Former Ecuador energy minister Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli surrendered to police Friday night at the Quito airport. Facing a five-year prison sentence for corruption, Pareja fled Ecuador in late September 2016 and has been living in Miami.
The surrender was negotiated by National Assembly Speaker José Serrano and Interior Minister Diego Fuentes, who accompanied Pareja on a flight from Miami.
“We have informed President Lenin Moreno that Mr. Pareja agreed to turn himself in without conditions,” Serrano said at the Quito airport. “The former minister is now in custody and his case is in the hands of the prosecutor.”
Moreno thanked Serrano for his intermediary role in returning Pareja to Ecuador. “Through his (Serrano’s) efforts, the voluntary surrender of Mr. Pareja has been arranged and I thank the president of the assembly for his hard work in bringing this issue to a conclusion.”
Pareja was wanted for crimes of bribery, illicit enrichment, organized crime, embezzlement and money laundering committed during his tenure as manager of Ecuador’s hydrocarbons sector. Many of the crimes are related to construction contracts at the Esmeraldas oil refinery. He and 11 others were charged with receiving bribes of $44.7 million. In February, he was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.
The return of Pareja set off a late-night firestorm on social media among supporters of Vice President Jorge Glas. Former president Rafael Correa suggested in a Tweet that the government’s handling of the arrest was politically motivated, aimed at generating new corruption charges against Glas. While he was in exile, Paraja claimed that Glas was personally involved in corruption at Petroecuador, the government-owned oil company.
“Can we now expect a new barrage of infamies against the vice president in exchange for ‘protection’ for Pareja?” Correa asked. He also questioned Serrano’s role in bringing the defendant back to Ecuador, suggesting it was inappropriate.
According to federal prosecutor Carlos Baca, Pareja is being held in the social rehabilitation center in Quito.