It’s been an extremely bad week for Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.
The earthquake last week resulted in the death of at least 650 people, according to most recent reports, with damage amounting to more than $3 billion, and now he is at the centre of a scandal surrounding the Panama Papers, a leak of documents exposing offshore tax havens of the word’s rich and powerful.
On 11 April Mr Correra posted this tweet, after making several calls for the full papers to be released, demanding “ALL the truth” for the country’s citizens.
“They spent almost a year looking for something against the Ecuadorian government and found nothing,” it read.
Yet he and his estranged brother, Fabricio, were both at the centre of an anti-corruption investigation in Panama in 2012, as discovered last week by the Washington bureau of McClatchy news.
A secret email within the Panama Papers reveals possible accusations of embezzlement against the state, carried out by the brothers via a company called Orlion Group.
Panama law firm Mossack Fonsea head of compliance Sandra de Cornejo wrote on 10 May 2012 in an internal email: “Although we have not found anything that ties the Correas and the entity, I suggest resigning … because of the scant cooperation received from the client.”
Mossack Fonseca had been trying to obtain required know-your-customer documents about Orlion for two years from a firm called Legalsa & Asociados. Mossack Fonseca decided to stop being Orlion’s service provider in 2012 after an anti-corruption team got in touch.
Legalsa & Asociados then requested in 2014 on behalf of its unnamed customer to reactive the company.
Ms de Cornejo refused the request.
Orlion Group used the most secretive form of offshore company ownership, entitling people to hold a share certificate without revealing their identity. This was 2006, a year before Mr Correa entered office.
Norman Granda Castillo, an agricultural businessman described as the ultimate beneficiary of the company, insisted to the Charlotte Observer that the company is not tied to a bank account or any investments – just a property where the family works.
He claimed not to know or have dealings with the Correa brothers.
Sandra Sotillo, a spokeswoman for Panama’s anti-corruption unit, said they cannot reveal the names of people involved in the investigation.
The claim of the estranged brothers being involved in this company was denied by Omar Simon, Mr Correra’s top adviser, who said he was “a very honest person”, and was also denied by Fabricio Correa.
The president’s legal adviser Alexis Mera told El Universo on 13 April that he was “happy” with the Panama Papers and they have shown that their government is “one of the most honest in the world”.
Yet the names of three officials tied to the Ecuadorean government were exposed in the papers, a so-called “data dump” of 11.5 million documents that led to the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and outrage in the UK for Prime Minister David Cameron to admit he had a stake in his family’s offshore funds.
The Panama Papers reveal more than 160,000 mentions of the word “Ecuador”.
Mr Correa promised to fight corruption when he took office in 2007. Yet Transparency International found in 2015 that 106 nations were less corrupt than Ecuador.
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