Ecuador judge orders detention for ex-minister connected to Assange

QUITO (Reuters) - A judge in Ecuador has ordered former foreign minister Ricardo Patino be held in pre-trial detention on a so-called instigation charge, the attorney general’s office said on Thursday, but the ex-official’s whereabouts are unknown.

FILE PHOTO: Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino addresses a news conference about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Quito February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja

The administration of President Lenin Moreno has said that Patino, who served as foreign minister under the previous government of President Rafael Correa, is connected to WikiLeaks.

Moreno stripped WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of his diplomatic asylum last week. Assange was given refuge in the London embassy in 2012 by Correa, but Moreno has accused WikiLeaks and Assange of violating his privacy by publishing private family photographs.

WikiLeaks has denied those allegations, arguing that Moreno was attempting to deflect attention from corruption allegations against him.

Patino, an economist who called on supporters to carry out “combative resistance” against Moreno in October 2018, fled the country by road on Wednesday, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

“The attorney general’s office began a criminal process against Ricardo Patino for the alleged crime of instigation,” the office said. “(Patino) had given a speech in which he instigated people to take over public institutions and close roads.”

“The judge accepted the request of the attorney general’s office, ordered pre-trial detention and asked for the release of an Interpol red notice,” the office said.

It was not possible to reach Patino immediately for comment. He has previously denied the allegations.

Patino is also under investigation for having supposed ties to alleged Swedish hacker Ola Bini, who was arrested last week, the attorney general’s office has said.

The government alleges that Patino and Bini have taken similarly timed trips out of the country and that they visited Assange when he was living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. The interior minister has said Patino is part of a plan to “destabilize” the government.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Leslie Adler