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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 August, 2003, 02:51 GMT 03:51 UK
Ecuador ex-head goes into exile
Gustavo Noboa and his wife Isabel Baquerizo at Quito airport
Noboa flew out early on Saturday with his wife
The former president of Ecuador, Gustavo Noboa, has gone into exile in the Dominican Republic.

Mr Noboa has been under investigation for alleged financial mismanagement, since leaving office in January.

He left the country after being granted safe passage to the airport by the Ecuadorean authorities.

However, the Ecuadorean foreign minister said that the government might still seek to extradite Mr Noboa to face charges in the future.

The former president insists that he is innocent of any financial irregularities, and says the probe is orchestrated by his political enemies.

"I am the victim of unfair persecution," he said, as he boarded a plane at the airport.

Arrest risk

Mr Noboa had sought asylum in the Dominican Republic in late July, after being prevented from flying to Miami.

Gustavo Noboa at Santa Domingo airport
Noboa was met by officials at Santa Domingo
Immigration officials said then he had failed to notify Congress he wanted to leave Ecuador.

Mr Noboa stayed at the house of a Dominican diplomat, and the country granted him asylum on 11 August.

However, until Foreign Minister Patricio Zuquilanda granted him safe passage on Friday, Mr Noboa risked arrest if he tried to reach the airport.

He boarded a commercial flight to Santo Domingo early on Saturday, accompanied by his wife.

Third exile

The 66-year-old businessman served as president for three years from 2000.

Another former president, and Mr Noboa's political rival, Leon Febres Cordero, alleges irregularities in Mr Noboa's foreign debt negotiations cost the country $9bn.

His government used $126m in bonds from a debt swap to support ailing state-held banks.

Prosecutors say his use of bonds was illegal, and that they could have been sold at a better rate.

If brought to court and found guilty, he could face 25 years in jail for misusing government funds.

Mr Noboa is the third former Ecuadorean president to leave the country under financial suspicion.

His predecessor Jamil Mahuad now lives in the United States, after being accused of illegally freezing savings accounts in 1999.

And Abdala Bucaram fled to Panama to avoid corruption charges, after his brief rule in 1996-97.

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