President Guillermo Lasso will appear before the National Assembly Tuesday to defend himself against charges of embezzlement, the basis of the impeachment trial that begins this week. According to his legal secretary, the president will insist he committed no crime and followed the recommendations of the national comptroller in the case involving the public company Flopec and the Amazonas Oil Tanker company.
“The president has never been in charge of Flopec’s affairs and the contract in question was signed before he assumed office,” Legal Secretary Juan Pablo Ortiz said. He added that under Ecuador’s legal system, embezzlement is a crime that can only be committed by the officials administering public companies or holdings.
He added that the president responded to a report from the comptroller’s office regarding irregularities in the Flopec contract and acted in a timely manner.
Ortiz criticized the “politicalization” of the impeachment process, claiming that some members of the National Assembly are attempting to expand the trial beyond the restrictions applied by the Constitutional Court.
“We are waiting for the court’s response to our request for clarification of the scope of the trial,” Ortiz said. “Based on comments from certain elements in the Assembly, we believe there are efforts to circumvent the judges’ order.”
Lasso’s staff continues to believe he will survive an impeachment vote although they concede it will be close. “We remain confident there are not sufficient votes to impeach the president,” says Assemblyman Juan Fernando Flores. “We will see how the trial goes in the following days but we think the 88 votes to proceed to trial are the only votes for impeachment, which is short of the 92 needed.”
According to Ortiz, Lasso is holding the option of the “cross death” in reserve. If he does not feel comfortable with the direction the trial is going, it will be his choice to invoke it. That option has always been in play and is ready on the desk,” Ortiz says.
Under constitutional rules of the cross death, the president can dismiss the National Assembly and call for new elections of the Assembly and presidency in the case of social upheaval or political gridlock. Until elections are held and the new officials assume their positions — a period of about six months — he is allowed to rule by decree with oversight from the Constitutional Court.
On Monday, various national and international organizations urged the National Assembly to conduct the impeachment trial under the rule of law. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a statement urging that “all guarantees of justice be respected and that due process be followed.”