a scheme that illegally collected millions of dollars from government contractors from 2012 to 2016. Correa’s eight-year prison sentence is based on his knowledge and leadership of the operation.
In addition to Correa, appeals were denied for former Vice President Jorge Glas and ministers and presidential advisors Alexis Mera, María de los Ángeles Duarte, Walter Solís, Vinicio Alvarado and Viviana Bonilla. Glas is already in prison, serving a six-year sentence for taking financial kick-backs from government contractors.
Correa reacted angrily to the decision, claiming it was an act of vengeance orchestrated by President Lenin Moreno. “They decided in record time to pass final judgment to disqualify me as a candidate for vice president. They don’t understand that all they do is increase my popular support,” he wrote in his Twitter account. He added that the people will “pass the final verdict and lead us to victory.”
It is unlikely that Correa will serve prison time since he lives in exile in Brussels with his Belgian-born wife. Previous requests from Ecuadorian prosecutors for an international arrest warrant have been denied by Interpol, which said charges against the former president were political and not criminal.
Called “Bribes 2012-2016”, the case against Correa and others involved an operation in the president’s office to collect an estimated $32 million for the political fund of the Alianza Pais party. According to prosecutors, the money was “requested and sometimes extorted” from government contractors on promises of “future favors.” Some of the money went into the pockets of those who collected it, including Glas’, the government said.
Much of the evidence in the case was provided by Pamela Martínez, a Correa advisor and confidant, who managed the operation. By turning state’s evidence, Martínez’s prison sentence was reduced to nine months.
The court’s decision was not unanimous as deputy judge Milton Ávila wanted the eight-year sentences for Correa and others reduced to six. He did not dispute the guilt of those convicted, however.
“This closes a critical chapter in the country’s political history,” said former presidential advisor Alexis Núñez. “I won’t say that Correa will never play a role in Ecuador politics again but I will say that it’s game over for him in the foreseeable future. He was a larger-than-life figure in the affairs of the country for more than a decade and his legacy, however you see it, will continue to have an impact for several more years.”