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Corruption exposed: US meddled in Ecuador’s election, using Julian Assange as bargaining chip

A former minister of Ecuador testified that the US government conspired with a right-wing political party to run a disinformation campaign against the leftist Correísta movement, backing a millionaire banker for president in exchange for giving up journalist Julian Assange, who had asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. 
 
by Ben Norton
 
Part 3 - Ecuador’s ex energy minister details US-backed campaign to help the right wing in the 2017 elections
 
The devastating May 2019 affidavit demonstrates that Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli (Capaya), who is still in prison on corruption charges, is a hired gun who will happily spread false claims to undermine Correísmo.

Capaya became a household name in Ecuador back in 2016, when he was serving as minister of hydrocarbons. In April of that year, international media outlets published the Panama Papers, a massive leak of information about offshore bank accounts.

Pareja Yannuzzelli’s name appeared in the Panama Papers, setting off a scandal in Ecuador. Correa was still president at the time, and in May, Capaya was forced to resign and was replaced with a new energy minister.

The Correa government immediately began investigating Capaya’s web of corruption, and found his family had stashed millions of dollars in bank accounts in Panama.

Yet while he was being investigated, Capaya managed to flee Ecuador in September.

Capaya opened his testimony noting that, by December 2016, he “was in the United States in a complicated situation.

While in Miami, Florida, the Ecuadorian fugitive from justice was contacted by César Monge Ortega, the president of the right-wing political party CREO.

Ecuador’s current president, the conservative multimillionaire banker Guillermo Lasso, is a leader of CREO. Monge was one of Lasso’s closest allies, referred to in the Ecuadorian media as “the right hand of Guillermo Lasso.” He served as the president’s minister of government until Monge died from cancer in July 2021.

Back in 2016, Monge asked Capaya to join a smear campaign against the presidential candidate who would represent the leftist Alianza País party in the upcoming 2017 elections, Correa’s former Vice President Lenín Moreno.

He offered me an important sum of money and federal North American protection,” Capaya wrote.

At the time it was widely assumed, even by Correa himself, that Moreno would continue his socialist political program.

Moreno did run on a left-wing presidential campaign, but after entering office, he did a political 180. Moreno turned hard to the right, repressing, imprisoning, and exiling Correísta politicians.

He also stabbed Julian Assange in the back, reversing Correa’s pledge to protect the WikiLeaks publisher. The Moreno government had given the Australian journalist Ecuadorian citizenship in 2017, but in April 2019 it issued a “temporary suspension” of Assange’s new nationality – an action that Ecuadorian experts say had no legal basis.

Then, Moreno even let British authorities violate his own country’s sovereignty by storming the embassy – which constitutes Ecuadorian territory under the Vienna Convention in international law – in order to arrest Assange.

Correísta politicians have alleged that Moreno was bribed and/or blackmailed by the US government, as he obediently fulfilled all of Washington’s foreign-policy goals, collaborating closely with the Donald Trump administration, removing Ecuador from the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) and Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and even recognizing US-appointed coup leader Juan Guaidó in Venezuela
.

Few people would have expected back during Ecuador’s presidential election in 2017 that Moreno would go on to govern like this. The country’s right-wing opposition was concerned that Lenín Moreno (who, after all, was named after the Russian revolutionary) would continue Correa’s leftist program.

So in December 2016, César Monge Ortega, the leader of Lasso’s right-wing CREO party, tried to recruit Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli (Capaya) for the disinformation campaign against Correa, Moreno, and their Alianza País party.

Capaya wrote in his 2019 testimony that he initially declined the offer, but that Monge was persistent.

Monge insisted to me that I could contact North American federal agents that were working with CREO for a long time, and they would provide me with protection and stability in the United States,” Capaya said.

He assured me that the American Democratic Party was committed to backing Lasso’s presidential candidacy in exchange for Julian Assange, to expose his link with the current president of the United States,” Capaya continued.

This comment suggests that Democratic Party leadership had been convinced that US President Donald Trump was somehow connected to Assange, a baseless conspiracy theory that was fueled by Fernando Villavicencio’s extremely questionable report in The Guardian.

Capaya went on: “Finally, one day Monge visited me with [US] federal agents and together they guaranteed me protection in the United States in exchange for my participation in the smear campaign against Alianza País in order to influence the presidential elections in Ecuador in 2017.

Capaya said that, after this in-person meeting with the US federal agents, he accepted their offer.

His role was to make outlandish accusations Correa (who was still president at the time), his government, and his party.

They gave me a script created and prepared by Fernando Villavicencio, who according to Monge had been contracted by the party CREO,” Capaya said.

He continued: “They told me that in order for there to be an agreement, I had to follow the script to a T. To this end, we met various times in Miami between December 2016 and January 2017. These videos subsequently were made public on social media after February 2017.

Capaya stressed that “a big part of the script” was dedicated to accusing Correa and his other Vice President Jorge Glas of corruption.

They made me name third parties that I don’t know,” Capaya recalled. He wrote that the US “federal agents” heavily pressured him to name people such as Frank Roberto Chatburn Ripalda, a Miami-based financial advisor with dual US and Ecuadorian citizenship.

Despite that I told them on more than one occasion that I never had any relation with him and that he was not being investigated or processed in Ecuador, they expressly told me that in order for there to be an agreement it was required to mention Chatburn, because he had US nationality and with that the federal agents could justify their participation and initiate actions against him in the United States,” Capaya said.

The US Justice Department subsequently charged Chatburn with money laundering and imprisoned him for three-and-a-half years.

Chatburn was not the only one who ended up burned by Washington.

Capaya concluded his testimony lamenting that Monge, his CREO party, and the US federal agents later abandoned him when Moreno won the presidential election.

They failed to fulfill their side of the promise. Capaya was later captured in Ecuador, and put behind bars, where he remains today.

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