This article first appeared on El Comercio on October 14, 2021.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating 172 alleged cases of corruption perpetrated during the covid-19 pandemic in Ecuador.
However, the majority of investigations show slow progress. A statistical report of that entity shows that, from June 2020 to August of this year, 159 cases remain in the first phase of the criminal process, i.e. 92.4% are still under preliminary investigation.
At this stage, the agents collect evidence before bringing charges against those involved. This investigation is reserved.
The Multidisciplinary Task Force of the Public Prosecutor’s Office is tracking 13 crimes that occurred during the pandemic. Among them, embezzlement, influence peddling, extortion, bribery, organized crime, illicit association, among others.
A team of prosecutors, financial analysts, experts in public procurement, and police with specialized profiles are tracking these offenses.
104 of the 159 previous investigations are for the alleged crime of embezzlement. Most of them are related to the purchase of medical supplies, covid-19 tests, or body bags with alleged overpricing in public hospitals.
The Prosecutor’s Office points out that the Integral Penal Code establishes that a previous investigation can last one or two years. “We have that time to gather documentation, request reports from other institutions, carry out diligence, and request expert opinions”, indicated personnel of that entity.
In addition, the Prosecutor’s Office explains that the progress of the cases depends on the complexity of the investigation. “There are cases in which sufficient evidence and documents are obtained during the raids and a prosecutorial instruction can be initiated more quickly. On the other hand, there are cases in which we only have a complaint. We have to request information from other institutions such as Comptroller’s Office, Internal Revenue Service, Financial Analysis Unit, we need to look for evidence, documents, request versions and that takes time”.
Este Diario learned that two cases that were under preliminary investigation were shelved because the agents did not find enough evidence to file charges.
Only 13 cases show progress in the criminal process. For example, six cases are being prosecuted and there are 41 defendants. Three are in the preparatory phase of trial and four are in trial.
In the latter group is the case of Pruebas PCR, which involves the former mayor of Quito Jorge Yunda and 13 other people. All are accused of the alleged crime of embezzlement for the purchase of 100,000 tests to detect the coronavirus.
Yesterday, October 13, 2021, at 09:00, the eleventh day of the trial hearing was installed in the North Judicial Complex. Currently, the Prosecutor’s Office is presenting to the Court the evidence collected in the investigation. When the entity concludes, the lawyers of the accused will also present testimonial, expert, and documentary evidence.
According to the defense attorneys, this evidence proves the innocence of their clients. The trial is expected to last more than one month.
As of August 31, 2021, only 17 people have been sentenced for crimes related to corruption during the pandemic.
For example, on July 5, 2021, after a 30-day trial hearing, a court sentenced eight people. All of them were convicted of embezzlement for the acquisition of body bags and other medical supplies at Los Ceibos Hospital of the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS) in Guayaquil.
According to investigations, there was an overpricing in the purchase of body bags. “There is an increase of more than 300% in the price of these items, which is not justified,” said the Court.
In July of this year, four other people were sentenced for the crime of organized crime. Investigations indicate that these people were involved in the illegal sale of overpriced medical supplies during the Covid-19 health emergency.
The accused allegedly marketed a medicine in the streets of Guayaquil, whose value varied between USD 400 and 1 200 per ampoule. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, this medicine left a public hospital in the Main Port, with the complicity of officials of the health center.