President Lenin Moreno has reassigned key functions of Vice President María Alejandra Vicuña following last week’s charges that she extorted payments from a staff employee when she was a member of the National Assembly.
Moreno said he made the decision to allow Vicuña to defend herself against the allegations. “She needs the freedom to exercise her right to make a legitimate defense in the case without the interference of the obligations of the office,” the president said.
The vice presidential duties have been temporarily reassigned to Moreno’s general secretary, José Agusto Briones.
Vicuña has been accused by a former National Assembly staff member of extorting more than $20,000 from him in 2011 and 2012 in exchange for his employment. The staff member, Ángel Sagbay Mejía, said that he made payments into Vicuña’s personal bank account. Vicuña denies the charge, insisting that the payments were Sagbay’s obligation to the Alianza Bolivariana Alfarista political party.
Moreno’s announcement about vice presidential duties came amid reports that the president has distanced himself from Vicuña since the allegations emerged, communicating with her only through intermediaries. Vicuña insists that she has the president’s “full support” and that she is the one who requested that her duties be reassigned.
Political website editor José Hernández claims that Moreno is playing a “chess game” with Vicuña, claiming to support her while she fights the charges against her but creating the distance he needs to comfortably appoint another vice president. “The president has created the sophism that he trusts in her and continues to work with her but, on the other hand, he has made it clear to his inner circle that he wants her out of the way.”
Hernández’s speculation is bolstered by supporters of former president Rafael Correa who claim that Moreno helped orchestrate the Vicuña controversy with television station Teleamazonas, which broke the story of the charges against her.
In a personal Tweet, Correa claims that Moreno wants to “cover the scandal” that he illegally received a “donation” of furniture before he became president. Correa says that the donation was made when Moreno worked as a disability rights advocate for the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.