Contentious Judge Removed from Corruption Case Against ex-President Flores

News

After months of pressure from human rights and pro-democracy groups, the Supreme Court reassigned the multi-million-dollar corruption case against former president Francisco Flores (1999-2004) to a new court and disciplined the judge who had been overseeing the case. The Magistrates determined that Judge Levis Italmir Orellana was not adequately carrying out his responsibilities, citing his failure to cooperate with El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman.

Judge Orellana previously drew fire for granting Flores house arrest in the lead-up to the trial and was forced to revert the decision, though he later returned Flores to his home on medical grounds. The Foundation for the Study of the Application of the Law (FESPAD) and the Social Initiative for Democracy (ISD), who joined as co-plaintiffs in the Attorney General’s case against Flores, also denounced Orellana for harassing them for their pressure to hold him accountable to the norms of justice: after criticizing Orellana for not making certain evidence in the case available to them, he filed charges against both organizations for allegedly making public the information they reported never having received. Orellana later dropped the charges following his suspension. FESPAD and ISD have announced plans to bring charges against Orellana for unfounded, personally-motivated persecution.

Former president Flores’ corruption case has been handed over to Judge Miguel García of San Salvador’s Seventh Court. García has a strong record of advancing public corruption charges and has overseen many high-profile cases throughout his career; he is currently presiding over the trial of several businessmen and former government officials involved in a crooked 2002 public-private partnership contract that nearly resulted in the privatization of El Salvador’s public geothermal energy company.

FESPAD and ISD have expressed satisfaction with the case’s reassignment, but their struggle against Judge Orellana speaks to the broader need for judicial reform in El Salvador’s corruption-ridden justice system, a process that only the Supreme Court can undertake. On Thursday, February 12, in response mounting pressure from across the social movement, the Supreme Court replaced the head of the department that investigates allegations against the nation’s judges, which has resolved only 49 of the 193 complaints filed in 2014, and announced the likely hiring of additional staff to work through the backlog. The implications of this measure remain to be seen. “More than 300 judges still need to be purged [from the justice system],” said  Ramon Villalta of ISD, “If there is no investigation by the Supreme Court, there will be judges known for corruption that will continue to carry out their normal functions without the due application of justice.”

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