QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador’s president on Wednesday tapped Urban Development Minister Maria Alejandra Vicuna to replace jailed Jorge Glas as vice president while he is investigated in a corruption scandal centered on Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
In a political drama that has riveted the small Andean country, Glas was jailed on Monday night after prosecutors determined he was linked to the payment of bribes by Odebrecht. He has not been formally charged.
Glas, a close ally of leftist ex-President Rafael Correa who served as his vice president and strategic sectors minister, has maintained his innocence and claimed the new administration of President Lenin Moreno is seeking to smear him for political gain.
Moreno on Wednesday announced that Vicuna, a low-profile former lawmaker from the ruling Country Alliance party, would take on the role of vice president during Glas’ “temporary absence.”
The investigation into Glas and his sidelining from the current government has caused a rift between Moreno and his fiery predecessor and onetime mentor Correa, who says Glas is the innocent victim of a political witch hunt.
Tensions are due to rise further between the two politicians with Moreno planning a referendum in early 2018 on whether to ban elected politicians from running for indefinite re-election, a move widely seen as aimed at barring Correa from becoming president again.
Fallout from the massive Odebrecht corruption saga continues to sweep Latin America. The company, which has admitted to paying bribes to win contracts in a number of countries, has already paid $3.5 billion in settlements in the United States, Brazil and Switzerland. The scandal has embroiled politicians across the region.
Glas, 48, was accused by a fugitive former oil minister of being “the ringleader” of a bribe network in the energy sector.
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman