Ex-Ecuador president detained in COVID-19 corruption raid

FILE - In this April 27, 2005 file photo, Ecuador's former President Abdala Bucaram leaves the Foreign Ministery in Panama City, where he sought political asylum after fleeing his country amid massive protests that forced the ouster of President Lucio Gutierrez. Bucaram was detained at his home in Guayaquil, Ecuador on June 3, 2020, during a search warrant ordered by the Prosecutor's Office investigating alleged embezzlement through a contract for hospital medical supplies. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)
FILE - In this April 27, 2005 file photo, Ecuador's former President Abdala Bucaram leaves the Foreign Ministery in Panama City, where he sought political asylum after fleeing his country amid massive protests that forced the ouster of President Lucio Gutierrez. Bucaram was detained at his home in Guayaquil, Ecuador on June 3, 2020, during a search warrant ordered by the Prosecutor's Office investigating alleged embezzlement through a contract for hospital medical supplies. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

QUITO – A former Ecuadorian president has been detained after authorities raided his home Wednesday and found a gun and medical supplies including masks as part of a wider investigation into corruption during the pandemic.

Prosecutors and police charged into the home of ex-President Abdalá Bucaram, 68, in Guayaquil, the coastal city that became one of the earliest cities in Latin America to see a sudden surge in COVID-19 infections.

Investigators said the raid was conducted in connection with an ongoing probe into suspected embezzlement at a large public hospital. Though no charges have been filed, Bucaram was detained after authorities found an unlicensed gun, in addition to some 5,000 masks and 2,000 coronavirus test kits.

“A lot of medical supplies were found,” chief prosecutor Diana Salazar said.

Bucaram was elected president of the small South American nation in 1996 and ousted by Congress less than six months later for “mental incapacity.” He was accused of corruption and nepotism during his brief time in office.

Throughout Latin America, multiple officials and business leaders have been charged or forced to resign amidst reports of fraudulent purchases of ventilators, masks and other equipment aimed at helping to confront the pandemic.

Prosecutors in Ecuador carried out 37 raids Wednesday in Guayaquil and the capital of Quito, detaining 17 people suspected of overcharging for supplies, influence peddling and criminal organization. Those captured include five people tied to Quito’s public water company, the ex-director of the Teodoro Maldonado Carbo Hospital in Guayaquil, and the prefect of Guayas province, which includes the port city of 2.6 million.

Salazar said her office estimates $12 million in overcharging.