Odebrecht Case Casts Shadow Across Ecuador as Trial Begins

(Bloomberg) -- Ecuador’s National Court, the country’s highest, on Friday kicked off the trial of Vice President Jorge Glas and eight others accused of corruption in relation to the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA. Glas’s former boss, ex-President Rafael Correa, pledged to return from abroad and deal with "traitors" in his party.

"It’s the most important trial since the return of democracy" in 1979, said political scientist Simon Pachano at Flasco university in Quito.

The proceedings could damage the legacy of Correa, who has been abroad for almost five months, and the continuity of current President Lenin Moreno’s anti-corruption drive. Glas, 48, who served as Correa’s vice president 2013-2017 before being reelected on a ticket with Moreno, insists he has done nothing wrong and calls the trial a political vendetta. Glas and Correa are now fighting for control of the ruling party, Alianza Pais.

In its plea bargain with U.S., Brazilian, and Swiss authorities, Odebrecht has admitted to paying more than $31.5 million in bribes in Ecuador. Testimony from a company executive led Glas and the others to face a charge of "illicit association" that could put them behind bars for up to five years. Four individuals accused have fled the country, including former Comptroller General Carlos Polit, who now lives in Miami.

The trial will likely run no longer than two to three weeks, said Farith Simon, dean of law at Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

On Oct. 4, a day after Glas’s arrest, Moreno temporarily replaced him with Maria Alejandra Vicuna, the housing minister.

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