Corruption Proceedings Begin Against ex-President of El Salvador
Last week, former President of El Salvador Francisco Flores faced his first day in court in a preliminary hearing to accept or reject the serious corruption charges he faces. Flores stands accused of misappropriating $15 million donated from the government of Taiwan as aid for victims of the devastating 2001 earthquake in El Salvador; he governed the country from 1999-2004 with the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party.
The Flores prosecution is a remarkable milestone for justice in El Salvador, marking the first time a former president has been charged with corruption in the country’s history. Nevertheless, the nation’s oligarchy has fought tooth and nail to impede its success. ARENA leadership continues to claim that the case is nothing but political persecution. At the same time, Attorney General Luis Martínez, who has personal and professional ties to the former president, has been accused by the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman of deliberately obstructing a full prosecution. In an effort to hold the Prosecutor accountable, representatives of two civil society organizations, the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) and the Social Initiative for Democracy (ISD), successfully petitioned to join the case as plaintiffs in July 2014.
In addition, the judge originally assigned to the case, Levis Italmir Orellana, sparked public outcry after placing Flores under house arrest, and not in jail, after the former President spent nearly five months as a fugitive of the law before finally turning himself in in September 2014. The much-disputed decision was subsequently overturned following appeals to the Attorney General’s office, and Flores was transferred to jail to await trail, but later returned to his San Salvador home on medical grounds, where he remains. After enormous public pressure, the Supreme Court moved to sanction Judge Orellana, and passed the case into the hands of Judge Miguel Ángel García Argüello, who has demonstrated greater willingness to apply the full force of the law against the former president.
In the two-day preliminary hearing, the Attorney General’s office declared that $5 million of the funds in question were traced to Flores’ personal accounts, while $10 million were funneled to the ARENA party for use in the 2004 presidential campaign, and called for charges of embezzlement, illicit enrichment and disobedience. The civil society plaintiffs, despite protests from the Prosecutor, petitioned to add money laundering to Flores’ charges and to transfer Flores back to jail from his current house arrest. “The exclusion of the crime of money laundering is intended to protect members of the ARENA party, including Gerardo Balzareti Kriete, owner of the account where the four checks were deposited; Maurico Samayoa and other authorities also were not prosecuted who were recipients of the 10 million, which is why we believe that the Attorney General has excluded a great deal of evidence,” said Bertha de León of FESPAD. In a troubling demonstration of loyalties, both the Prosecutor and the Defense requested that the civil society plaintiffs be excluded from the proceedings.
Both Judge García Argüello and Attorney General Martínez are under enormous scrutiny, not only because of the importance of the case, but also because both are vying to be elected Attorney General in the National Legislative Assembly for the upcoming new term. Judge García Argüello is expected to issue a decision on December 3rd as to whether the case will proceed.