By Casto Ocando / Vértice News
An investigation into a network of alleged money laundering has found links to Caupolicán Ochoa, personal lawyer to President Rafael Correa and other former senior officials of his cabinet. Through operations with gold bullion, the network has moved hundreds of millions of dollars from Ecuador to the United States and other destinations.
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According to investigations by the National Police of Ecuador, a group of businessmen who controlled half a dozen companies moved more than $400 million by buying and selling gold, without being able to justify where the precious metal came from.
The Attorney General of Ecuador ordered the arrest of several men implicated in the investigation, including the brothers Alberto, Javier and Jordi March Game, partners in two of the companies involved in the gold operations: Spartan of Ecuador and Clearprocess. A warrant was also issued for shareholder Gustavo Jurado. The four men are customers of Caupolicán Ochoa, President Correa’s personal lawyer.
The web portal Vértice was granted exclusive access to investigation documents, which show how Ochoa used his connections with the Ecuadorian Government to judicially favor the detainees. The lawyer’s son, César Ochoa, previously a Ministry of Justice official, also appears to be implicated in the influence peddling case.
After a year of investigation, in an operation known to authorities as ‘Sunset,’ the Ecuadorian police documented how the detainees pulled strings to access judicial courts and judges. Their aim was to stop legal proceedings against them, mainly for money laundering and illegal arms possession. Vértice has in its possession transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations that show how the Game March brothers bribed judges and sought the help of at least one powerful minister in the Correa administration to circumvent their legal problems.
The evidence gathered by the police against the gold trafficking network led to raids on 21 properties related to the companies Spartan and Clearprocess. At the same time, the case prosecutor, Diana Salazar, ordered the arrest of seven people, including the Game March brothers and executives of the investigated companies, who were accused of money laundering.
Millions in gold
The first suspicions arose when Spartan and Clearprocess could not justify the origins of the gold to Ecuador’s Internal Revenue Service (SRI for the Spanish acronym).
Spartan was founded in 1979 and initially dealt with the import and sale of chemicals. Between 2009 and March 2016, Spartan received a total of $2.8 million from contracts with the Ecuadorian State, according to the National Public Procurement System. In 2013 and 2014, the company received 31 transfers totaling nearly $24 million from a company called Doremetals. According to police investigations, Doremetals was registered in Ecuador in September 2012 and is owned by another firm, Precious Metal Akar, which is registered in Florida, USA. Doremetals reported revenues of $200,000 to the SRI, but inquiries revealed that the company had in fact received $184.6 million in various financial transactions; income allegedly related to the trafficking of gold.
Clearprocess, another firm owned by the March Game brothers and Gustavo Jurado, opened in 2012 in Machala, southwestern Ecuador, to “explore, exploit, smelt and market all types of minerals.” Months later, Clearprocess expanded its operations to the city of Guayaquil, but without much success: between 2012 and 2013 the company reported zero income. However, the following year saw revenues soar to more than $189 million.
When Ecuadorian authorities asked Clearprocess to justify the origin of its income, company executives presented notes for the purchase and sale of gold on behalf of 230 supposed providers. These providers were registered as contributors to the Simplified Taxation Regime (RISE for the Spanish acronym), a system created by the SRI in 2008 to facilitate the payment of taxes to some 40,000 artisanal miners in Ecuador. Authorities reviewed the records and found several cases of forgery and identity theft.
Investigations established the trafficking network’s modus operandi. Clearprocess ran a center for buying and selling gold in the city of Machala, where thousands of artisanal miners and intermediaries converge to trade gold mined in southern Ecuador. Apparently, the precious metal also originated from illegal mining in Peru.
The Attorney General of Ecuador, Galo Chiriboga, authorized the wiretapping of the businessmen allegedly involved in the network. According to the intercepted calls, the March Game brothers and Clearprocess shareholder Gustavo Jurado were in constant communication with Caupolicán Ochoa, President Correa’s personal lawyer.
Ochoa has also represented ten public figures and institutions, including another key Correa-ist cabinet member: Interior Minister José Serrano. But the lawyer has been no stranger to controversy. According to the Council of the Judiciary, there are 50 registered proceedings against him.
According to the police investigation, the lawyer is involved in alleged influence peddling on behalf of his clients, the March Game brothers and their partner, Gustavo Jurado. Accused of the same crime is his son, César Ochoa, a lawyer who served as Deputy Minister of Justice between March and June 2014.
Call transcripts show that in November 2015, Jurado contacted César Ochoa for help, as the Attorney General, who had issued a damning report against Clearprocess and Spartan, was about to issue an arrest warrant for the business owners. Ochoa’s response surprised the police officers: the lawyer asked Jurado to deposit $50,000 to prevent further prosecutions and detentions.
However, Jurado was arrested four days later for illegal possession of weapons. After the arrest, the Ochoas used their influence to get Jurado released. According to the investigation, Caupolicán Ochoa tried to intercede on Jurado’s behalf through David Norero, advisor to one of his influential customers: Interior Minister José Serrano. César Ochoa, meanwhile, asked for the name of the judge who had issued the warrant against Jurado to request a meeting.
In another call from November 27, 2015, César Ochoa asks the caller for another $10,000 to pay the judge because the raid had seized five weapons and Jurado was not going to be able to get out ‘cleanly.’ On the evening of the same day, Caupolicán Ochoa was informed by telephone that Jurado had already been released and that the judge would accept payment of $8,000.
Caupolicán Ochoa’s efforts for Jurado were negated by his former client José Serrano when the latter ordered Jurado’s arrest in June 2016.
The czar of brokerage
If influence peddling has been the norm in this case, the money transfers made by Spartan and Clearprocess revealed the links between the companies’ directors and business owners based in Miami.
The Attorney General’s report specifies that Spartan made transfers of $850,000 to Naparina Corp. SA, a company owned by Guayaquil tycoon Vidal Enrique Cadena Marín. The latter increased his fortune during the Correa Government through brokerage contracts for the sale of Ecuadorian crude oil to China.
According to investigators, the relationship between the March Game brothers and Cadena Marín goes beyond a simple transfer and not only relates to mining but oil services and other industries. Deals were conducted through trade agreements between companies incorporated in Ecuador, the United States, Panama and other tax havens. The brothers and Cadena Marín have also partnered in consulting projects for goods and services sold to Government agencies in Ecuador.