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El Loco: I'm Not <I>That</I> Crazy

The former Ecuadoran president who gained the nickname "El Loco," or "The Crazy One" for his flamboyant antics said he isn't nuts enough to exchange political asylum in Panama for house arrest in his native land.

"I'm thinking about the possibility of being home, but you don't negotiate a man's freedom," said Abdala Bucaram.

Bucaram was responding to rumors that he planned to return home to Ecuador in the wake of a recent legal reform that would allow ex-officials facing possible prison sentences to be held under house arrest instead of serving jail time.

Bucaram was removed from office by Congress in February 1997 for "mental incapacity" after six months as president.

Panama granted Bucaram political asylum soon after his ouster from power, amid mounting corruption allegations against him at home.

He is accused of spending dlrs 40 million in public funds to buy 500,000 student backpacks at a cost of dlrs 80 per bag, for a subsidized school materials program. The contract, given to a Colombian company without competitive bidding in late 1996, had called for 1.4 million school bags, but 900,000 were never delivered.

Bucaram's flamboyant antics during his brief term earned him the nickname "El Loco" or "The Crazy One."

"I prefer to be totally free in Panama, where I can denounce those who have torn Ecuador apart, than detained in Ecuador," said Bucaram, who attributed the rumors of his return to enemies "who are terrified to think that Bucaram would return to Ecuador. For that reason, they make up stories everywhere, more now because the elections are coming."

Months ago, Bucaram had announced his intention to return to Ecuador to launch a "peaceful revolution" and participate in the 2002 elections.

On Tuesday, ex-Ecuadoran Vice President Alberto Dahik Garzozi, who is in exile in Costa Rica, said he had no plans to return to Ecuador either.

Dahik fled to Costa Rica in October 1995 after Ecuador's Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of diverting public funds. Costa Rica granted him political asylum six months later.

Dahik, 47, a strongman in the government of ex-President Sixto Duran Ballen, was an economist who promoted privatization efforts in the Ecuadoran government.

Dahik lodged corruption allegations against some opposition politicians, who in turn accused him of diverting public funds.

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