In an eight-hour hearing on Thursday, an Azuay provincial judge ordered nine defendants to stand trial in the Coopera money laundering and embezzlement case. Judge Miguel Arias threw out requests from the defendants’ attorneys to drop charges.
The defendants include six Ecuadorians, including the general manager, chief financial officer and auditor of Coopera, as well as three Venezuelans accused of participating in the crimes.
Outside the court, Coopera members who have not been repaid since the June closure of the Cuenca financial cooperative, carried signs and shouted slogans, demanding justice and the return of their money.
Prosecutor Paola Molina laid out the government’s case, saying the defendants had concealed movements of as much as $35 million through Coopera accounts to accounts in Venezuela. Molina said that his investigation, covering the period from Oct. 29, 2012 to May 31 of this year, showed 84 wire transfers originating at Coopera.
According to Molina, some of the Coopera accounts were registered to companies in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil. His office investigated 16 companies and found that many of them were “shells,” with no legal accounts with government taxing and social security authorities. He said that one of the defendants was the legal representative of seven of the companies.
Although most of the money was wired back and forth between Ecuador and Venezuela, it passed through Panama and the United States, and some it remained out of the country.
The money transfers were justified by export and import orders for various products, including industrial chemicals.
Attorney for the unpaid Coopera members Gustavo Quito said he was satisfied that the court has decided to prosecute the defendants but wants to know when his clients will be reimbursed. “While I am pleased that those involved in criminal activity may spend up to six years in prison, we still need to recover the lost money.”
It is estimated that 120 of the 670 unpaid Coopera memebers are North American expats.
The judge has not yet set a trial date.
Photo caption: Coopera members protest in front of the court on Thursday; Photo credit: El Tiempo.