“Money can’t buy happiness” goes the saying. While this can be true to one extent or another, money can certainly buy protection from your enemies, as Ecuadorian billionaire brothers, Robert and William Isaias, have conveniently discovered. The Ecuadorian billionaire brothers were sentenced in 2003 in absentia to 8 years in prison on charges of embezzlement. They have since avoided punishment by lining the pockets of high-level American politicians to ensure their “safety” from Ecuadorian law.
But what is the deal with the Isaias duo? After a decade-long trial, an Ecuadorian court found the brothers guilty of defrauding Filanbanco, a bank they owned, after it collapsed in the 1990s. As a result, the state and its taxpayers incurred losses of over $400 million, with Ecuadorian citizens taking to the streets to protest the injustice. Fortunately for them, the Isaias fled long before the final judgment to enjoy a life of luxury in Florida – the famous hub of anti-Castro activists and billionaires living lavish lifestyles.
Repeated calls by President Correa to extradite the two fraudulent bankers back to Ecuador to serve their sentence fell on deaf ears, and as it turns out, campaign donations played a large part in these developments. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has been thrown into the spotlight of the affair and is under investigation by the Department of Justice for his dodgy involvement in the immigration status of the Isaias brothers. Could Menendez have crossed a fine line in his protection of the brothers from Ecuadorian law? Or was he merely fulfilling his political duties in dealing with immigration inquiries and helping families in need?
NBC recently revealed that Sen. Menendez, under the pretext that the brothers’ sentence was politically motivated, made several calls to the Department of Homeland Security and to the State Department to “protect” the poor and wrongfully targeted Isaias’ from extradition back to Ecuador. However, these efforts were certainly not in the name of heartfelt concerns for the brothers, but rather in return for some political favors. As with many US politicians these days, it appears campaign donations were the main driving force at play for Sen. Menendez, despite his claim of genuine concern for the politically targeted Isaias family.
Indeed, records reveal that while Roberto and William Isaias were unable to make donations themselves (they are not US residents) their relatives did not think twice before throwing $10,000 at the Senator’s 2012 campaign. Overall the family has donated over $320,000 in campaign funds since 2010, including to President Obama’s reelection campaign of 2012, indicating that embezzled campaign donations reach the very highest level of our government
While the donations were not illegal per se, it certainly does raise some worrying questions regarding the intertwined system of campaign donations in return for political favors, a practice that America so viciously condones on the surface. Such revelations no doubt bring to light the corrupt and hypocritical nature of American politicians and their constantly unsatisfied hunger for money.
Through the process of political donations, the Isaias family has successfully bought the billionaire brothers the best protection money can buy – the government of the United States of America.
But let’s not pretend this is one isolated case. Sen. Menendez was not the only US politician to feel lured by the lavish Roll Royce and million-dollar-mansion lifestyle of the Ecuadorian embezzlers. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also fell into the same trap and wrote letters to US federal agencies defending the brothers’ interests and protecting the two convicted Ecuadorian criminals. The Isaias family awarded Ros-Lehtinen $20,000 for her effective services.
Back in Ecuador, the president and people of the country are outraged by US ignorance and stubborn refusal to return the fugitives to the country to serve out their sentence. The Ecuadorian judge who passed the sentence held that the brothers were running a scheme that led to the ultimate collapse of Filanbanco. They were giving out loans to their own business and then forging balance sheets to defraud the government for bailout funds. At the end of the day, this cost Ecuador big time.
In a leaked cable, US Ambassador to Ecuador Kristie Kenny explicitly stated that William and Roberto Isaias, “fled Ecuador in 1999 after absconding with over $100 million in government bailout funds” and added that “the fact that the Isaias brothers continue to live a life of luxury in the US while their account holders are suffering in Ecuador has been a constant concern between the US and Ecuador since their flight.” She consistently encouraged the State Department to deport the brothers back to Ecuador, but unsurprisingly, to no avail.
Despite several attempts by the Ecuadorian government to receive approval for extradition for two of Ecuador’s most despised bankers, the United States continues to plead “lack of sufficient evidence” for a successful extradition request. Efforts were also made by the US Embassy in Ecuador to revoke their visas, but due to lack of results, several US diplomats believe that the duo is protected from above.
Leaving their own population and government financially distraught, the Isaias brothers calmly settled in Florida and since then, with the help of US politicians, have avoided facing the music in Ecuador. Their donations to America’s policy makers successfully ensured that they were in the safe hands of the country’s powerful and were even able to continue their work as bankers, despite their status as embezzlers and fugitives on the run.
And judging by America’s handling of its own financial crisis at home and the self-absorbed money-hungry bankers who orchestrated it, it should hardly come as any surprise that US politicians hardly feel guilty for utilizing allegedly embezzled funds for their campaigns. The United States has proven to be the ultimate hypocrite. Judging the policies of others while failing first to tackle its unsavory practices at home, America has damaged its bilateral relations with other countries and its international obligations. For example, its reputation is suffering within the Organization of American States, which has a strongly worded section for fighting corruption, as well as its human rights leg, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, where members are claiming the United States is failing to abide by the same rules it imposes on the other members.
While Obama and his administration appear perfectly comfortable with demanding the extradition of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for purported crimes against the US government, when it comes to respecting the requests for extradition of other governments, this practice holds little popularity.
The cancer of campaign donations has spread away from representing the interests of major companies and pressure groups and has found a new credit line in the form of condoning criminal behavior. Consent to such cringe-inducing developments is a symptom of the moral corruption plaguing our American political system. In a country where such practices are supported by the ruling class, the famous motto “freedom and justice for all” has been all but turned into a masquerade of smoke and mirrors.
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