Ecuadorian president’s alleged associate found murdered following corruption allegations

Businessman Rubén Chérres was assassinated days after the Constitutional Court of Ecuador approved the request by opposition legislators to impeach conservative President Guillermo Lasso

April 03, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Rubén Chérres was a friend of President Guillermo Lasso’s brother-in-law Danilo Carrera, and a close ally of the Lasso government. Photo: Twitter/ Guillermo Lasso

Ecuadorian businessman Rubén Chérres, one of those implicated in an alleged corruption network in public companies that led to the impeachment trial against conservative President Guillermo Lasso, was found dead on March 31 along with three other people, all with signs of torture. The dead bodies of the victims were found in a house in the town of Punta Blanca, Santa Elena province, which Chérres had rented in January.

The National Police reported that the victims’ identities were confirmed after fingerprint analysis. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office reported that it found the dead body of the security guard outside the house and that of Chérres and the others inside the house, with blows and bullet wounds.

Interior Minister Juan Zapata confirmed that the four showed signs of torture. He reported that according to a preliminary forensic report, the victims were murdered on Thursday night or in the early hours of Friday. Zapata also reported that the police had deployed a specialized team to find those responsible for the murders and the reasons behind them.

Chérres, 69, was a fugitive from justice. His name came to light in January, when digital media outlet La Posta published a series of documents and audio recordings that revealed an alleged criminal structure for the appointment of positions and public contracts in exchange for money in state companies, linking Chérres with various government officials, such as Hernán Luque, former president of the Coordinating Company of Public Companies (EMCO) as well as with President Lasso’s brother-in-law, Danilo Carrera. It also revealed Chérres’ alleged links with the members of the Albanian mafia and drug trafficking.

According to La Posta’s investigative report, Chérres, Luque, and Carrera managed appointments to high positions within public companies and ministries, and decided which private companies work with the State in exchange for bribes. The report also revealed that the Albanian mafia had chosen Ecuador as a strategic point for drug trafficking operations, and detailed that since Chérres, Luque, and Carrera possessed influence over key institutions, such as the Customs service and the Ministry of Energy, they helped the members of mafia disguise themselves under the facades of big businessmen and launder assets and promote arms and human trafficking in the country. The report also revealed that Chérres and his associates had contributed at least USD 1.5 million to Lasso’s presidential campaign in 2021.

After the publication of the first audio files, Lasso ordered the National Police and the Interior Ministry to locate Chérres and Luque. The publication also led the Prosecutor’s Office to initiate its own investigation into the case called Encuentro or El Gran Padrino case. The Prosecutor’s Office had issued arrest warrants against them on January 21. Luque continues to be a fugitive from justice. According to Zapata, he fled Ecuador and is allegedly in Argentina.

The case, which has caused a stir in Ecuador during the past three months, also triggered an impeachment process against Lasso. Last week, on March 29, the Constitutional Court approved the request by opposition legislators to impeach Lasso politically for the crime of embezzlement of public funds. On March 31, the Legislative Administration Council (CAL) of the National Assembly of Ecuador also approved the initiation of the impeachment trial and ordered the Oversight Commission to take the process forward.

The Oversight Commission has a period of 30 days to carry out all the required constitutional mechanisms, including hearing arguments against and in defense of the president, before presenting its final report to the plenary of the National Assembly for a decision on impeachment. In order to impeach and remove the president from office, it is necessary for two thirds of the legislators (92 votes out of a total of 137 members of parliament) to vote in favor of his removal.

Lasso has rejected the political trial as well as the existence of a structure or network of corruption in his government and public energy companies. His brother-in-law Carrera has also denied the accusations against him. Nevertheless, Chérres’ assassination, which took place days just after the impeachment trial against Lasso was approved, weakens his position and could result in his dismissal.