Ecuador vice president ordered to jail over graft allegations

Quito (AFP) –


Ecuador's vice president, Jorge Glas, was ordered locked up Monday pending a criminal investigation into allegations he took $16 million in bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction giant that paid illegal kickbacks to win public contracts.

The country's highest court ordered the preventive detention along with a freeze of Glas' assets and bank accounts.

Under investigation by the US Justice Department, Odebrecht agreed in December to pay a record $3.5 billion fine after admitting to paying $788 million in bribes across 12 countries to secure juicy tenders.

Glas is just the latest political figure in Latin America to be identified as a suspected recipient of bribes from the Brazilian group.

Fallout from the scandal has cast a cloud over politicians in several other countries, including Mexico, Peru, Panama and Venezuela.

Ecuadoran lawmakers in August unanimously voted to allow the corruption probe against Glas to go ahead. He was barred from leaving the country.

Glas, who was minister of strategic sectors before becoming vice president in 2013, has denied any link to the Odebrecht scandal, though his uncle, Ricardo Rivera, has been arrested for his alleged participation in the affair.

"I acknowledge UNDER PROTEST this detestable outrage against me, though I am confident justice will prevail and that I will prove my innocence," Glas tweeted after the court order.

He asserted that the judge hearing his case, Miguel Jurado, had acted without proof of wrongdoing and on the basis of "forged" evidence. He said he intended to appeal to "national and international bodies."

Eighteen Ecuadorans including Glas and Rivera face court over the Odebrecht matter. So far, there have been no convictions.

Prosecutors are to formally present their charges against Glas in coming days.

Their case relies at least in part on information given by a former Odebrecht employee, Jose Concericao Santos Filho, who said Glas received $16 million in bribes via Rivera.

Ecuador's president, Lenin Moreno, stripped Glas of many of his powers as the two men engaged in a bitter dispute.

But Glas will for now retain the office of vice president even while in jail pending trial. He could remain in his cell for up to six months on suspicion of criminal association, according to a constitutional expert, Rafael Oyarte.

Moreno can designate a temporary vice president from among his ministers.