Ecuador lawmaker says there is 'compelling' graft evidence against President Lasso

FILE PHOTO: Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso looks as he meets people affected by a landslide in Alausi, Ecuador March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Karen Toro/File Photo

QUITO (Reuters) -Ecuador's opposition has compelling evidence to present against President Guillermo Lasso at his impeachment hearing, a lawmaker said on Thursday, including irregularities in a crude oil shipping contract, accusations Lasso vehemently denied in a televised message.

The Constitutional Court gave the green light on Wednesday night to begin impeachment hearings for alleged embezzlement in the National Assembly, where Lasso does not have a majority and has clashed with legislators.

"The evidence is compelling, it is irrefutable, and we are going to present it," opposition lawmaker Viviana Veloz, who filed the impeachment petition alongside 59 others in mid-March, told a local TV channel.

Opposition lawmakers allege that Lasso was reportedly warned by the former manager of the oil fleet FLOPEC, Johnny Estupinan, about irregularities in a contracting process for oil transportation with Amazonas Tanker Pool Company LLC.

Estupinan was removed from the position in March 2022 for trying to unilaterally terminate the contract, and a new contract was signed with the same company in July 2022, against the recommendations of the country's comptroller, the file sent to the court said.

Lasso protested his innocence, saying the alleged incident took place before he became president, accusing his detractors of character assassination.

"I'm experiencing a systematic and mafia-like attack, they are trying to smear my name and that of my home. That's called an attempt to assassinate my reputation," Lasso said in a televised statement broadcast late on Thursday.

Supporters of the move to oust Lasso will need 92 votes from the 137-member assembly if the process reaches the final stage.

The government criticized the political trial against Lasso, but said it would respect the decision of the court.

The court's decision to start impeachment proceedings could prompt Lasso to dissolve the assembly and call early elections.

Lawmakers backed a report earlier this month accusing Lasso of involvement in possible crimes against state security and public administration, assertions rejected by the government.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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