Ecuador accuses 28 local election candidates of possible crime links

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador's government on Wednesday accused 28 candidates in local elections in cities across the country of having possible ties to drug trafficking and illegal mining in a report submitted to prosecutors, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said.

Ecuadoreans will go to the polls on Feb. 5 to elect local authorities throughout the South American country, including councillors and mayors.

Information regarding alleged irregular financing was gathered by police intelligence, as well as witness statements and monitoring on social media networks, Zapata said.

"In this case there are 28 people - 22 men and six women - linked to possible crimes of drug trafficking, illegal mining and other related crimes," Zapata told journalists.

"There are (candidates) from different parties. Prosecutors will know how to determine responsibility," he added.

The report was submitted to the attorney general's office, which has already opened an investigation into similar complaints filed by a group of members of Ecuador's National Assembly.

President Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker, says his priority is fighting drug trafficking. Drug-trafficking gangs use Ecuador as a transit point for shipping drugs bound for the United States and Europe.

The government also wants to tackle growing incidents of illegal mining in various parts of the country, which has significant gold and copper reserves.

The minister did not name those accused or their political parties, but said the information was included in detail in the report.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Leslie Adler)