Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso waves during the inauguration of the new Secretary of Communication, Wendy Reyes, at the department of Public Safety, EWCU 911, in Samborondon, Guayaquil, Ecuador, on April 5, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
QUITO — Lawmakers in Ecuador's National Assembly voted on Tuesday to continue an impeachment process against President Guillermo Lasso over embezzlement accusations, potentially moving the labyrinthine process toward its final stage.
Lasso has always denied accusations that he turned a blind eye to alleged embezzlement related to a contract at state-owned oil transportation company Flopec, arguing his administration made profitable changes to the deal, which was signed years before he took office.
The vote comes despite a report from the assembly's oversight committee, which heard witnesses last month and concluded there is no cause for Lasso's trial or removal
Under the resolution, which won the approval of 88 of the 116 legislators present, Lasso and his opposition rivals will each testify to the assembly's plenary and then he will face a final vote that could result in his removal from office.
READ MORE: Ecuador committee fails to pass report on Lasso impeachment
Lasso and Hernan Luque, the fugitive former chairman of the board of the umbrella organization of state companies, allowed "the continuation of oil transportation contracts in favor of third parties, conscious that they represented a loss for the state," read the resolution approved by the assembly. "Consequently the president of the republic knew of the structure of corruption at Flopec EP."
The vote comes despite a report from the assembly's oversight committee, which heard witnesses last month and concluded there is no cause for Lasso's trial or removal.
Just four of the committee's nine members backed that conclusion over the weekend.
Lasso allies have questioned the legality of the impeachment process, the first against a president in decades.
The process is illegitimate and "was born, developed and ended without proof, without arguments and with serious legal vacuums," Government Minister Henry Cucalon said on Twitter. "We stand firm in defense of the right of Ecuadoreans to live in democracy."
The assembly is set to elect new leadership, potentially replacing President Virgilio Saquicela, by Sunday.
READ MORE: Ecuador LegCo backs impeachment process against Lasso
Ninety-two votes are needed to remove Lasso. Lawmakers from the party of ex-President Rafael Correa – himself convicted of corruption – have pledged their 47 votes in favor. Other opposition parties are divided on whether to back the removal.
Lasso has an antagonistic relationship with the 137-member legislature. Some opposition members attempted to remove him last year amid intense protests by Indigenous groups.
Under Ecuador's constitution, Lasso could call early presidential and legislative elections rather than face a removal vote.