U.S. immigration officials arrest Ecuador fugitive brothers accused of stealing hundreds of millions

Feb 18, 2019

By Frances Robles

Two millionaire fugitives from Ecuador, whose family poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into American political campaigns as they fought to stay in the United States, were arrested this week in Miami by immigration authorities, officials said Friday.

Roberto Isaías in his Miami mansion in 2014.

Roberto and William Isaías, 74 and 75, were taken on Wednesday to a detention facility where undocumented immigrants are held pending deportation, according to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the authorities to make the arrests, but ICE’s statement said the brothers were “unlawfully present” in the United States.

The Isaías brothers, bankers vilified in Ecuador for increasing their wealth in the late 1990s just as their bank collapsed — wiping out tens of thousands of customers’ savings — were convicted of embezzlement by a court there in 2012. They were sentenced to prison terms in absentia, having arrived in South Florida almost a decade earlier.

The brothers have vehemently denied accusations that they looted their bank, and said that the Ecuadorian government had politicized the case and unfairly seized their assets. They are still battling in the courts to recover their properties at home.

Ecuador has estimated that the brothers cost the country $400 million, and has for years sought their extradition. At one point, even the American ambassador in Ecuador lobbied for their prompt return, accusing the men of financing a $2 million bribe to get Ecuador’s attorney general to drop the case.

As their criminal case heated up in Ecuador, the cash started flowing in the United States. The Isaías brothers’ relatives donated tens of thousands dollars to members of the United States Congress, and $90,000 to help re-elect President Barack Obama.

A year after the donation to the Obama campaign, the Department of Justice rejected Ecuador’s extradition request, saying it lacked sufficient proof.

The Ecuadorian government later accused Washington of denying its request in exchange for checks. The Obama administration said the donations had nothing to do with its decisions.

A renewed request for extradition is pending, said Alvin B. Davis, the Ecuadorean government’s lawyer in Miami. The Department of Justice referred questions to ICE.

The Isaías brothers are now expected to appear for a deportation hearing in immigration court, said Nestor J. Yglesias, a spokesman for ICE.

Mr. Davis said the government of Ecuador, having won a civil case in Florida against the brothers, is preparing to fight for some $1.3 billion in damages. The arrest left him “gratified,” he said.

“They need to be held responsible after all these years,” Mr. Davis said.

The Isaías’s lawyer in Ecuador, Jorge Zavala Egas, referred questions about the arrest to a South Florida publicist, Alfredo J. Balsera.

Contacted by phone, Mr. Balsera said The New York Times had acted in “bad faith” in previous articles about the Isaías case and declined to comment.

In a 2014 interview, Roberto Isaías denied asking for favors in exchange for political donations.

“My family has given to about 20 congressmen who fight for human rights and freedom of speech in Latin America,” he said. “That’s legal.”

Credit: The New York Times, www.nytimes.com

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