As time runs out on a special National Assembly committee investigating corruption at Ecuador’s government-run companies, its leaders are blasting President Guillermo Lasso for refusing to appear in person to answer questions.
Lasso was called to testify before the Justice Committee in the so-called Caso Encuentro on Monday but declined, claiming “agenda conflicts.” Earlier, the president said the committee that could implicate him in illegal activities was a “farce and a bad cartoon.”
The committee has a deadline of February 22 to conclude its work and deliver a report to the full Assembly. Some committee members say their investigation could lead to a second attempt to impeach and dismiss Lasso from office. He survived impeachment in June 2022 by 12 votes.
Some Justice Committee members are claiming that an organized network of “bribery, money laundering and organized crime” is operating in the country’s public companies and that Lasso’s brother-in-law, Danilo Carrera, is its “Godfather,” a claim the president rejects.
President of the committee, Viviana Veloz, a member of the Correista Unión por la Esperanza (UNES) party, blasted Lasso for his decision not to testify. “Why doesn’t he come to explain himself. Why doesn’t he denounce corruption? What is he afraid of?”
According to Veloz, the president needs to explain his communication with Carrera and two other men implicated in the scandal. The committee’s investigation is based on an article posted on the opinion website, La Posta, three weeks ago, claiming a crime ring was operating at the national electricity and other publicly held companies.
Another committee member, Mireya Pazmiño, said that Lasso has no legal obligation to testify. “I agree it would have been helpful for him to answer questions but under the constitution, we cannot compel him to appear. We will need to complete our work based on other information.”
The Justice Committee continues to call witnesses. On Friday, Attorney General Diana Salazar testified that her office has an “open investigation” into the corruption allegations. “We opened more inquiries into the case in January but some aspects of the investigation have been in progress for more than a year,” she said. She added that her office is also looking into corruption that may have occurred during the presidential administrations of Lenin Moreno and Rafael Correa.
Since January 9, the Attorney General’s office has conducted 12 premises searches and has made 315 tax and information demands of those implicated in the scheme, according to Salazar. She said that prosecutors are focusing on “three key players,” Hernán Luque, Rubén Cherres Faggioni as well as Carrera.