Belgium has granted asylum to corruption-convicted Ecuadoran ex-president Rafael Correa, the former head of state told AFP on Friday, as the South American country seeks his extradition.

A certificate from the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons dated April 15 and seen by AFP enshrines his new status.

Ecuador's judiciary had submitted an extradition request to Belgium for former president Correa, who was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for graft.

"It's a relief," Correa told AFP by phone.

"When they give you this protection, it shows that you are being persecuted," he added, confirming the information first run by the Spanish EFE news agency.

Correa, who was president from 2007-17, was convicted two years ago after being found guilty of accepting funds from private businesses for his 2013 election campaign in return for state contracts worth around $7 million (6.5 million euros).

Ecuadorean ex-president Rafael Correa talking to AFP last year
Ecuadorean ex-president Rafael Correa talking to AFP last year AFP / ALFREDO ESTRELLA

After leaving office in 2017 he fled to Belgium, the home country of his wife, where he has lived ever since.

According to Ecuador's judiciary, Correa and several former government officials and businesspeople took part in a corruption scheme that saw bribes paid for public contracts during his presidency.

The 59-year-old leftist economist has always denied the accusations and claims to be the victim of political persecution.

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.

Ivan Saquicela, president of Ecuador's National Court of Justice, told the Teleamazonas TV channel that the next step would be made "at the diplomatic level" to ensure "the necessary and indispensable measures are taken so that the extradition" from Belgium becomes a reality.