Former Ecuador’s president, Abdala Bucaram, has been arrested as part of a corruption investigation into the purchase of hospital supplies during the coronavirus pandemic, the public prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday.
The 68-year-old, who was removed from office in 1997, was arrested during a search of his home in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in this country.
“The ex-president Abdala B. was detained having been found to be in possession of a firearm, without presenting justification,” said the public prosecutor’s office on Twitter.
He is a suspect in the alleged embezzlement of medical supplies at the Hospital del Seguro.
Bucaram was removed from office in February 1997 after just six months when parliament declared him mentally unfit amid widespread protests against his government, despite having no medical justification for its ruling.
Following that, the populist Bucaram spent two decades in exile in Panama.
The Ecuador public prosecutor is investigating several suspected corruption cases relating to the hospital system during the coronavirus pandemic, which has left Ecuador with almost 3,500 dead and 40,000 cases.
The country of 17.5 million has recorded the fourth most coronavirus deaths in Latin America, according to a count by AFP.
On top of its official figures, the government suspects another 2,200 deaths of having been due to COVID-19.
The home of Carlos Luis Morales, the prefect of Guayas province, whose capital is Guayaquil, has also been searched over an investigation into influence peddling in the acquisition of medical supplies, the public prosecutor said.
During the peak of the pandemic crisis in April, Guayaquil’s health system collapsed, with bodies piled up in corridors and even toilets at public hospitals.
Queues of hearses lined up outside hospitals waiting to take corpses to the morgue, where some went missing, leaving grieving family members unable to bury their loved ones.
Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo told the Ecuavisa TV channel that 14 people have been arrested in Guayaquil and the capital Quito following 23 searches.