This article first appeared in El Universo on April 13, 2021.
There are fourteen court cases in the United States related to bribes already confessed for a total of $ 39.9 million to Petroecuador officials and others. The raids carried out in Ecuador early this morning (April 13) are related to only one of them, and very little is known about it, since the agreed bribe, which exceeded $ 3 million, did not materialize.
The investigations began as a result of the revelations of the Panama Papers in Ecuador. Less than a year later, in March 2017, the US Attorney’s Office filed its first indictment against a contractor of the state oil company: Ramiro Luque Flores, of Galileo Energy, who admitted paying $ 3.27 million to Petroecuador officials in exchange for contracts. He is still awaiting sentencing.
The cases investigated in the U.S. can be divided into two groups. The first is related to Petroecuador’s infrastructure works, such as the Esmeraldas and Pacific refineries, for which bribes of almost $16 million have been determined. For these, the U.S. has already tried José Luis de la Paz Román (No Limit C. A.), Armengol Cevallos and José Cisneros (Vestsacer S. A. and Plameri S. A.).
The other group of illicit payments is related to the purchase and sale of crude oil and its derivatives, with a total of $23.9 million in bribes. This includes Raymond Kohut, former executive of Gunvor, whose confession was given last April 6. He assured to have paid $ 22 million for Gunvor to have access to crude oil that Petroecuador delivered to Asian states in oil pre-sale contracts. Other companies prosecuted are Vitol and Sargeant Marine.
The identities of all the public officials bribed are not known, but only those who have been prosecuted in the U.S. They are Marcelo Reyes López, former general coordinator of contracts of the Esmeraldas Refinery; Arturo Escobar Domínguez, former advisor to the management of the Esmeraldas Refinery; and José Raúl de la Torre, former official of the state-owned company and of the Comptroller General’s Office. The amount they accepted to have received is $ 4.2 million.
In Ecuador there are a dozen officials and contractors sentenced for the Petroecuador bribery case, among them former managers Álex Bravo, Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli and Marco Calvopiña.
The U.S. investigations are based on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. businessmen from bribing foreign public officials. Moreover, as much of the bribe money passed through the US financial system, the charges include money laundering.
For that reason, intermediaries who helped pay and launder the Petroecuador bribes through operations in Panama, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland have also been prosecuted. One case is against Frank Chatburn, who accepted his participation in the payment of $ 3.5 million, and two of his collaborators: José Larrea Alarcón and Juan Espinoza Calderón.
Another case is against Gustavo Trujillo Franco, who managed Madison Asset LLC, where part of the bribes were deposited. He is still awaiting sentencing.