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Ecuador's corruption-convicted ex-president Rafael Correa said Thursday that Belgium's decision to grant him asylum attested to his innocence and a political agenda behind his "persecution."
"Asylum is not given to a corrupt person," he told AFP in Brussels.
Ecuador, where Correa was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for graft, has asked Belgium to extradite the ex-president.
Brussels, instead, granted him asylum, according to a certificate issued by the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons, dated April 15.
"The symbolic thing, the fundamental thing about asylum, for me, is that Belgium and Europe are saying (to Ecuador): 'Correa is a victim of political persecution; the corrupt ones have always been you,'" the 59-year-old socialist told AFP.
Correa, who was president from 2007-17, was found guilty two years ago of accepting funds from private businesses for his 2013 election campaign, in return for state contracts worth about $7 million.
After leaving office in 2017, he moved to Belgium -- the home country of his wife -- where he has lived ever since.
Belgium's asylum decision became public the same week the president of Ecuador's National Court of Justice signed an extradition request for Correa.
The politician claimed his conviction was part of a plot to keep him out of Ecuadoran politics, and blamed a leftist electoral loss in 2021 to his enforced absence.
"There is no justice in Ecuador, everything is corrupt," Correa told AFP.
"Everything is in decline, there is total degradation, and all means are used to destroy me. I am the great danger to them, a danger to the system," Correa insisted.
As an asylum beneficiary, the former president said he could travel anywhere he wished, except his home country.
"If I go back to my country, if I set foot there, they will put me in prison and I won't leave it alive," he claimed.
According to Ecuador's judiciary, Correa and several former government officials and businesspeople took part in a scheme that saw bribes paid for public contracts during his presidency.
Correa was implicated over a $6,000 payment to his private account, which he claims was a loan.
He is also the subject of an arrest warrant over the 2012 kidnapping of a Colombian opposition politician.