National Assembly committee to investigate Coopera case; assemblywoman says investors deserve answers
Ecuador’s National Assembly has agreed to look into the legal management of the Coopera money laundering and embezzlement case. Coopera, a Cuenca-based financial cooperative, was closed by the government a year ago and its top officials were arrested.
Larriva Oswaldo Alvarado, president of the National Assembly’s Commission on Tax and Economic Issues says many questions remain unanswered about the case and that there has been a lack of “transparency” in legal proceedings. Alvarado has appointed a sub-committee that includes Cuenca assemblywoman Ximena Peña to examine the case.
Peña complains that her Cuenca constituents have received inadequate information from the court as well as government investigators and says the case has progressed too slowly.
“Our interest is in determining that the court operates transparently and efficiently,” Alvarado said, adding that he was not suggesting that there were specific irregularities. “The court is independent and autonomous but, by law, it is subject to oversight by the National Assembly.”
Alvardo says the subcommittee will question the Azuay Judicial Council, the court handling the Coopera case, not only about the legal schedule and process, but also about why management problems at the cooperative were detected sooner. “We are concerned about those harmed in this case and need to have a full accounting of what happened.”
The Coopera failure was one of Ecuador’s largest financial debacles since the country’s banking melt-down of 1999 and 2000. The closure affected more than 100,000 investors, including about 300 North American expats. Although most investors have been repaid by government regulators, those who have not are owed almost half of all deposits on coop books at the time of the closure.
Coopera’s general manager, chief financial officer, and auditor were arrested on charges of money laundering, with embezzlement charges added three months later. Federal and local law enforcement said that the three had been involved, with other Coopera investors, in sending money through Venezuelan banks in a multi-million-dollar laundering scheme. In August and September, six more Coopera employees and Board of Director members were arrested for a variety of financial crimes.
Meanwhile, Cuenca’s Cantonal Council has voted to revoke an award given to Coopera in 2009 for exemplary community service. Councilwoman Juanita Bersosa said it is only fitting that the Benigno Malo Medal be taken back, given the closure of the cooperative and the arrest of its managers.
This medal was presented four years ago by President Rafael Correa to Coopera manager Rodrigo Aucay. Aucay is currently jailed in Azogues, awaiting trial.
Photo caption: President Rafael Correa with Coopera general manager Rodrigo Aucay during a campaign event. Aucay is currently in jail awating trial.