Latin America & Caribbean

Ex-Ecuador President Mahuad sentenced to 12 years in jail

Jamil Mahuad, Quito, Jan 2000 Image copyright AP
Image caption Jamil Mahuad in a picture taken at the presidential palace in January 2000, shortly before he fled for the US

A court in Ecuador has sentenced former President Jamil Mahuad in absentia to 12 years in jail for embezzlement.

The ruling comes two days after Interpol issued a warrant for his arrest. He denies any wrongdoing.

Mr Mahuad fled to the United States in 2000 after a military coup.

He was accused of ordering banks to close for several days and freezing the accounts of ordinary citizens to protect the interests of bankers associated with him.

The decision, taken in March 1999, came during a serious economic crisis.

Ecuador was struggling at the time with high inflation, a devalued currency and historically low prices for oil, its main export.

Mr Mahuad had been in office for less than a year.

"The crime committed by the accused caused huge social turmoil," Judge Ximena Vintimilla said in her ruling.

"Its consequences are still being felt by Ecuadorean society to this day," she added.

'Political persecution'

On Tuesday, Interpol issued an international warrant for Mr Mahuad.

He released a statement saying the case against him was politically charged.

Mr Mahuad accused the left-wing government of the current President, Rafael Correa, of meddling in the judiciary system.

"The whole world knows the current situation faced by Ecuador's legal system and its role in the persecution of journalists and critics of the government," he said in a statement.

The Ecuadorean government rejects the allegations.

"There's no political persecution here. What Ecuadorean justice seeks is the punishment of common criminal acts," Interior Minister Jose Serrano told reporters on Tuesday.

Mr Mahuad's supporters say he should be remembered for his battle to save the country's economy and for signing a peace treaty with Peru.

The two countries had a brief border conflict in 1995 and were on the brink of a new war when Mr Mahuad took office in 1998.

The decision led to Mr Mahuad and his Peruvian counterpart, Alberto Fujimori, being nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

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