Ecuador detains comptroller, ex-minister in Petroecuador probe

QUITO, April 13 (Reuters) - Ecuador on Tuesday detained the country’s comptroller and a former energy minister as part of an investigation into corruption at three state institutions, including oil company Petroecuador, the national prosecutor’s office said on Twitter.

The arrests come after an employee of trading house Gunvor Group pleaded guilty to U.S. charges of involvement in a scheme to bribe Ecuadorean officials to win business from Petroecuador, part of a broader U.S. probe into merchant trading firms’ relationships with Latin American state commodities companies.

Ecuadorean prosecutors said the arrests took place early Tuesday morning and included raids of homes and offices in capital Quito and Guayaquil, the South American country’s financial center. Prosecutors said the investigation into bribery allegations began in June 2019.

Prosecutors said they arrested eight people in total, including the country’s comptroller and a former presidential secretary who they identified as Pablo C. and Jose A.B., respectively.

The country’s current comptroller is Pablo Celi, and Jose Augusto Briones served as secretary for President Lenin Moreno before being named energy minister in November 2019, a post he resigned in March 2020. Reuters could not reach either Celi or Augusto Briones for comment.

Petroecuador had said in a statement on Monday before the arrests that it was cooperating with authorities to defend the country’s institutions against corruption. Moreno, who leaves office on May 24, said in a tweet on Tuesday that he respected the “independence and autonomy” of state institutions and that the government would cooperate with prosecutors.

The Ecuadorean comptroller’s office had no immediate comment on the case. (Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito Writing by Luc Cohen Editing by Matthew Lewis)