Judge orders pretrial detention for nine suspects in Guayas provincial court corruption case

Mar 6, 2024 | 0 comments

A judge has ordered nine defendants, including National Assemblyman Pablo Muentes, held in pre-trial detention following Monday’s arrests connected to the Guayas Provincial Court. Attorney General Diana Salazar had asked that 11 of the 12 arrested on organized crime charges remain in jail but said she is satisfied with the ruling by Judge Javier de la Cadena.

Guayas Provincial Court of Justice in Guayaquil

The judge’s decision followed more than nine hours of arraignment testimony that concluded Tuesday night in Quito. De la Cadena placed Judge Reinaldo Cevallos under house arrest due to his age and ordered Muentes’ wife Mónica Alvarado and cousin Alfonso Alarcón to wear ankle tracking bracelets and be prohibited from leaving the country.

In her arraignment testimony, Salazar said the defendants were part of a criminal network that dominated the Guayas Province court system. She said more arrests are likely in what is being called the Purge Case. Purge is an extension of Operation Metastasis that resulted in 39 arrests in December and January, she said.  “We continue our mission of cleaning up Ecuador’s public institutions. It’s unpleasant work but it must be done.”

According to Salazar, Fabiola Gallardo, former Guayas Court of Justice president, Assemblyman Muentes and Chief Judge Johan Marfetán coordinated illegal court operations that granted favorable rulings to Muentes and top drug gang bosses Leandro ‘El Patrón’ Norero, head of Los Choneros, and his lieutenants, Adolfo Macías alias ‘Fito’, and Junior Roldán, alias ‘JR’.

Muentes is a member of the Social Christian party and a personal friend of party founder and former Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot.

In one notable court ruling cited by Salazar, Judge Cevallos overruled an order by the national prison administrator to transfer Macías (Fito) to a maximum-security prison, claiming it would be a violation of Macías’ human rights. Two months later, Macías escaped from the Guayaquil prison and has not been heard of since. Macías’ escape was mentioned by President Daniel Noboa as one reason for his decision to declare a national emergency to combat drug gangs and prison violence.

Cevallos also presided in case in which Muentes was awarded a $4 million defamation judgement against Banco Pacifico. The case stemmed from a $315,000 loan Muentes and his wife took out in 1998. In 2021, when Banco Pacifico listed Muentes on a delinquent loan list. Muentes claimed he had repaid the loan in 13 payments, most of them in cash. He provided personal records showing the payments, but bank records show he only paid $60,000.

When Muentes took Banco Pacifico to court to press his claim, Cevallos ordered the bank to accept Muentes’ word that he had repaid the loan and to acknowledge it had made a bookkeeping error in not recording payments. In a second action, also handled in Cevallos’ court, Muentes claimed he had been slandered and defamed when the bank listed him as delinquent. Cevallos awarded Muentes a $4 million judgement. The bank appealed and has not yet paid the claim.

According to Salazar, the bank judgement was orchestrated in advance between Muentes and Cevallos, who was one of the six judges arrested Monday. She adds that Muentes “scammed the bank” and was then gifted $4 million by Cevallos.

In the Monday night hearing, Salazar also said that Muentes had personally paid the salary of court administrative assistant Mayra Salazar [no relation to Diana Salazar], who served as a go-between with Gallardo and gang leaders. According to the charges, Mayra Salazar provided the leaders with court agendas, schedules and case assignments. Most important, the Attorney General said, Salazar worked with Gallardo to make sure gang cases were handled by judges who had received gang bribes.

According to evidence provided earlier, Mayra Salazar had an intimate relationship with Norero, the key figure in Operation Metastasis.

In addition to Muentes and Gallardo, those arrested Monday morning are: Mónica Alvarado, Muentes’s wife; judges Johan Marfetan, Guillermo Valarezo, Reinaldo Cevallos, Nelson Ponce, Henry Taylor, and Alberto L.; Fausto A. Saúl Mero, Council of the Judiciary administrator; and Ruth Solano of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Mayra Salazar was arrested in January during the initial phase of the Metastasis case.

Although he was not arrested Monday, Salazar said current president of the Guayas Provincial Court, Hugo Manuel González, may soon face criminal charges. González replaced Gallardo January 11.

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