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Government media outlets attempt to link founder and owner of newspaper to corrupt businesses

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On 2 June 2011 and under the headline, "We won't remain silent, Mr. president!", the newspaper "El Universo" published a letter signed by the paper's owners in response to articles that the state-owned newspaper "El Telégrafo" has been publishing, and other government media outlets have reproduced, attempting to link the Pérez family, owners of "El Universo", to the construction of the Guayaquil bus terminal three decades ago, a business deal that was allegedly financially detrimental to the State.

In the letter, Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez, the paper's directors, state that: "The national government must understand a very simple truth, 'EL UNIVERSO' will not remain silent. To achieve that, to quiet our voice, the President of the Republic can only do one thing, destroy us, and apparently this is what has been decided. For four and a half years he has accused us of all sorts of, not insults, but rather vulgarities. He has persecuted our journalists, editors and officials."

In the letter, the Pérez brothers also noted that the paper is facing a lawsuit for US$80 million and a demand for prison sentences of three years for each of them, as well as for editor Emilio Palacio.

The information that led to the publication of the letter was published on 3 May. With the title '''El Universo' businesses affect its editorial line", "El Telégrafo" claimed that Carlos Pérez Perasso and his children were linked to the construction of the Guayaquil bus terminal, which turned out to be a shady deal as the structure collapsed even before the work was completed nearly 30 years ago. The article included a caricature of the now-deceased director of "El Universo", Carlos Pérez Perasso.

The article claimed that a company called Matricsa, "whose largest shareholder was Inamasa, owned by Carlos Pérez Perasso and his children, María Teresa, Rosa, Priscila, Carlos and César, the last two being the newspaper's current directors", was involved in the construction of the terminal by the Japanese company Fujita.

Faced by these assertions, on 1 June, "El Universo" explained that a definitive sentence had been issued in the case in 1992 and that Matricsa was never associated with the State because as a "private contractor it had assisted the Japanese transnational Fujita Corporation in some of the work" for the terminal. It also added that Fujita was the only company responsible for the damages "because it had signed the contract with the then Guayas Traffic Commission."

In addition to mentioning the Pérez family's alleged links to the construction of the terminal, the state-owned newspaper referred to other cases of corruption in which the family had also allegedly been involved and mentioned the purchase of an overvalued waste processing plant, "strange but understandable links to a vice-president of the Republic who squandered State funds and the purchase of a ship that sunk. The links are not made clear in any of the cases, but they are mentioned, and the article ended with the following question: "Who are these people who give lessons on morals in Ecuador and now demand respect for freedom of expression?"

On 2 June, the government media outlet "El Ciudadano" claimed that the alleged damages against the State for the construction of the terminal amounted to US$100 million and that, as impunity still prevails, the Traffic Commission is now investigating the matter.

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