Ecuador court seeks extradition of former President Correa from Belgium

FILE PHOTO: Ecuador's former president Correa is pictured ahead of an interview with Reuters in Brussels

By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO (Reuters) -An Ecuadorian court chief on Friday signed a request seeking the extradition of ex-President Rafael Correa from Belgium to serve an eight-year jail term for bribery, although the former leader's spokespersons said Brussels had granted him asylum.

An Ecuadorian court sentenced Correa to eight years in prison in 2020, accusing him and other officials of accepting bribes in exchange for contracts to finance his political campaigns between 2012 and 2016.

Correa, who led Ecuador from 2007 to 2017 and has lived in Belgium since he left power, has denied the accusations, describing the case against him as one of political persecution led by his opponents.

Court president Ivan Saquicela signed an order requesting Correa's extradition, based on an agreement in force between Ecuador and Belgium and other international agreements, he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"This is the first time that extradition has been requested and, accordingly, it is strictly in line with the law," Saquicela said, dismissing claims by Correa that extradition requests had been made previously.

"This is not about political persecution, but rather it is the decision of a sovereign state," he said later, at a virtual press conference. "A conviction for crimes of corruption has been ratified."

The extradition request will next move to Ecuador's foreign ministry, who must formally ask Belgium to extradite Correa.

Belgium's foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Belgium's Commissioner for Refugees declined to comment.

Correa dismissed the extradition request as "another scrap of paper" and called Saquicela a clown in a series of Twitter messages.

Correa has requested political asylum from Belgium. That has been accepted by the government in Brussels, according to his spokespersons, who sent Reuters a copy of a document from the office of the Belgian Commissioner for Refugees dated April 15 confirming Correa's "refugee" status.

"On April 19, 2022, the federal government of Belgium granted political asylum to the economist Rafael Correa Delgado, Ecuador's former President, thus recognizing the political persecution against him," the spokespersons said.

Ecuador's foreign ministry had not heard of asylum being granted by Belgium to Correa, it said in a statement. Saquicela said he was unaware Belgium had reached such a decision.

The foreign ministry said it was waiting for the formal extradition request from the court before sending it to Belgium via diplomatic channels.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in QuitoAdditional reporting by Belen Carreno and Inti Landauro in Madrid, and Robin Emmott in BrusselsWriting by Oliver Griffin;Editing by William Maclean and Rosalba O'Brien)