In the latest development in a seemingly endless string of corruption discoveries and charges, Ecuador’s Vice President, Jorge Glas, has been placed by the Supreme Court into pre-trial detention while he is under investigation for his role in the vast Odebrecht scandal.
The recent arrest of Ecuador’s Vice President Jorge Glas is the latest development in the unraveling of this massive bribery network. Glas is just one of 18 politicians in Ecuador alone who have been placed under investigation for related charges of corruption. Odebrecht payed an estimated $33.5 million in exchange for contracts in Ecuador (The Independent 2017).
Glas has served as Ecuador’s Vice President since May 2013, and has been a loyal supporter of former President Rafael Correa, who was in office from 2007 to earlier this year in 2017. Correa was a leader of Ecuador’s Democratic Socialist party, Alianza PAIS, and was quite popular throughout the country, especially among rural and working-class populations. He allegedly left office in May 2017 with a 62% approval rating (TeleSur TV 2017).
Lenin Moreno, also a member of the Alianza PAIS political party, took over the Presidency following the end of Correa’s second term in May. However, Moreno, once a loyal ally of former president Correa, has since waged political war against both Correa and Glas.
In August, the day following the release of a letter by Jorge Glas criticizing the sitting president, Moreno stripped Glas of all of his Vice Presidential authority, reducing his position to a mostly ceremonial role. Moreno claimed that this move was due to the allegations of corruption against the Vice President, and a failure to serve the country in unity.
On Monday October 2, Ecuador’s Supreme Court ordered the freezing of assets and the arrest of the Vice President while he is under investigation for allegedly taking bribes from Odebrecht. He was taken into custody at his residence in Guayaquil, and is now being held in Quito. He has not been formally charged, although investigators claim that they believe that he worked with those accepting bribes, and that he may be a key figure in the investigation (New York Times 2017).
Minutes before surrendering to the authorities on Monday evening, Glas released a video statement proclaiming his innocence. In the video he states that there is no evidence of his involvement in the Odebrecht scandal, and that this arrest was based in the political motivations of President Moreno to take over the party.
Former President Rafael Correa has since defended his ally’s innocence and denounced the sitting President’s actions. In an interview with CNN Español, Correa referred to Moreno as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, arguing that he cheated the Alianza PAIS party and has always been with the opposition (TeleSur TV 2017).
Glas will presumably remain in prison until prosecutors decide whether they have sufficient evidence to bring formal charges and take the Vice President to trial for these accusations. President Moreno has appointed María Alejandra Vicuña, the current Minister of Urban Development and Housing, to serve as an interim Vice President.
Jorge Glas is the highest-ranking politician in Ecuador so far to be investigated for involvement in Odebrecht’s illicit activities. However, he is just one of the dozens of politicians and businesspeople in various countries across Latin America who have been investigated and imprisoned due to their relationship with this vast network of bribery and corruption.
The Vast Corruption Network of Odebrecht
Odebrecht is Brazil’s largest engineering and construction conglomerate, with business in 27 countries around the world. Last year, in 2016, the corporation admitted to paying bribes in exchange for contracts in 12 countries, several of which are in Latin America. Odebrecht is still in the process of paying off billions of dollars in fines to the governments that this scandal has implicated. Meanwhile, many of the implicated countries are still exploring and investigating to further unravel this deep web of political corruption and scandal.
The conglomerate’s illicit activities started to come to light in 2014, through the Brazilian investigation known as ‘Operation Car Wash’, when the Brazil-owned oil company Petrobras proved to be involved in the bribing and illegal financing of Brazilian politicians. As a result, dozens of Brazilian politicians were investigated and imprisoned, former president Dilma Rousseff was impeached, and now Rousseff’s successor, Michel Temer, is under investigation. This investigation alone has popularly been referred to as the biggest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil.
However, it turned out that ‘Operation Car Wash’ was actually just the beginning of a much deeper and more serious investigation that would implicate politicians throughout Latin America in countries including Brazil, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, and now, Ecuador (CNN Español 2017).
Venezuela and the Dominican Republic have both been heavily involved with this scandal, with an estimated $98 million given and handled illegally in Venezuela, and $92 million in the Dominican Republic. Former Prosecutor General of Venezuela Luisa Ortega has been accused of being involved in the scandal, although no charges have been formally made.
In Argentina, it is estimated that around $35 million was given by Odebrecht to politicians and political officials in exchange for government contracts. Odebrecht has since been placed on a 12-month ban on starting new projects in Argentina.
In Panama, prosecutors claim that over $59 million was handled illegally by the corporation. Odebrecht has agreed to pay a $220 million fine to the Panamanian government.
In Peru, Odebrecht appears to have illegally handled around $29 million. Former President Ollanta Humala has been arrested and detained under charges of corruption and money laundering.
The list goes on: In Colombia, it was $11 million, in Guatemala, $18 million, and in Mexico, an estimated $10.5 million was used illegally for the bribing and corrupting of officials in exchange for contracts (CNN Español 2017).
Since these corrupt illegal activities first came to light in 2014 through the Operation Car Wash investigation in Brazil, hundreds of officials and politicians throughout Latin America have been investigated, arrested, and/or imprisoned. This scandal has shaken the governmental stability of nations throughout Latin America, and will continue to do so as more is revealed and as politicians continue to be proven guilty.
The recent arrest of allegedly corrupt Vice President Jorge Glas is just the most recent development in this increasingly complex and confusing web of scandal and corruption that has amassed most of Latin America. We can only hope that in the future investigators and prosecutors will continue to hold accountable the implicated politicians and government officials, and that we can move one step closer to ending the culture of corruption in Latin America.
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