El Salvador legislature weakens law against corruption

On Tuesday, El Salvador's National Assembly passed revisions to an asset forfeiture law passed overwhelmingly only three years earlier.  The asset forfeiture law (Ley de Extinción de Dominio) allows prosecutors to seize assets of persons suspected of drug trafficking, corruption, terrorism or other crimes when those assets were the fruits of illicit activities.   The law is a tool against organized crime and corruption and is a required part of international covenants to which El Salvador is a party.   The measures passed on Tuesday weaken that law, especially for persons accused of corruption, and make it more difficult for prosecutors to seize wealth accumulated through abuse of political office.

The law was passed with 44 votes in the National Assembly, led by the governing left-wing FMLN.  Passage of the law was fraught with conflicts of interest. One legislator from the right wing ARENA party gave her vote in favor, to provide the one vote majority for passage.  The husband of the ARENA deputy, Carolina Rodriguez, has previously been prosecuted for human trafficking and homicide, and presumably a weakened asset forfeiture law could help their family.    A deputy from the PCN who voted in favor, Reynaldo Cardoza, is currently subject to an asset forfeiture claim by prosecutors.  

US Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes called the changes to the law "lamentable," describing the asset forfeiture law as a valuable and key tool in the fight against corruption and impunity.  The US has been urging El Salvador to strengthen its fight against corruption.   El Salvador's Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, decried the changes, and, referring to the discredited 2012 gang truce, called the revisions to the asset forfeiture law a "truce for the corrupt."  The mayor of San Salvador, Nayib Bukele, called for the president to veto the changes to the law when the bill reaches his desk.