When Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa brought up the subject of the Isaias brothers in a phone conversation last week with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Biden said he had never heard of the brothers but would look into the matter.
Biden had phoned Correa to make a personal plea that Ecuador not grant asylum to U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in what Correa described as cordial conversation.
Although Biden’s ignorance about the Isaias brothers, Roberto and William, is not surprising, they are well known in Ecuador. They are, in fact, Ecuador's equivalents of Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay. They were the central figures in the collapse of Filanbanco during Ecuador’s 1998 – 1998 financial meltdown, a collapse that cost thousands of depositors $668 million. Estimated total losses of the financial crisis have been put at $8 billion.
The Isais were accused and convicted of hiding the bank’s problems from regulators and embezzling $158 million. According to Ecuadorian authorities, the money was stashed in U.S. banks, mostly in Miami, as well as in banks in other countries.
The brothers fled Ecuador in 2000, joining their money in Miami. They were convicted in absentia in 2003.
Despite numerous requests, the U.S. has not returned the Isais to Ecuador to face their sentences. In the most recent denial, Florida Judge John W. Thornton last week ruled against extradition, saying that Ecuadorian legal procedures represent a "deviation" from U.S. law and policy. While not denying that the Isaias are guilty as charged, the judge based his decision on an examination of Ecuadorian court documents and then a comparison to how U.S. and Ecuadorian law are applied.
The ruling outraged Ecuador attorney general Galo Chiriboga, who said that Ecuador has extradited dozens of U.S. citizens convicted of crimes over the years.
"We have never questioned the legitimacy of the decisions of U.S. courts and judges and we don't think the U.S. should question ours.”
Chiriboga added that the U.S. handling of the Isaias case represents a legal double standard considering its position in the Snowden case. “Snowden hasn’t even been convicted and we have very little information about the crimes he is accused of."
Meanwhile, Chiriboga says, the Isaias brothers live a life of luxury in Miami, thanks to the stolen deposits of Ecuadorians.
Photo caption: Roberto Isaias at a 1999 press conference, answering questions about the failure of Filanbanco.