The revelations of the Pandora Papers project have shone the spotlight on the mysterious and often illegal actions of the rich and powerful across the world. A number of politicians too have come under the scanner, the highest number of whom are from the Americas. One of the key political figures mentioned – Ecuador’s president and former banker Guillermo Lasso – has come under further scrutiny as more evidence has emerged implicating himself and his wife in potential financial crimes.
On Sunday, October 10, Ecuador’s parliament approved an investigation to determine whether the president broke the law by stashing money in tax havens, as the Pandora Papers suggested.
In 2017, Ecuador’s parliament passed a law which prohibits elected officials from holding assets and capital in tax havens. The law was the result of a referendum wherein the overwhelming majority of the Ecuadorian people affirmed the need to regulate the use of tax havens by public officials. During the parliament vote, the only opposition came from the block of the Creating Opportunities Party (CREO) of Guillermo Lasso and the center-right SUMA party.
In response to the allegations in the Pandora Papers, Lasso, who was also the primary shareholder in Guayaquil Bank, made several public statements declaring that he had not violated the law. He even released his financial documents in support of his claim. He said that while he had previously invested in foreign companies and held money in foreign accounts, he had sold them off once he “dedicated himself fully to political life.” Lasso also maintained that all of his dealings were by the book.
New evidence emerges
While the investigation is underway in Ecuador’s parliament and other corresponding institutions, a congresswoman from the Union for Hope Coalition (UNES) presented a request for information to the general director of the Ecuador’s Internal Revenue Service. She sought the official tax statements of Lasso’s wife Alcivar Crespo María de Lourdes from 2012 until now.
According to the information the congresswoman has accessed, Lasso’s wife may have served as a proxy in managing his financial assets and helping him avoid taxes without officially breaking the tax haven law of 2017.
Parliamentarians from UNES have underscored that finding out the truth about Lasso’s offshore holdings and personal wealth accumulation is not a gotcha game or about vengeance. The law is in place precisely to limit the practice of the wealthy across the world protecting their private assets from taxes, which in turn fund public institutions, services, and programs.
Triumvirate of conspiracy?
The Pandora Papers revelation came ahead of the anniversary of the October 2019 national strike protests in Ecuador which saw unprecedented levels of mobilization, as well as brutal violence against the protesters by security forces. Many social movements and progressive organizations will take to the streets on the anniversary, October 18, to commemorate the historic protests and to express their dissatisfaction with the current government.
The government also came under sharp scrutiny following the massacre which occurred in the Litoral penitentiary which saw the death of over 116 prisoners.
Lasso has lashed out at the growing anger of the people and attacked political leaders, even claiming that three leaders constitute a “triumvirate of conspiracy” and that they want to take him out of power. These three include former president and leader of the Citizen’s Revolution Rafael Correa, Leonidas Izá of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, and former mayor of Guayaquil, Jaime Nebot.
He has also accused Ecuador’s parliament of trying to block crucial legislation and impeding governance at the expense of the Ecuadorian people, as they have directed efforts to investigating the revelations of the Pandora Papers.