Ecuadorean authorities detain former energy minister in bribery probe

FILE PHOTO: Ecuador to launch auction for offshore gas blocks in 2024

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean authorities have detained a former energy minister amid an investigation into alleged bribery linked to state oil firm Petroecuador, the attorney general's office said on Monday.

An investigation of Xavier Vera, Ecuador's former minister of mines and energy, began last October following several corruption allegations, including that he arranged jobs at Petroecuador in exchange for bribes.

"The attorney general's office, with the support from (Ecuadorean police) executed an arrest warrant against Xavier V., within an investigation for alleged bribery," the attorney general's office wrote in a message via Twitter, referring to Vera.

Vera, who served for six months before resigning last October, has denied the accusations, calling them slanderous and an effort to discredit the government of President Guillermo Lasso.

He resigned hours after prosecutors raided his properties in capital Quito and coastal city Guayaquil, as well as his office and a Quito hotel where another person linked to the case had been staying.

In the tweet, the prosecutor's office said it had arrested Vera in order to ensure he appear at his arraignment hearing, without giving further details.

"The former minister has left the country more than once since these processes began. He isn't running away from the investigation, he isn't running away from the process," Vera's lawyer, Carlos Sanchez, told local television channel Ecuavisa.

Vera's detention comes as opposition lawmakers push for impeachment proceedings against Lasso for alleged embezzlement in connection with a contract at state-owned oil transportation company Flopec, which could lead to his removal from office.

Lasso denies the accusation and says his administration made changes to the contract, which was signed years before he took office, to benefit the state.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Matthew Lewis)