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Bribery trial begins against ex-Ecuador leader Rafael Correa

QUITO, Ecuador — Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and 20 other high-ranking politicians and business leaders went on trial Monday, with prosecutors accusing them of orchestrating a multimillion-dollar bribery operation.

Chief Prosecutor Diana Salazar opened the proceeding at the National Court of Justice, describing a scheme in which Correa’s PAIS Alliance political party took cash in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

“A criminal structure comprised of various public officials with strategic roles was created,” she said. “Those roles facilitated accepting money from businessmen or their representatives in exchange for infrastructure works.”

The case could have wide implications for Correa, who held the presidency between 2007 to 2017 and won the loyalty of millions of poor Ecuadoreans with generous health and social programs. He is currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium and rejects the charges against him.

“This is all a big farce,” he said in a video posted last month on Twitter.

The former president still harbors political aspirations, though he cannot run again for president, and his role in any future local or congressional elections could be hindered by the outcome of the trial. The bribery scheme is alleged to have taken place from 2012 to 2016.

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