, Quito, Ecuador, Jan 3 – Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno confirmed on Wednesday that Jorge Glas, his vice president jailed for six years for graft, has been stripped of his office.
Glas, 48, automatically lost his title on Wednesday because he was absent from his post for more than the three months permitted under Ecuador’s constitution — because of his incarceration and pre-trial detention.
He is the highest-ranking Latin American politician to be convicted and imprisoned in a regional scandal involving a Brazilian construction group, Odebrecht, which gave bribes to secure public works contracts.
He was given a six-year sentence on December 13 by Ecuador’s Supreme Court after being found guilty of receiving $13.5 million in Odebrecht kickbacks. He says he is innocent and will appeal.
But, taking into account his detention since October 2 pending his trial, he has not been able to carry out his duties.
That meant that at midnight Tuesday (0500 GMT Wednesday), Glas had failed to execute his functions as vice president for the three months allowed under the constitution. So he automatically lost his post.
“In line with what the constitution stipulates, the vice presidential functions of Jorge Glas have ended,” Moreno told reporters at his palace in the capital, Quito.
He added that, by law, he now had two weeks to present a list of potential replacements for Congress to choose Glas’s successor.
– Two potential successors –
The legislature voted December 17 to open proceedings to fire Glas. But that required rulings from the Constitutional Court and a congressional panel before going to a vote before the entire Congress.
In the end, the constitution’s provisions were deemed to have gone into effect before the legislative process had run its course.
Glas has insisted he did not breach the three-month absence rule, arguing that part of his period in custody was vacation time. But that stance was dismissed by the government and Congress.
“Under the law, the three months of absence means that a temporary deficiency (of vice-presidential functions) becomes a definitive one, without the need for any congressional declaration,” a constitutional expert, Rafael Oyarte, told AFP.
Two people were seen as best-placed to succeed Glas: current acting vice president Maria Vicuna, and Industries Minister Eva Garcia.
Ecuador’s ruling party is split between Moreno and previous president Rafael Correa. Glas was an ally of Correa, who retired to Belgium but returned to his country in late November to battle Moreno for control of the party.
Odebrecht, which was investigated by the US Justice Department, agreed to pay a $3.5 billion fine after admitting to giving $788 million in bribes across 12 countries to secure contracts.
The scandal has ensnared politicians in several countries, including Mexico, Peru, Panama and Venezuela.
Ecuadoran prosecutors said Odebrecht spent $47.3 million in bribes in their country to get public contracts.