El Salvador seeks arrest of former president for corruption

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2018 file photo, El Salvador's President Salvador Sanchez Ceren addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Prosecutors in El Salvador have issued an arrest warrant for Sánchez Cerén in July 2021 on charges of embezzlement and money laundering, according to Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

Associated Press

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Prosecutors in El Salvador have issued an arrest warrant for former president Salvador Sánchez Cerén on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado said Thursday the charges are related to crimes allegedly committed when Sánchez Cerén served as vice-president in the administration of Mauricio Funes from 2009 to 2014. Sánchez Cerén went on to serve as president from 2014 to 2019, and is also being charged with illict enrichment.

The corruption allegedly involved $351 million in government funds that were used to make illegal payments to government employees and their associates. The scam has become known as the “Public Looting” scandal.

“Even though there was no blood spilled as in crimes like homicide, this big pile of money never reached the hospitals, schools, and never was used to buy equipment for police,” said Security and Justice Minister Gustavo Villatoro.

Both Funes and Sánchez Cerén were members of the FMLN party, founded by guerrillas who fought the government in the country’s 1980-1992 civil war. Funes fled to Nicaragua where he was granted asylum in 2016, allowing him to avoid facing trial back home on corruption charges.

Delgado said prosecutors also detained five other former officials of the Funes administration, including cabinet members. Some are considered top leaders of the FMLN, which along with the conservative ARENA party, governed El Salvador for many years.

Delgado denied there was any political motivation behind the arrests. He said other suspects are being sought but are believed to have fled abroad.

Both the FMLN and ARENA were reduced to a shadow of their former levels of support by the appearance of the populist New Ideas party of the current President, Nayib Bukele.

Most of the country’s post-war presidents have been charged with corruption. Francisco Flores, who was president in 1999-2004, died in 2016 while awaiting trial under house arrest.

Tony Saca, president from 2004 to 2009, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for corruption and has been ordered to return some $260 million to the state. Courts ruled that Saca could not explain the origin of $6.5 million in income he made while president.