The case of the ‘narco-generals’ moves forward.
After eight and a half months, the State Comptroller General’s Office announced that it found evidence of criminal responsibility in the asset declarations of three generals of the National Police.
The investigation in the Comptroller’s Office began because the generals requested that a special examination be carried out on their patrimonial declarations, after the United States ambassador, Michael Fitzpatrick, said that the United States was targeting the case of the ‘narco generals’ who had their visas withdrawn, although no names were mentioned.
On the morning of August 5, 2022, the State Comptroller, Carlos Riofrío, said that after executing 24 special tests on the asset declarations of 25 generals of the National Police, it was shown that “three of them could not justify the income and reported expenses.”
The investigations of the estates of the generals also included their spouses and minor children during the period from January 1, 2017, to December 15, 2021.
The three generals
On December 17, 2021, one day after the entire police command presented its requests for availability to President Guillermo Lasso, General Marco Villegas Ubillús requested his discharge.
Weeks later, the officer confirmed that the United States had withdrawn his visa.
Villegas is now one of the three generals named being accused by the Comptroller of criminal activity.
When asked about the report with criminal evidence from the Comptroller’s Office, Villegas replied, “I have not been notified about it, as soon as I receive the notification, I assure you that I will take the legal actions that assist me.”
Villegas was promoted to district general in December 2018. His brother, Nelson, was appointed Police Commander in May of that same year, in the government of Lenín Moreno.
In 2019, Marco Villegas was appointed National Anti-Narcotics Director.
When his visa was withdrawn, sources from the police command and the Government commented that it could be due to his performance and the management indicators of his period at the head of Antinarcotics.
There were few seizures of shipments of cocaine and other drugs at Ecuadorian ports during the Villegas period, a senior official said.
Asked about this issue, Villegas stated that “this is not a competition to know who captures more drugs, the bottom line is to define a strategy to dismantle criminal organizations.”
And he added that “we captured 160 tons of chemical inputs, which are essential for the processing of cocaine.”
Villegas presented his financial assets statement at the end of his term as National Director of Planning and Strategic Management, a position he held from June 2020 to January 2022.
He declared seven bank accounts with a total of $17,636.12. He reported having two vehicles, a 2020 Nissan, valued at $46,672, and a Yamaha motorcycle, valued at $1,200.
He owns five pieces of land, two apartments and a house. Three of the plots are in the Amazonian province of Pastaza; one in the province of Esmeraldas and another in the province of Pichincha.
As for the apartments, the one in Pichincha was acquired in 2019 for $120,157.99. And the one in Pastaza was acquired in 2007, at a cost of $159,236.49.
He has six debts. Two of them are related to the unemployment fund and the social security of the Police. Together, the debts amount to $325,967. The rest of his debts are from credit cards.
Buenaño claimes he has few assets
General Fausto Buenaño Castillo, named as one of the three generals in the Comptroller’s report, said, “I am aware of the report. But understand, I am one of the generals with the least assets in the institution.”
He explained that he has a 112-meter apartment bought in 2007 for $43,950, “when I was a lieutenant, with the support of my mother, which is in the name of my children.”
In addition to that he listed “a piece of land in a rural part of Tena, 750 meters long, and a second-hand car that I bought for $23,000. Those are all my real estate.”
The Comptroller says he also has an apartment in Pichincha, acquired in 1999, valued at $120,000, and a piece of land in the province of Napo, purchased in 2018 and valued at $3,820.
He has three savings accounts total $2,150 and he has investments of $4,529. He also has a 2016 Nissan vehicle purchased in 2022, valued at $23,300.
The Comptroller report says his net worth is $152,000.
The distortion in his statement, according to Buenaño, was due to the income of his wife Glendy Luna, from whom he is separating, but with whom he had no separation of property.
“I think she doesn’t remember the deposits she made to her account, for the sales she made to cover the credit cards,” explains Buenaño.
And he adds, “I would like you to review all my assets and, if possible, hers as well. With this examination they only complicate the one who has the least, due to a disorder in the management of Mrs. Luna’s accounts.”
Buenaño presented his declaration of assets in 2022, as National Director of Logistics.
Vallejo feigns shock
The third general accused of criminal activity is General Byron Vallejo, who left the Police force on May 12, 2022, when he was Director of Technologies.
He says he was surprised he was identified in the criminal responsibility report, which he said he was unaware of.
“I couldn’t express myself until I’m sure it’s really me,” he answered tersely, stating that he was the officer with the least assets when he left command.
Vallejo was in the Police since October 1986, and his most recent statement of assets dates from May 2022.
Among his assets, the most valuable are two real estate properties located in Pichincha. The first house was purchased in June 2002 for $95,000. The second, in February 2018, at $105,300. The value of both properties adds up to $200,300.
Vallejo reported a KIA car model 2011, valued at $12,500. He also registered six bank accounts, whose total balance is $794.92.
Among his liabilities, he has four debts with the social security of the Police and a mortgage loan granted in February 2018. His current balance on those two loans amounts to $100,765.74.
In 2019, he also took out two unsecured loans. The balance of the first is $26,059 and that of the second is $15,000.
In May 2022, he presented his declaration of end of term as District General.
It is similar to the Comptrollers report, although it differs by about $4,000 in the amount in bank accounts.
Police prepare report
The Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, said that the report “which the Police themselves requested” will be published this week, which he said shows the transparency policy in the Police force.
Carrillo said that “in the event that new dismissals have to be given, we will present it to the President of the Republic, since police firings must be done by executive decree, a task that does not correspond to the Ministry of the Interior or the Police.”
The General Comptroller of the State will be sending three reports with indications of criminal responsibility to the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate irregularities in the declared assets. “Once these conclusions are sent to the Prosecutor’s Office, this organism will decide if it extends the investigation to other relatives of the generals,” said Riofrío.
The comptroller added that the special examination of 30 judges of the National Court of Justice (CNJ) is also being carried out and that the investigation will be extended to the associate judges as well. Riofrío also said that a control action will soon be carried out on the generals of the Armed Forces.
On December 13, 2021, Michael Fitzpatrick, the United States ambassador to the country, said that they opened an investigation on the possible link between the narco generals and the cartels that have established their operations in Ecuador.
“We are very concerned about the penetration of drug trafficking in Ecuador and in law enforcement,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview published on December 13, 2021. Later, the ambassador pointed out that their visas had been withdrawn, although he did not mention names. That statement, unusual for a diplomat, forced the government to speak out.
That same day, the Ministries of Government and Defense issued a joint statement in which they said that none of their generals had had their visa withdrawn. In addition, the two institutions requested “the delivery of information related to this issue so that, immediately, it is brought to the attention of the relevant Ecuadorian institutions and the investigations of the case can be initiated.”
A day later, on December 14th, a newspaper report published that there were four high-ranking police officers whose visas had been taken away. Two of them were generals in passive service, one— Marco Villegas—who was the Anti-Narcotics dismissed from his duties in August of this year for not meeting the requirements for promotion and who formally denounced the current Commander General of the Police, General Tannya Varela.