The Odebrecht corruption scandal keeps toppling the powerful, as Ecuador Vice President Jorge Glas became the latest politician to be jailed amid investigations that he led a network of officials who received millions of dollars in bribes from the Brazilian company in exchange for contracts.
The high-profile detention Monday is likely to add fuel to an ongoing feud between President Lenín Moreno and his former boss and predecessor, Rafael Correa.
The 48-year-old Glas, who was also Correa’s vice president, has always been seen as something of a political placeholder — the man charged with guarding Correa’s reputation until he could retake the presidency.
“An honest man has lost his liberty,” Correa wrote on Twitter shortly after Glas was detained. “Let the world shake.”
Never miss a local story.
Just minutes before his arrest, Glas posted a video on Twitter maintaining his innocence and saying his detention was unconstitutional and illegal and was a “conspiracy” to “seize the vice presidency.”
Glas has been hounded by corruption allegations since the Odebrecht scandal erupted last year. The Brazilian construction firm admitted in U.S. court that it had paid at least $785 million in bribes in more than a dozen countries to win construction contracts. According to those company officials, Glas was part of the corruption ring that received at least $33 million in Ecuador.
When Correa’s leftist Alianza País party picked Moreno and Glas to run for the top two seats in Ecuador’s government, the scandal followed them. And many feared that the pair would use their positions of power to bury the investigation.
But since taking office in May, Moreno has shown an independent streak that has pleased the nation but alarmed allies. In August, Moreno stripped Glas of most of his duties and has increasingly questioned his predecessor’s policies.
During a trip to Colombia last month, Correa told local media that he felt “betrayed” by Moreno and accused his one-time ally of trying to undermine his leftist “Citizens Revolution.”
But that sense of betrayal could grow even larger, as Moreno pushes a seven-question referendum that could further undermine Correa’s aspirations to return to power. If the Supreme Court green-lights the referendum, Ecuadoreans will be asked to set presidential term limits that would bar Correa from running for office again. In 2015, Correa pushed congress to scrap term limits altogether — under the condition that he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2017.
Another change Moreno is seeking would bar any official charged with corruption from holding public office — sidelining, perhaps, many of Correa’s former staff and allies.
The revelation has led to dozens of arrests and focused the spotlight on once untouchable politicians. Former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo has been in hiding, presumably in the United States, since authorities began investigating whether he received $20 million in Odebrecht bribes. His successor, former President Ollanta Humala, is also under detention pending investigation.
In Brazil, the BBC reported that almost a third of the current cabinet is facing investigation, including the foreign minister and President Micheal Temer’s chief of staff. And in Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santo’s campaign manager said his 2014 presidential run was financed, in part, by Odebrecht. Santos has said he had no knowledge of the payments.
Odebrecht has also worked in South Florida for more than 15 years, winning contracts to expand the south terminal of Miami International Airport and rebuild the north terminal.
Follow me on Twitter @jimwyss