The ex-president Ecuadorian Rafael Correa affirmed on Monday that the political asylum that has been granted to him in Belgium it is proof that he is being persecuted by the authorities of his country, and he did not rule out a return to politics.
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Correa, who in 2020 was convicted of corruption charges and sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison, has lived since 2017 in Belgium, his wife’s native country.
Although Ecuadorian authorities have previously demanded his arrest and extradition, he has been allowed to remain in Belgium.
The National Court of Justice of Ecuador sent a new extradition request for Correa last week, but now it has transpired that the General Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless Persons of Belgium granted asylum to the former head of state, with refugee status.
The agency issued a certificate dated April 15 that was seen by The Associated Press.
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In an interview with the AP, Correa asserted that he can now travel safely around the world, except in Ecuador.
“I work traveling, I give conferences, I give courses, I give economic advice,” he said.
The former president indicated that the only way to stop what he perceives as political persecution would be to return to a popularly elected position.
“If my return to Ecuador helps us win elections, as a candidate, supporting, directing… I will have to do it,” he said.
The Ecuadorian foreign minister, Juan Carlos Holguín, told the Teleamazonas channel from Quito that he has not received any notification “regarding an asylum or refuge that the Belgian government has given, it is a sovereign issue of each country … it is a relationship of who requests and who delivers it.
He added that “there is no political persecution. Mr. Correa had the right to his legitimate defense, at this time he is a fugitive from Ecuadorian justice.” He also asserted that neither the request nor the file from the National Court of Justice to carry out the extradition request has arrived.
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The president of the National Court of Justice of Ecuador, Iván Saquicela, said last week that he signed the order to start the extradition process in relation to Correa’s sentence in the corruption case. At the time, prosecutors said the former president oversaw a conspiracy in which foreign and local companies made cash payments to his now-defunct Alianza PAIS political party in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.
Correa continues to deny that he has committed any crime and presents himself as the victim of a political witch hunt.
“They are the corrupt ones (…), I have always been politically persecuted,” he said.
The Ecuadorian, who identifies with the Latin American leftist movement, left power in May 2017 after a decade at the head of the Andean country.
Since then his extradition has been requested three times, once after being found guilty in a kidnapping case of one of his political opponents and twice for the same bribery case.
Correa’s lawyer, Christophe Marchand, said the asylum request was made because the former head of state was being targeted for political reasons.
“It is not easy to get political refugee status for a former head of state,” Marchand said. “We had to convince them that we were facing an extremely serious problem related to the independence of justice in Ecuador.”