Ecuador Bankers Fight Deportation After Two Decades in U.S.

(Bloomberg) -- Two brothers who ran Ecuador’s largest bank before its collapse almost two decades ago are fighting the Trump administration’s move to deport them to their home country, where the government says they looted millions of dollars.

William Isaias, 75, and his brother, Roberto Isaias, 74, were arrested Feb. 13 in Miami, where they’ve lived for about 20 years, according to court papers. The arrests came after years of failed attempts by Ecuador to extradite the two men.

In 2012, the South American country convicted the brothers in absentia in connection with the embezzlement of assets at Filanbanco SA, which had collapsed in 2001. They also face a civil claim by Ecuador in Florida state court seeking to recover more than $200 million.

The two men are “unlawfully present” in the U.S. and are now in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “pending removal proceedings,” ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias said in a statement Tuesday.

The two men are in fragile health, according to their lawyers, who filed an emergency request in federal court on Friday seeking their release while they fight U.S. attempts to send them back to Ecuador.

“ICE’s detention of two sick, elderly men is, according to their doctors, placing their health and lives in immediate jeopardy,” their lawyers said in the court filing.

Michael Tein, a lawyer for the Isaiases, had no immediate comment.

The brothers, who are being held in Miami’s Krome Service Processing Center, appeared disoriented to visitors, their legal team claimed in court papers. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams set a hearing for March 8.

Political Donors

Members of the Isaias family have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of U.S. politicians including Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and former president Barack Obama.

In 2014, the New York Times reported that the Ecuadorian government had accused the Obama administration of denying earlier extradition requests because of the political contributions. The Obama administration said the extradition request lacked sufficient proof, and Roberto Isaias said the donations were intended to support politicians who fight for human rights in Latin America, according to the Times.

The brothers now claim they are being improperly detained by the U.S. They say the 2012 convictions and eight-year prison sentences were fraudulent -- the result of political manipulation by the government of Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa. They point to a 2013 diplomatic note by the U.S. State Department denying Ecuador’s request for extradition.

The arrest of the Isaias brothers came amid moves by the U.S. and Ecuador to repair relations, which had soured during Correa’s presidency.

Ecuador granted asylum in 2012 to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is living in its embassy in London. The nation is currently considering a U.S. request to extradite Paul Ceglia, an American fugitive who’s charged with using a forged contract to claim part ownership of Facebook Inc.

The case is Isaias Dassum v. Assistant Field Office Director of the ICE Miami Field Office, 19-cv-20814, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Miami).

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