LOUVAIN-LA-NEUVE, Belgium — Former President Rafael Correa on Thursday called Ecuador's demand for him to be jailed and extradited from Belgium just a power ploy by the government to stamp out opposition, adding that it will instead push him back to the forefront of politics.
In an interview with The Associated Press from his family home close to Brussels, Correa said he had no plans to report to Ecuadoran authorities investigating his possible links with a botched, brief 2012 kidnapping of a lawmaker.
Ecuador's chief prosecutor this week demanded Correa's arrest and extradition after the 55-year-old former leader failed to appear at court in Ecuador's capital as required under the terms of the investigation.
Correa said the case was politically motivated to put him in jail or keep him from coming back. "I cannot go back to Ecuador during the next eight to 10 years," if the case continues to run its course, he said.
He added that Ecuador was no longer a fully functioning democracy and insisted the government had full control over the judicial branch.
"There is no division of power. Everything is controlled by the government," he said. "There is no independent justice in Ecuador anymore."
Meanwhile, Correa's protege-turned-rival, President Lenin Moreno, spoke at a news conference in Quito and denied any political persecution of Correa, urging him to return home to face justice.
"The only thing we want is that there is truth and justice, nothing more," he said.
Correa took Ecuador by storm in the 2006 presidential election as the young, charismatic leader vowed to help millions of impoverished families. Supporters credit him with providing political and economic stability after a tumultuous period in Ecuador's history.
But the combative leader also feuded with the media, business community, indigenous groups and environmentalists by pushing through measures that consolidated executive power.
Correa's hand-picked successor, Moreno, won the 2017 presidential election, but the two men have had a bitter falling out.
Since leaving power last year and moving to his wife's native Belgium, his record has come under increasing scrutiny.
In June, the nation's highest court ordered that Correa be included in the investigation into the 2012 kidnapping of Fernando Balda in Bogota, Colombia, where the outspoken legislator had sought refuge after an escalating feud with the president.
Correa said he was first asked to present himself to the Belgian local embassy, but that the judge escalated this by demanding he present himself at home.
He insisted he had no doubts that the Belgian authorities would allow him to stay in spite of any extradition request.
"The case is extremely political, very clearly. So a country like Belgium in these cases will not allow (anyone) to attack the rights of a person living here. I am quite confident that this warrant won't be effective outside of Ecuador," he said.
Still, it will change life as he knew it in Belgium.
"I wanted to retire from politics at least during several years. I wanted a little bit of peace to my family," he said.
Instead — showing his mobile phone with 3.44 million followers for a nation of 16 million as an indication of his continuing support — Correa said he felt he is now forced to defend himself and return to political life.