QUITO, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Ecuadorian presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso has been accused of using his position as economy minister to enrich himself during the country's worst ever financial crisis, state news agency Andes said on Thursday.
Lasso, an ex-banker and candidate of the conservative opposition, "multiplied his wealth by 3,000 percent" from 1999 to 2000, when he served as economy minister to former President Jamil Mahuad, according to the agency.
"While millions of Ecuadorians lost their assets," Lasso turned his million-dollar fortune into 30 million dollars "thanks to speculating with Reprogrammed Certificates of Deposit (CDRs), a document that was given to depositors for the value of their savings, but that had to be exchanged at the end of a year," the agency explained.
Amid the panic of an unraveling economy, the banks, including Lasso's, then bought the CDRs at deep discounts, only to turn around and cash them for the full amount with the National Financial Corporation (CFN). The nation's publicly-owned bank also went broke.
The transactions were carried out via Andean Investment, a company in the Caiman Islands whose largest shareholder was Lasso, the agency said, citing an in-depth report by an Argentine news outlet.
Argentina's Pagina 12 reported on Wednesday that Lasso owns as many as 49 companies registered under different names in offshore tax havens.
On April 2, Lasso is set to compete in a presidential runoff against Ecuadorian ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno, who currently leads by some 15 points.
Following the revelations of alleged tax evasion, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa called on Lasso and his running mate to drop out of the race.
"What horror! Even though they are going to lose, they should quit out of decency!," Correa posted on Twitter.
Lasso, who presents himself as a self-made man who went on to head the Bank of Guayaquil for two decades, denied the accusations.
On Twitter, he counterattacked, saying he has made his assets public, while Correa's government conceals the names of those named in an ongoing corruption investigation involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.