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Bribery trial of ex-president Correa begins in Ecuador

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Quito (AFP)

The trial of former Ecuador president Rafael Correa, who lives in exile in Belgium, for illicit campaign funding began on Monday.

Correa, 56, is accused of accepting funds from private businesses for his 2013 election campaign in return for state contracts.

Another 20 people are also facing trial for bribery, including ex vice-president Jorge Glas, who's already been sentenced to six years in prison in a separate case for accepting a bribe from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Correa will be tried in absentia as he lives in Belgium, where his wife was born.

If convicted, it would signal an end to Correa's political career as Ecuador's constitution bars those convicted of bribery, illicit enrichment and embezzlement from standing for public office.

The defendants, who includes former ministers, ex-lawmakers and businessmen, are accused of accepting $8 million for the 2013 presidential campaign in return for public works contracts.

Correa, who was president from 2007 to 2017, is also involved in another court case in which he is accused of involvement in the kidnapping of an opposition lawmaker in 2012.

Attorney General Diana Salazar said the businessmen who provided funding "benefitted from the award of various contracts" by the ministries of transport and strategic sectors, and the National Water Secretariat.

The trial is expected to last several weeks as 120 witnesses are due to give testimony.

Correa was linked to the affair by a $6,000 payment made to his private account by someone who worked with one of his former consultants. He claimed it was repayment for a loan.

In a video published on his Twitter account, Correa denounced the accusations as a "huge farce."

In July 2019, Ecuador's National Court of Justice ordered the arrest of Correa and alerted the international police organization Interpol.

Correa says he is the victim of a political "plot" led by his successor, President Lenin Moreno.

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