Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno has been implicated in an offshore tax haven corruption scandal, casting his future into doubt.
The Presidential Palace in Quito was surrounded by protesters chanting ‘¡Fuera, corruptos, fuera!’ (Out, the corrupt, out!) and ‘No a la venta del país’ (No to the sale of the country!) in response to recent revelations of an alleged offshore tax haven belonging to President Lenin Moreno, along with a trail of bribes for government favours. The protests on 20 February were supported by ex-president Rafael Correa, who called his former vice-president ‘corrupt’ and urged him to resign.
These comments were echoed by other political leaders of the Movement of the Citizens’ Revolution (MRC) political group such as former foreign minister Ricardo Patiño and the former president of the National Assembly, Gabriela Rivadeneira. In a press statement, Patiño mentioned that ‘it is extremely worrying that the Head of State is involved in reprehensible acts. It is urgent that the country awaits and observes prompt action with the same speed of cases where, without evidence, it has judged and imprisoned people.’
The 29 National Assembly members of the Citizens’ Revolution group issued a joint statement voicing their disgust at President Moreno’s actions and calling upon him to resign. The use of tax havens by public officials was prohibited following the referendum held on 19 February 2017.
According to an investigation carried out by La Fuente news journal, the company at the centre of the scandal, Ina Investment Corporation, was originally set up by Edwin Moreno Garcés, the president’s brother, in Belize, a notable tax haven, in 2012. In 2016, a similar company was also registered under his name in Panama with the same representatives. Reports obtained by the investigation show that Ina Investment was identified as an offshore firm in December 2015, with transfers totalling $19,342 being made from Panama for the purchase of furniture in Moinat S.A. Antiquities in Switzerland, which was later transported to Moreno’s apartment in Geneva during his time as the UN Special Envoy on Disability Rights.
In another instance, transfers totalling €133,400 euros were recorded from Ina Investment to a Santander bank account belonging to Spanish citizen Emilio Torres Copado, to be used for the purchase of an apartment in Villajoyosa, Alicante. The money trail also leads to brothers Edwin and Lenin Moreno via MAVCCO International services and petroleum company Sertectep, which is owned by their close personal friend Eduardo Lòpez.
Moreno’s government made the fight against corruption one of its key mandates following his election in April 2017, although the true intentions behind this have been questioned and disputed. The most prominent case involves the arrest and imprisonment of former vice-president Jorge Glas on charges of corruption. Glas’ prosecution, however, has been deemed to be politically motivated and lacking any substantial evidence. Glas has consistently claimed he is innocent, even going so far as launching a 90-day hunger strike against his prison conditions in late 2018.
Furthermore, Rafael Correa has been targeted by Ecuador’s Supreme Court on several charges ranging from an alleged kidnapping to bribery, although international security agencies like Interpol have consistently declined to issue an arrest warrant against him. A number of parliamentarians, such as Sofia Espin, and functionaries like Carlos Ochoa, have also been dismissed from their positions and issued with preventative detention warrants. In the case of Espin, she was accused of tampering with evidence of the investigation into Correa. The pattern of juridical actions against Correa and key members of his government bears a strong resemblance to similar cases of ‘Lawfare’ waged across the continent against progressive leaders such Lula da Silva in Brazil and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina.
At the same time, Moreno’s government has grown increasingly unstable, with a number of internal crises plaguing his administration. These have included the dismissal of his second vice-president, Maria Vicuña, following allegations of illicit political funding, as well as an increasing number of protests against his neoliberal economic programme of reducing social spending and requesting more than $4.2 billion in financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The latest revelations of corruption and tax haven dealings and the hypocrisy of his use of corruption allegations against his political opponents could potentially prove to be the final straw that breaks his increasingly right-leaning government.