In a statement released Thursday night, investigators say they are continuing to gather information about the murder of Miguel Ángel Nazareno, better known as Don Naza, owner of the Big Money investment operation.
Nazareno’s body was found by a farmer Thursday morning in the rural Amaguaña parish, south of Quito. His hands were tied behind his back and he had multiple stab wounds.
Nazareno had been out of public view for months before he showed up last week at the headquarters of the Ecuador Ministry of Defense in Quito. Five of his associates were arrested in the Ministry parking lot with bags containing tens-of-thousands of dollars in cash. Nazareno, who was inside one of the Ministry buildings, escaped by a side door. The motive for his visit is unclear and is under investigation.
Police said they are awaiting final results of an autopsy, which they expect to confirm he died by stabbing. They also said that the body showed signs of struggle and torture. “We are at the beginning of the investigation and have little to report at this time,” the statement said. “The victim is an Afro-Ecuadorian male who was found in a supine position, lying on the road in Amaguaña parish. His hands were tied with a green rope and the body exhibited puncture wounds.”
The statement added that Nazareno’s identity had been confirmed by fingerprints.
Nazareno made headlines in July 2021 when his Big Money investment and loan business in Quevedo, Los Rios Province, was shut down for operating illegally. The business was not registered with the Central Bank and his license and tax number authorized him to repair washing machines.
According to prosecutors, Big Money had thousands of customers in Los Rios, Manabi and Guayas Provinces and promised to pay interest rates as high as 90 percent a week on large investments. Prosecutors called the operation a “typical pyramid scheme” and said there was evidence that it was tied to illegal drug operations on the coast. The investigation remains open although a judge on Thursday suspended further legal action after the discovery of Nazareno‘s body.
An investigator no longer working on the case says there are many potential motives for the murder. “I think the drug money angle must be considered given the violence we have seen recently,” he said. “Don Naza was on the run after leaving the [Defense] Ministry last week and there may have been people afraid of what he might say if he were caught. It is possible that one of the reasons he visited the headquarters was to bribe officers in charge of drug interdiction in Guayas and Manabi.”
The investigator, who asked not to be named, said there is also a great amount of anger from those who lost money. “I understand there are several million dollars that have gone unpaid since the business closed.”