Alex Saab and his partners are old acquaintances of the Ecuadorian Justice and, now also, new protagonists of the work of inspection of the Assembly of Ecuador. The Colombian-Venezuelan businessman facing a judicial process in the United States for alleged money laundering, punished with up to 20 years in prison, left his trail in the Andean country for the same crime. The country’s Congress has begun to review its steps to build a report that will end, according to the declared intentions, in the Quito Prosecutor’s Office and in the US courts.
Since the beginning of November, the executives of the Central Bank of Ecuador, Customs, the Internal Revenue Service, the Attorney General’s Office and also senior officials of the administration of former President Rafael Correa have paraded through the Audit Commission, who have outlined the ramifications of the Saab business in Ecuadorian territory.
Through a local branch of the company Foglocons -which Saab shares in Colombia with its partner Álvaro Pulido-, it formed a plot of fictitious exports that already in 2013 was investigated for moving 159.8 million dollars without justification. Foglocons does not have Saab as a shareholder in Ecuador, but it does have Pulido and Luis Sánchez Yánez, who also appeared before the Assembly. They used the Sucre virtual payment system, created by Rafael Correa – who I refused to declare – and Hugo Chávez to facilitate trade between the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) countries without having to use physical dollars.
Ecuador theoretically sold almost 2.7 billion dollars to other countries between 2009 and 2019 through Sucre. 99% of those transactions were destined for Venezuela. Bolivia and Cuba also used it. The figures and the explanation of how the questioned scheme worked reached the Assembly with the current manager of the Central Bank, Guillermo Avellán. He was the first to appear before the commission of legislators chaired by Fernando Villavicencio, who is a declared opponent of correísmo and who was the subject of criticism and investigations during Correa’s years of mandate.
According to the director of the Central, the amounts of exports that were noted in the Sucre system (Regional Compensation System) and those that were effectively registered by Customs do not match. “This is striking because the transactions that were carried out through Sucre should have been equal to or less than those registered by the Senae (National Customs Service),” he declared before the legislative table. But they were not. As a sample, it gives the figures for 2013. While in the payment system Ecuador sold merchandise abroad for 822.9 million dollars, through Customs only the equivalent of 461.4 million dollars came out. This is how the business of Alex Saab and his Ecuadorian partners began to leave a trace in the Ecuadorian judicial system.
Customs and the Central Bank warned in 2013 of possible irregularities due to the millionaire mismatch and the Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation. Almost $ 60 million in funds from the Foglocons branch were frozen while the judicial file was being processed, which was eventually dismissed. The judges who heard the case are considered “accomplices” of impunity by the current State Attorney General, Diana Salazar. That was what he said when he testified before the Assembly in early November.
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The argument presented by the prosecution, defended the prosecutor, was technically and legally well handled, but “it was hampered,” according to the complaint. The judge who annulled that process before it reached trial was later sentenced for prevarication. What Salazar related was also recalled by the attorney general of the time, Galo Chiriboga.
On the other hand, but partially acknowledging that reality, the lawyer for one of the implicated persons declared before the legislative commission that another would have been the outcome of that judicial process if the accusation had been for fictitious exports or falsification of documents. It was a “mistake”, he said, that the Prosecutor’s Office took him for money laundering because he could not prove the illicit origin of the funds. The almost 60 million dollars withheld by the Justice were, likewise, released and returned to Foglocons. There were “officials who paved the way for Ecuador to become a money laundromat,” reproached the head of the Attorney General’s Office.
The representative of the Internal Revenue Service who attended instead of the highest authority added two pieces of information about the laxity of State controls in this case. The company in question exported $ 296 million between 2012 and 2013 to Venezuela but did not pay taxes in Ecuador. And even so, the Treasury has so far not initiated any procedure to try to collect them.
The only one involved in that investigation that has now attended to the legislators who dust off the plot data is Luis Sánchez Yánez, the other partner of the Ecuadorian branch of Foglocons. The Venezuelan executive, who was vice president at Foglocons Venezuela, confirmed that he had set up the Ecuadorian company with Álvaro Pulido, although he called himself Germán Rubio. However, he minimized his role in Ecuador and counterattacked the President of the Audit Office. Pulido announced in his appearance by videoconference that he would denounce Fernando Villavicencio in Colombia for “vilifying his honor” for having confused him, based on a report from the Ecuadorian Customs, with a person of the same name related to drug trafficking. He also denied having met Rafael Correa and any “representative of the Venezuelan Government” or of Ecuador. He did admit that he was informed of an investment by the company in the Andean country and that the shipment of Ecuadorian construction products to Venezuela was very low.
The supervisory commission seeks new evidence and aspires to uncover information that had not come to light during the terms of Correa and Lenín Moreno in order to build a report that will be sent both to the US Justice that extradited Saab and to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Ecuadorian. Although the prosecutor Salazar recalls that a person cannot be tried twice for the same thing, she sees other elements to open new investigations. And the legislator who presides over Supervision coincides in seeing a concurrence of the crimes of tax and customs fraud, falsification of public documents, influence peddling, illicit enrichment, simulation of exports and, in addition, omission of their functions of control of the entities state.
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