In Ecuador VP handed 6 years in prison in Odebrecht graft case

Ecuador’s vice president, Jorge Glas, was sentenced to six years in prison Wednesday for receiving illegal kickbacks from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

He is the highest-ranking politician to be convicted in the sprawling case centered on Odebrecht, whose past practice of giving bribes to secure public works contracts has cast a cloud over officials and ex-officials in several Latin American countries.

Glas, 48, had been in preventive custody since October, after his immunity was lifted by Congress — though he was allowed to remain vice president.

His trial before Ecuador’s Supreme Court started last month.

He can appeal the sentence, which will not take effect until confirmed by the court at a later date.

Prosecutors said Glas received a total of $13.5 million in Odebrecht bribes, via an uncle who is also under arrest. He was also charged with illegal association.

Three other individuals have been sentenced to 14 months in prison in the same case, their sentences lightened by “effective cooperation” with authorities, according to the verdict read by judge Edgar Flores.

In an October interview from prison in Quito, Glas told AFP he was a victim of the construction giant’s revenge after he was instrumental in kicking the company out of Ecuador in 2008 following a dispute over repair of a hydroelectric plant.

Glas, who was minister of strategic sectors before becoming vice president in 2013, denied any link to the Odebrecht scandal, though his uncle, Ricardo Rivera, has been arrested for his alleged involvement.

Under investigation by the US Justice Department, Odebrecht agreed in December to pay a record $3.5 billion fine after admitting to paying $788 million in bribes across 12 countries to secure contracts.

The scandal has ensnared politicians in several countries, including Mexico, Peru, Panama and Venezuela.

Ecuadoran prosecutors said Odebrecht spent $47.3 million in bribes in their country to get public contracts.

Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa, told CNN Spanish from Panama that Glas was a “political prisoner” and there was “no evidence against him.”

He claimed the conviction was a way for his successor, President Lenin Moreno, to seize control of the vice president’s office.