On Monday, January 6, 2003, Zaskia Nathalie Cely Suarez established Sociedad Anónima Stratega BDS S.A., a company that provides a range of professional consulting services. The original shareholder structure contained 800 shares values at $1 USD each, divided equally between Cely and her partner, José Enrique Mantilla Morán. In 2004, the company increased its capital through the subscription of 50,000 new shares, all owned by Cely. In January 2006, Cely ceded all of her shares in the company; 45,600 were transferred to her mother, Flor María Suarez, and the remaining 4,800 were divided among six new shareholders.
Despite having ceded her shares, Cely continued to perform executive duties within the company until the beginning of 2007. On February 21 of that year, during a meeting of the Board of Directors led by Cely herself and her husband—the President of the Board—the company decided to increase its capital again by a total of $80,000 USD, making Cely´s mother the principal shareholder of the company as the owner of 77.5% of its shares. The distribution of shares that this established remains in effect today.
Soon after ceding her shares, Cely took office as the Coordinating Minister for Social Development in Rafael Correa´s cabinet, holding the position until May 2009. In the following years until November 2011, she headed the Department of Coordination for Production, Employment, and Competitiveness. She now serves as the Ambassador for Ecuador in the United States.
As a public servant, Cely´s involvement in her old company, now owned mainly by her mother, should be finished. According to article 24(j) of the Organic Law of Public Service, public servants are forbidden to “Resolve issues, intervene, issue reports, manage, process or sign deals or contracts with the State, himself or through an intermediary, or receive any benefit involving privileges for the servant, his spouse or legally recognized common-law partner, or relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity or second of affinity. This prohibition will also apply to companies, societies, or legal entities in which the servant, his spouse or legally recognized common-law partner, or relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity or second of affinity have interest.”
This legal impediment did not stop Stratega BDS S.A. from continuing to participate in public contracts, including contract #1373-13 with the Presidency of the Republic of Ecuador. This contract, valued at more than $200,000, was signed in August 2013 for the purpose of “providing communications services for social exchange designed to inform on the actions of the National Government.”
An analysis of Cely´s company´s financial statements shows that between 2007 and 2011, Stratega BDS charged an annual average of $696,000 USD while Cely held public office. According to information provided by the Inspectorate of Companies website, the company has not yet presented financial statements for the years 2012 and 2013.
This isn´t the first time
The contracts Stratega BDS signed with Rafael Correa´s government in 2013 weren´t the only deals made during Cely´s career as a public servant. A 2011 report in Vanguardia magazine indicated that up to that time, Stratega had benefitted from at least $181,300 in contracts since Rafael Correa came to power and Cely joined his cabinet. Several of those deals were made with entities linked to the Ministry of Coordination of Production, which Cely headed.
For example, Stratega BDS signed two contracts with the Ministry of Industry and Productivity in 2010 for a total of $72,000 USD and still holds three contracts totaling almost $90,000 with the Ministry of Tourism.
Most of these deals were carried out through direct contracting and without a bidding process. In more than one case, the representative of Stratega BDS who signed these agreements was Álvaro Hernández, Cely´s husband, who currently works as a representative of the Ecuadorian government at the World Bank in Washington, DC.
Stratega and Nathalie maintain an online relationship
In the past, Nathalie Cely has denied having favored Stratega from her position in the government, and claims no relation to the company. But social networking sites tell another story. For example, since Stratega established its Twitter account in August 2013, 1/7 of its published tweets reference the current ambassador in Washington, DC, and Cely herself has either promoted or mentioned her “ex-company” on her Facebook account.
Contracts here, contracts there, contracts everywhere
Since the beginning of her public service in the Department of Coordination for Production, Employment, and Competitiveness, Nathalie Cely has greatly promoted consulting contracts for strategic communication, public relations, and lobbying, primarily in the United States. In April 2010, as Minister of Coordination, she signed a contract with the American firm Blue Star Strategies in Washington, DC, to promote strategies to improve the bilateral relationship between Ecuador and the United States and to improve Ecuador´s public profile. The nine-month contract valued $140,000. In Octobe 2011, Cely´s department signed a new year-long contract with Blue Star for $360,000 USD.
Cely´s predisposition for promoting these contracts continued upon being named Ambassador of Ecuador in the United States. Since she took office in January 2012, Cely has signed consulting contracts with Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc., MCSquared PR, Ketchum, and Delahunt Group LLC. In total, as a public official Cely has signed consulting contracts on behalf of her government, in the United States for more than $7.5 million USD.
Some of those contracts, especially Cely´s hefty contract with MCSquared PR, have caused controversy both in Ecuador and in Washington, DC. Cely´s problems began when Bloomberg Businessweek journalist Paul Barret discovered that a mysterious public relations company in Brooklyn, NY had paid $84 per person to a group of protesters to stage a fake demonstration against Chevron. Later, Lachlan Markay reported that this firm had not registered with the Department of Justice as the agent of a foreign government, as law requires firms to do within ten days of signing. MCSquared PR eventually registered its contract with the Ecuadorian government a little over a year after its initiation.
Prior to these discoveries, Ambassador Cely had publically denied her participation in the scandal, saying “I received a provision from the President of the Republic to sign the contract in the United States, so the Embassy is not responsible for it; the contract very clearly states who commissioned it, what products it generates, and its means of payment, about which I cannot comment.¨