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Ecuador’s former president convicted on corruption charges

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Via Financial Times

Rafael Correa, the former president of Ecuador, was found guilty on Tuesday of accepting bribes and sentenced to eight years in prison, dealing a blow to his prospects of a political comeback in elections next year. 

A court in Quito said Mr Correa had accepted bribes from businesses in exchange for public works contracts between 2012 and 2016, when he was president of the Andean nation. It found another 19 people guilty of bribery, including Mr Correa’s former vice-president and two former ministers.

Eighteen defendants were sentenced to eight years in prison, including Mr Correa, while two received more lenient sentences after co-operating with prosecutors.

 Mr Correa, who is in exile in Belgium, tweeted that the verdict was “absolutely grotesque” and accused his political opponents of “manipulating justice to achieve what they could never achieve at the ballot box”. 

It is very likely that he will appeal. If the conviction stands his “political rights” would be suspended for 25 years, effectively barring him from running for office. 

Mr Correa led Ecuador for a decade until 2017. He was one of the “pink tide” of leftist leaders who rose to prominence early this century after Hugo Chávez took office in Venezuela in 1999.

Riding a wave of high commodity prices, he ploughed money into public works projects and brought stability to one of the most unstable countries in Latin America, which had seen seven presidents come and go in the previous decade.

When Mr Correa stepped down in 2017 his former vice-president Lenín Moreno won office in an apparent signal of continuity.

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But since then Mr Moreno has broken with his mentor in spectacular fashion, unpicking Mr Correa’s leftwing legacy, turning to the IMF for financial assistance and distancing himself from the region’s leftists. Mr Correa has branded him a “traitor” and has vowed to lead a fightback in next year’s presidential election.

Shortly before Mr Correa left office, he persuaded congress to scrap term limits, paving the way for him to potentially return to office in next year’s vote.

But in 2018 Mr Moreno held a referendum that reversed that decision. Now presidents can only serve two terms, meaning Mr Correa is barred from the presidency.

He could, however, try to put up a proxy candidate, or seek a seat in congress, which would give him parliamentary immunity and might save him from going to prison.

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