Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno has admitted that he held a private meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump's scandal-tinged former campaign chairman and a group of Chinese businessmen – who wanted to acquire a stake in the nation's power company – earlier this year.
Moreno abstained from mentioning other issues that may have been discussed. The head of state came forward about the May meeting after facing criticism by former President Rafael Correa.
In a statement released by the presidential office, Moreno said the meeting was held in Quito with Manafort and representatives of the unidentified Chinese company that desired the privatization and sale of the state-owned National Electric Corporation.
Moreno claims that he shot down the proposal, which would have violated government regulations backed by Ecuador's constitution.
According to a recently-revealed U.S. court filing, Manafort traveled to Ecuador on May 9 using a phone registered under a false name and with one of three U.S. passports he possessed. Weeks later, he visited Mexico and China.
"It's very worrying that there should be a meeting with types like Manafort and that it should be kept hidden from the Ecuadorean people," Correa told The Associated Press in an interview published Saturday.
Manafort and an associate were recently arraigned at a U.S. federal court on a 12-count indictment that accused them of conspiring to launder money, failure to disclose foreign bank accounts and failure to register as foreign agents of Ukraine's former pro-Russian government.
The lobbyist and consultant was not facing judicial restrictions during his visit to the Andean nation, and Moreno said the meeting was one of the several contacts made with diplomats and other figures in a bid to strike new political and economic deals.
“If they keep it secret it’s because they are hiding something,” Correa had said, adding that “political agreements should be out in the daylight.”
Moreno won a tight victory in Ecuador's presidential election on pledges to continue the ten-year Citizen's Revolution initiated by Correa. Since taking office, he has distanced himself from and even denounced the former administration in a move hailed by his former opponents as a bold shift to the “center.”
While Moreno has enjoyed high approval ratings and the support of his former opponents, the pro-Correa base of the ruling social-democratic Alianza Pais party has virtually revolted against Moreno, calling for his removal.
On Friday, the former president will return to Ecuador to lead the national convention of the party, which is the stage of a major struggle between factions supporting Moreno and Correa, respectively.