RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A judge in El Salvador on Wednesday ordered the preventive detention of former president Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014-2019) for his alleged involvement in a case of illicit enrichment and money laundering that would amount to about US$350 million, the prosecutor’s office said.
According to immigration authorities, Sánchez Cerén left the country in November last year for Nicaragua, so the judge “has decided to send an official request to Interpol” so that he can be located and brought to justice, said prosecutor Maricela Velásquez.
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In addition to the former president, the judge requested the capture of several former officials of the government of Mauricio Funes (2009-20014) for the same crimes, four of which are also outside the country, so he sent requests to Interpol.
These are former ministers Lina Pohl (Environment), Manuel Melgar (Justice and Security), Gerson Martínez (Public Works) and José Guillermo López (Agriculture).
Five other former ministers -Cárlos Cáceres (Treasury), Violeta Menjívar (Health), and former vice-ministers Calixto Mejía (Labor), Erlinda Handal (Technology) and Hugo Flores (Agriculture)- were arrested on July 22.
Caceres, Mejia, and Flores were held in the La Esperanza prison, known as Mariona, north of San Salvador, reported the Presidential Press Office.
Menjívar and Handal were interned in Cárcel de Mujeres, in Ilopango, east of San Salvador.
“The judge heard both the present and absent defendants, and his resolution was to decree provisional detention for the ten people charged,” the prosecutor told the press.
THEY WILL ALL FALL
The illicit acts would have been committed in the first government of the former Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrilla headed by Mauricio Funes, of whom Sánchez Cerén was vice president.
In 2016, Funes also fled to Nicaragua, where he was granted asylum and later citizenship.
According to prosecutor Velásquez, the judge determined that “there were sufficient elements to consider the existence of the crimes of illicit enrichment and money and asset laundering.”
“The FMLN had a popular mandate to end the corruption of ARENA (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, right-wing), but they decided to join them,” President Nayib Bukele said on Twitter.
“We will not make the same mistake. All corrupt people will go to jail, those of the past, those of the present, and those of the future, even if they are from our same party. They will all fall,” he added.
For his part, the secretary-general of the FMLN, Óscar Ortiz, rejected the judge’s resolution and regretted that “the possibilities of dismantling the structure of evidence that from the beginning was presented with a series of irregularities” were closed.
The provisional detention of the accused is for a period of six months while the prosecution provides incriminating evidence, and the process that began last Thursday is refined.
The accused “contributed to the embezzlement that cost more than 350 million dollars to the Salvadoran State”, said Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado at the time.
“The money was delivered to the presidential house (…) every month and constituted an addition to the salary they were required by law to earn for exercising public functions,” he explained.
Delgado said that the investigation was initiated in 2019 and is “a derivation” of the case called “Public Plunder” of 2009-2014 when the Legislative Assembly approved US$80.8 million for a period of five years in concept of “reserved expenses” of the presidency.
What was defrauded at the end of the period amounted to US$351 million for transfers of funds authorized by the Ministry of Finance without proper authorization from Congress.