• Immigration court grants bond to 2 bankers wanted in Ecuador

    By: JENNIFER KAY, Associated Press

    Updated:
    CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) - A U.S. immigration court granted bond Friday to two brothers from Ecuador wanted in the South American country on charges that they stole millions of dollars from a now-defunct bank.

    William and Roberto Isaias had been detained pending deportation since Feb. 13, after their arrests in Miami by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their attorney, Michael Tein, said they would be released later Friday.

    It was not clear what had prompted their arrests. The U.S. government has rejected multiple requests by Ecuador's government since 2001 to extradite the brothers.

    ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias said in an email that the agency could not comment on the case and referred questions to the Executive Office for Immigration Review. That office's spokeswoman, Kathryn Mattingly, declined comment in an email.

    In a 2013 diplomatic note denying extradition, the State Department said Ecuador had not provided evidence that the brothers had embezzled funds from Filanbanco. The Human Rights Commission of the United Nations determined in 2016 that Ecuador had violated the brothers' right to due process, and it ordered the South American country to make reparations to them.

    Filanbanco had been the largest in Ecuador, and its failure in the late 1990s contributed to an economic collapse. The brothers were charged with embezzlement but they fled the country before they could be arrested.

    Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security argued in Miami federal court last week that the brothers were subject to mandatory detention because they had been found guilty in absentia in an Ecuadoran court and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012, according to court transcripts.

    U.S. Judge Kathleen Williams ruled the brothers had been detained unlawfully and ordered that they be granted a bond hearing in immigration court, according to the transcripts.

    The brothers deny the embezzlement allegations, blaming the bank's failure on mismanagement after the Ecuadoran government took it over in 1998, and they have been fighting for the return of businesses and assets seized in 2008 under then-President Rafael Correa. Tein called the 2012 case a "sham conviction."

    "They got picked up like common criminals under an administrative process," the brothers' spokesman, Freddy Balsera, told The Associated Press. "It has nothing to do with the extradition."

    Roberto Isaias, 74, and William, 75, each have heart conditions, and they could face threats to their lives if they were returned to Ecuador, he said.

    The extradition requests had been denied under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Balsera said he did not believe the arrests had anything to do with donations the brothers made to U.S. political campaigns, which the Ecuadoran government claimed influenced the decision to deny extradition.

    But their arrests were inconsistent with both the U.S. government's previous treatment of their case as well as its policies regarding South America, he said.

    "An illegal application of the statute draws into question if they were truly targeted," Balsera said.

    Next Up: