Corruption investigations in El Salvador
It may be getting tougher to get away with corruption in El Salvador. Investigative journalism by online journalists like those at El Faro and RevistaFactum are regularly describing corruption. The Probidad division of El Salvador's Supreme Court has open investigations against at least 9 high public officials including two former presidents. El Salvador's new attorney general Douglas Meléndez has shown a willingness to pursue cases of corruption involving figures on both sides of the political spectrum.
In twelve years of writing this blog, I don't think the amount of corruption has changed over that time. But the amount of news coverage and the number of possible prosecutions certainly has increased in the past few years. That's a good thing.
As the most recent example, the online periodical El Faro is one of the periodicals world wide participating in the disclosure of the so-called "Panama Papers." The Panama Papers are a leaked set of 11 million documents from a Panamanian law firm which set up offshore corporations used to evade taxes and hide wealth of elites around the world. According to El Faro, the Panamanian law firm helped the rich and powerful in El Salvador set up at least 200 secretive offshore corporations.
El Faro has detailed how the owners of Telecorporación Salvadoreña (TCS), Channel 4, used a network of anonymous offshore corporations to buy up rights to international sports broadcasts. Similarly it described how offshore corporations were used to hide ownership and links among businesses associated with José Miguel Antonio Menéndez Avelar, known as “Mecafé” who was a personal friend and financial supporter of ex-president Mauricio Funes. We can expect more disclosures to come in future weeks and months as the Panama Papers are scrutinized by journalists and investigators.
Authorities in El Salvador have raided the local offices of law firm Mossack Fonseca and seized documents and equipment, according to the office of the country's attorney general. The Panama-based law firm is at the centre of an international data leak scandal - dubbed the Panama Papers - that has embarrassed several world leaders and highlighted the shadowy world of offshore companies.
Attorney General Douglas Melendez, who personally oversaw Friday's raid, said that the government decided to sweep the offices after noticing Mossack Fonseca had removed its office sign late on Thursday, which raised suspicions....
El Salvador's government seized about 20 computers, some documents and interviewed seven employees, but did not detain anyone, Melendez said.
"At this moment we cannot speak about [any] crimes; all we can do at this moment is our job," he said. He said that the government would analyse all the confiscated information and examine its financial, accounting and legal aspects. He said it appears the law firm's local affiliate helped process information for clients worldwide.In addition to the Panama Papers revelations, investigative journalists are currently writing about links between El Salvador's vice president Oscar Ortiz and a Salvadoran drug kingpin known as Chepe Diablo. Héctor Silva Ávalos and Súchit Chávez at RevistaFactum and La Prensa Grafica wrote the story as republished in English at InsightCrime:
In June 2000, Óscar Samuel Ortiz -- the mayor of the town of Santa Tecla at the time and current vice president of El Salvador -- founded a real estate company with José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," who the United States listed as a drug trafficking kingpin in 2014....
Salazar Umaña's and Ortiz's names have appeared together since 2000, when both men set up, in collaboration with a third associate, a company dedicated to buying and selling property: the Montecristo Development Society (Desarrollos Montecristo). The society was established at noon on June 20, 2000. Ortiz had been sworn in as mayor of Santa Tecla for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional - FMLN) political party a few weeks earlier, on June 1.
Those days were, for Ortiz, the beginning of a political career that led him to be re-elected four times as Santa Tecla's mayor and eventually become one of the most important figures in the leftist party. In 2014, he became the vice president of the Republic of El Salvador.
Nowadays, Ortiz is perhaps the most important politician in President Salvador Sánchez Cerén's administration: he is the public face of the public security strategy and, on many occasions, he fills the role of head of state.You can read all about Chepe Diablo here. Mike Allison at Central America Politics blog writes about the allegations against Ortiz:
It's unbelievably disappointing. For over a decade, many of us have supported Oscar Ortiz as the "new," more moderate face of the FMLN. Ortiz served in the Legislative Assembly and then for several terms as mayor of Santa Tecla. He was able to transform the city he governed. He challenged Schafik Handal for the presidency in 2004, but the FMLN preferred to remain true to its principles and select the candidate most likely to lose. Before selecting Mauricio Funes (who has his own set of problems) and Salvador Sanchez Ceren (who?) as its 2009 and 2014 presidential candidates, Ortiz was always on the public short list of candidates.
The alleged corruption goes back fifteen years but Ortiz seems not to be that worried about it. He is bothered more by the questions than the actual allegation. Ortiz has answered that his business relationship with the alleged drug trafficker is inactive. He has also asked what's the big deal - Chepe Diablo has never been convicted of anything illegal.El Faro's interview with the vice-president about his links with Chepe Diablo can be read here. Ortiz subsequently gave an interview to RevistaFactum and LaPrensa Grafica asserting that he had not seen José Adán Salazar in the past twelve years and that all his interactions were with the third partner in the business.
Attorney General Douglas Melendez has announced that he will reopen an investigation into Chepe Diablo which had been quashed by his predecessor Luis Martinez.
Meanwhile former presidents of El Salvador Mauricio Funes and Antonio Saca are being investigated for enriching themselves while in office. Such investigations are led by Probidad (Integrity), a branch of El Salvador's Supreme Court. From InsightCrime:
Former El Salvador President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) is likely to face three separate investigations into his assets, including a money laundering case, an unnamed source close to the Supreme Court told Diario Latino.Among the allegations against Saca are his failure to disclose and pay taxes on bank accounts with more than $2.9 million in assets. El Faro has also published a story about the 92 firearms registered in Mauricio Funes name at the end of his presidency, from pistols to assault rifles.
Funes is already embroiled in an illicit enrichment case and has had certain assets frozen, including four bank accounts, El Faro reported. Accusations against the former president revolve around his inability to account for millions of dollars in personal income and assets. Funes has maintained his innocence and claimed he is being persecuted by his political rivals.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court has informed Funes' predecessor, Elías Antonio Saca (2004-2009), that he must account for over $6 million in personal income, according to a separate Diario Latino report. Saca's financial records show a personal gain of over $13 million during his presidential term, much of which Saca has labeled simply as "other activities and investments," the report added.
There are nine or more open investigations by the Probidad division of El Salvador's Supreme Court involve high public officials from all of the country's political parties. These investigations followed more than a decade in which there were no investigations by Probidad which advanced.
The headlines are full of stories of corruption investigations in El Salvador. What the country needs now are some convictions with jail time and politicians who are willing to condemn corrupt officials in their own party and not just bad actors on the other side.