Desperate to ingratiate his government with Washington and distract the public from his mounting scandals, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has sacrificed Julian Assange – and his country’s independence
by Denis Rogatyuk
Part 2 - The INA Papers scandal and growing political instability
WikiLeaks’s decision to re-publish the details of Moreno’s use of off-shore bank accounts in Panama, infamously titled INA Papers after the name of the shell corporation at the centre of the scandal (INA Investment Corporation) appear to be the main cause for the president’s decision to expel Assange from the embassy.
Ecuadorian Communications Minister Andrés Michelena event went as far as claiming that the INA Papers were a conspiracy plot between Julian Assange, the former president Rafael Correa and the current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
The INA Papers scandal has cast a long shadow on Moreno’s regime and shattered its pledge to fight against institutional corruption. The scandal reveals that a close associate of Moreno, Xavier Macias, lobbied for the contract of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric power plant (valued at $2.8 billion) as well as the ZAMORA 3000 MW plant to be awarded Sinohydro, a Chinese state-owned construction company.
The financial trail from the Chinese corporation passed through bank accounts in Panama belonging to INA Investment Corporation – a shell company originally founded in Belize, a notable tax haven, by Edwin Moreno Garcés, the brother of the current President. The most crucial pieces of evidence indicate that the INA Investment funds were used for the purchase of a 140 m2 apartment in the city of Alicante, Spain, and a number of luxury items for President Moreno and his family in Geneva, Switzerland, during his time as a special envoy on disability rights in the United Nations.
As the pressure mounted on Moreno, the Attorney General of Ecuador issued a statement on March 19th, indicating that it had commenced an investigation into the INA Papers scandal involving the president and his family. Next, on March 27th, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a vote in favor of investigating Moreno’s alleged off-shore bank dealings in Panama. According to Ecuador Inmediato, 153 public service officials, along with all members of the National Assembly, were also included in the initial public hearing scheduled for April 1st.
The corruption scandal came amid a number of other prominent crises disrupting both the Moreno administration and the Ecuadorian economy. The local and regional elections of March 24th, as well as the election to the Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control (CPCCS) on March 24th, have been riddled with a series of controversies and irregularities with regards to vote counts and allegations of fraud, including the attempts to invalidate null votes, disqualify and smear the candidates endorsed by ex-President Rafael Correa. The stunning lack of transparency and legitimacy was highlighted by a report of the mission of electoral observers of the Organisation of American States.
In an unusual twist, the US ambassador, Todd Chapman, was spotted visiting the headquarters of Ecuador’s National Electoral Council during the March 24th elections and allegedly participated as an official electoral observer in the elections. This display of interference was widely condemned on social media as illegal under the current electoral rules, which forbid foreign powers from playing any active role in the observing or interfering the electoral process. But in Moreno’s Ecuador, it was a perfect symbol of the new status quo.