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Ecuador seeks arrest of former president in kidnapping inquiry

Ecuador seeks arrest of former president in kidnapping inquiry
Supporters of former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa protest outside the National Court of Justice in Quito in June after a judge linked Correa to the kidnapping of an opposition lawmaker. (Rodrigo Buendia / AFP/Getty Images)

An Ecuadorean judge on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for former President Rafael Correa for alleged involvement in a kidnapping case stemming from the 2012 seizure of one of his political opponents.

Correa, who is in Belgium, in recent days has denied culpability and called the accusations politically motivated. He also has said he is considering requesting political asylum in Belgium, which is the native country of his wife.

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Over his Twitter account on Tuesday, Correa thanked his followers for their support, saying the warrant was a "serious miscarriage of justice and my rights."

"Don't worry. They will try to humiliate us and make us go through a difficult time, but a monstrosity like this will never prosper in a [country with] rule of law like Belgium," Correa wrote.

The judge in question, Daneiella Camacho, said she will ask for Correa's extradition and also make a request to Interpol to issue a red alert that could cause Correa to be detained if and when he crosses a border.

The Correa case is only the latest involving the detention or possible jailing of former Latin American leaders. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is in jail on corruption charges. Meanwhile, former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala was sentenced last summer to 18 months of house arrest while being investigated for possible corruption; he was ordered released in May and the investigation continues.

Three past Peruvian presidents are being investigated for alleged corruption in connection with the Odebrecht scandal, in which the Brazilian construction firm supposedly paid bribes to dozens of Latin American officials in exchange for the awarding of lucrative public works contracts.

Correa, who served as president from 2007 to 2017, is being investigated in the case of Fernando Balda, who allegedly was seized off a street in Bogota, Colombia, by a group of men hired by Ecuadorean intelligence agents. Officials say there is evidence that Correa masterminded the kidnapping. A taxi driver witnessed the kidnapping and Colombian police rescued Balda a few hours after he was seized.

After the arrest warrant was issued Tuesday, Balda, who attended the court session, called the judge’s action a “victory for the country.”

“Finally justice is coming to Ecuador,” Balda told reporters. “The Correa government was a sad decade in which opponents and citizens were persecuted for thinking differently. That’s over. But I won’t rest until Correa pays for all the damage he did, not just to me, but many other victims.”

In the early years of Correa’s administration, Balda was an official at a government development bank where he said he witnessed alleged cases of government corruption involving Correa. After he went public with his criticisms, he was charged with slander and subverting national security and sentenced to two years in prison, prompting him to seek asylum in Colombia in 2010.

After being freed from his captors by Colombian police, Balda was extradited to Ecuador, where he served his two-year sentence. His claims of having been kidnapped received no judicial attention until this year, months after Correa had left office.

A former deputy in the National Assembly, Andres Paez, said in an interview that the arrest warrant was justified.

“All those who were arrested in connection with the kidnapping indicated that the order to commit the crime came from Rafael Correa,” Paez said. “Finally we have justice in the face of so much evil. We hope that Interpol detains him and that [Correa] is sent here as soon as possible.”

Correa’s attorney, Caupolican Ochoa, said that the arrest warrant is a violation of his client’s rights and that the judge lacked jurisdiction over the case. “There have been arbitrary violations of due process,” he said.

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Also criticizing the warrant over Twitter was Eduardo Franco, who is the attorney for former Vice President Jorge Glas, who is in jail on charges of corruption for allegedly taking bribes from Odebrecht.

“This is the biggest judicial scandal in recent years,” Franco said. “Rafael Correa is innocent and what they want to do is distance him from active political life in Ecuador. This is a case of persecution.”

Special correspondents Jaramillo and Kraul reported from Quito and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.

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