Ecuador’s State Attorney General’s Office, on February 23, announced that it will file charges against former President Lenín Moreno and 36 other people, including his family members, for the alleged crimes of bribery in the Sinohydro case. Moreno pictured here with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Wikimedia
On Wednesday February 22, Ecuador’s State Attorney General’s Office announced that it will file charges against former President Lenín Moreno and 36 other people for the alleged crimes of bribery in the Sinohydro case, formerly known as the INA Papers case. In this regard, Attorney General Dina Salazar requested the National Court of Justice (CNJ) to set a date and time for the hearing to formulate charges against all 37 defendants. On Thursday February 23, the CNJ accepted Attorney General Salazar’s request and set the hearing for March 2, at 08:00 a.m. After this procedure, the tax investigation will begin, which will last 90 days.
On Wednesday, Salazar recalled that the Attorney General’s Office had been investigating since 2019 the INA Papers case, which linked Moreno and his relatives to an offshore company INA Investment and exposed an alleged scheme of embezzlement of public money, money laundering and evasion of foreign exchange into accounts in tax havens. She reported that the investigation into the case revealed “a structure of corruption around the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric project with an interstate and transnational scope and that it would have carried out its illegal actions between 2009 and 2018.”
The attorney general added that the investigation disclosed that those involved in the criminal structure received $76 million USD in bribes from the Chinese state company Sinohydro, an amount equivalent to approximately 4% of the contracted value of the project. She pointed out that the contract was signed for USD $1.979 billion, however, it ended up costing more than USD $2.245 billion.
Salazar added that “those tens of millions of USD bribes would have been delivered by Sinohydro and channeled through third parties using a false image of consulting and representation services and paid through gifts, checks and transfers.” Sinohydro was in charge of constructing the Coca Codo Sinclair, the country’s largest hydroelectric project.
In addition to Moreno, his wife, one of their daughters, as well as two brothers and two sisters-in-law are among those investigated in the case. Additionally, five former officials and their families, nine businessmen also with their relatives, five Chinese businessmen, and four other people with unknown roles are on the list.
Attorney General Salazar reported that extensive investigative work has taken place to reach this point in the investigation. She said that during the investigation phase, at least a dozen international cooperation requests were made with the authorities of countries such as Belize, China, the United States, Spain, Panama and Switzerland, adding that “documents (from different authorities) have continued to arrive at this institution until this very week.”
Moreno denies allegations
Moreno, who was Ecuador’s president between 2017 and 2021 and vice president between 2007 and 2013, denied the allegations and said the developments were a political distraction from the issues facing Ecuador.
In a statement on Twitter, Moreno defended himself against the accusations, alleging that “the coincidence of the actions of the Attorney General’s Office today is surprising, while Ecuador is going through complex times, Correísmo has declared itself the winner and the largest political force in the country, and ongoing accusations and trials are being debated in public opinion, even putting the continuity of my successor (Guillermo Lasso) on the line.”
Moreno said that he had no responsibility in contracting the project. “The Sinclair project was in charge of the competent authorities since then, while I exercised my functions as vice president and with the sole competence of carrying out the Manuela Espejo program.”
The Sinohydro case
The Sinohydro case was opened in March 2019, when the journalistic portal La Fuente published an investigative report, entitled ‘The offshore labyrinth of the presidential circle’, along with some leaked chats and emails, involving one of Moreno’s brothers with alleged accounts in tax havens and a luxurious property in Alicante, Spain, in an apparent triangulation of the INA Investment.
In the report, a series of links and alleged irregularities were revealed that linked Moreno to the INA Investment, established in Panama in 2019 by Edwin Moreno. The company name is presumed to be a portmanteau of the names of Moreno’s three daughters: Irina, Carina and Cristina. The report led to an initial investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into alleged bribes collected by Moreno when he was the Vice President of Ecuador from 2007-2013 serving under President Rafael Correa.
Correísmo condemns delay in action
Following Salazar’s announcement, former President Correa as well as his party the Citizen Revolution Movement (RC) expressed their dissatisfaction with the delay in taking actions.
“This is overwhelming! Moreno, in his secret INA Investment account, opened by his brother and named after his daughters, received millions from Xavier Macias, Moreno’s operator and lobbyist for Sinohydro. In our government, intermediaries were not required. They know it. It is pure corruption of Moreno,” Correa tweeted.
Likewise, in a statement, the RC said that “Justice that takes too long is not justice.” “The Attorney General’s Office took five years to take action in the INA Papers case, now called ‘Sinohydro’, directly involving Lenín Moreno. All this silence of the Attorney General’s Office simply translates into a clear “cover-up” of the former president, while it undertook the most tenacious and crawling persecution of Correísmo. Without hatred but with memory, we will never forget the dark and immoral role of Prosecutor Diana Salazar in the game of Lenín Moreno and his accomplices, today converted into government. It was all a matter of time!”
While Moreno was supported by Correa in the 2017 general elections, months after he was elected, Moreno departed from the anti-neoliberal and pro-people policies of the Citizen’s Revolution and even oversaw a lawfare campaign against his former colleagues which saw many barred from political life, in prison, or in exile, such as Correa himself. The revoking of Australian publisher Julian Assange’s asylum in April 2019 which led to his arrest, was also part of this volte-face.
Despite Moreno’s machinations, Correa still maintains a strong popular support in the country. His government was characterized by large-scale social welfare programs and public infrastructure projects. During his 10-year tenure, Ecuador’s economy saw an average annual growth of about 3%. In Ecuador’s recent local elections, the RC obtained a historic victory, signifying continued support to Correísmo in the country.