Stolen Parachute

  • Share
  • Read Later
QUITO, Ecuador: What was "El Loco" was doing in those truculent last days in Ecuador, barricaded inside the presidential palace? Stuffing his presidential pockets with everything that wasn 't nailed down. Even as an angry crowd stood outside the palace, chanting "Thief, thief, thief," the outgoing Abdala Bucaram and his henchmen were spiriting 11 burlap sacks out of the palace, sacks allegedly stuffed with $3 million in ca sh along with some of the palace's more portable treasures. Witnesses say the sacks were put into vehicles with tinted glass--and taken out of the palace at night along with the suddenly quiescent leader. The Quito daily newspaper Hoy has reported that along with the money, a historical gold pen is missing from the president's desk. Gone, too, is the ebony-and-gold staff that is Ecuador's symbol of presidential power. Palace police guard Miguel Lara has told investigators that he made the $3 million withdrawal in 11 billion sucres, the national currency, on Feb. 6, the day Bucaram was ousted from office. He says he delivered the money in bags to Bucaram's secretary Oscar Celleri, who remains at large. That self-imposed severance pa ckage is just one portion of what the current government says was a scourge of corruption in which Bucaram and his aides cheated Ecuador out of untold millions during his six months in office. On Friday, the Supreme Court charged Bucaram and four top ai des with corruption, embezzlement, nepotism and influence peddling in a case involving the alleged mishandling of $88 million in a government security fund. Welfare Minister Gustavo Baquero claims an audit of his ministry's books shows $83 milli on unaccounted for by his predecessor, Bucaram's brother Adolfo. And the Comptroller's office is investigating a $40-million program designed to make good on a Bucaram campaign pledge to give every school-age child a free backpack. Of 400,000 ba ckpacks ordered from Colombia, only 3,000 arrived. The money, of course, is gone. Bucaram continues to maintain he is the victim of political persecution by a "civilian dictatorship" that has taken over Ecuador--and that he was the nation's "most honest president" the last decade. If nothing else, he's probably been the best compensated.