The lawyer for Alba Petroleum who is now El Salvador's Attorney General
According to new reporting, Rodolfo Delgado, the Attorney General put in place when the current Bukele-controlled congress deposed the old Attorney General on May 1, was an employee of Alba Petróleos in 2019. As described in the article at Infobae.com by journalist Hector Silva Avalos, Delgado was paid more than $46,000 by Alba, a company which is part of Venezuelan state oil conglomerate PDVSA being investigated for money laundering by the US and by El Salvador (at least until the prior Attorney General was fired).
For years, there have been calls for investigations of Alba. Alba, which is closely linked to the left wing FMLN party, has been tied to laundering millions of dollars coming out of Venezuela. From InsightCrime:
Importantly, Nayib Bukele's political career began within the FMLN, and while an FMLN mayor he also touched the money flowing through Alba. When Bukele was mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán, he received a loan of $1.97 million from one of Alba's subsidiaries. (No word on whether he paid it back). Other reporting by Silva Avalos and El Faro has shown some of the other connections between Bukele and members of his government to Alba Petróleos from that time. Bukele has commented, back then, "what business didn't receive money from Alba?"Since Alba Petróleos was founded, it has been under the control of José Luis Merino, known as "Ramiro Vásquez", a former FMLN guerrilla captain, who later became a federal deputy and government official. Over the past decade, Merino has been scrutinized by multiple US agencies and his name is even mentioned in a file opened by the El Salvador Attorney General’s Office for alleged arms trafficking....In 2017, 14 US congressmen requested that the Trump administration investigate Merino for “longstanding associations with organized crime networks subject to criminal investigations in the US.”In March 2018, American authorities detained Fred Merino, brother of José Luis, in Houston in connection with the same investigation. Fred Merino has also long been a major figure within Alba Petróleos.Venezuelan oil and the profits it has brought to Alba Petróleos have also served to finance FMLN election campaigns, it was confirmed last January, by a consultant close to the presidential candidate of said party for the February 3 elections [in 2019 which the FMLN lost badly to Bukele].
The US placed sanctions on Alba Petroleos in March 2019 related to money laundering as part of the larger Venezuelan conglomerate. And just as Nayib Bukele was taking office in June 2019, agents of then-Attorney General Raul Melara raided the offices of Alba Petroleos and 24 front companies in El Salvador to gather evidence in a purported money-laundering investigation.
In March and June 2019, at the time of the US sanctions and that raid of Alba, Rodolfo Delgado was a lawyer for Alba, according to the new disclosure made this week. His employment is verified by an income tax forms he filed with the Treasury Ministry and published in the article.
Then on May 1, 2021, Rodolfo Delgado suddenly became El Salvador's top prosecutor. That day, the new Legislative Assembly controlled by Bukele's Nuevas Ideas party deposed Attorney General Raul Melara and, without meaningful discussion, moments later voted to replace him with Delgado.
To place an Alba Petroleos lawyer as El Salvador's top prosecutor creates a major conflict of interest at a time when the Attorney General's office had an open investigation of ALBA for money-laundering. Yet Delgado's relationship with Alba was not disclosed to or discussed by the Legislative Assembly. Perhaps someone should have asked at the time whether Delgado had been working on defending Alba from the charges his office has been investigating. We also don't know how long Delgado's relationship with Alba continued after 2019.
Another worrying sign is that a few days after Delgado was placed into the role of Attorney General, Germán Arriaza, the chief of the anti-corruption unit in the FGR and in charge of the Alba Petroleum investigation and the raid in 2019, abruptly resigned. Arriaza was also in the midst of investigating potential corruption by officials in Bukele's government in pandemic-related contracts.
Other officials in the Bukele administration who have been reported to have received Alba dollars are Carolina Recinos (Bukele's Chief Minister) and her husband, now the Salvadoran ambassador to Russia, along with Pablo Anliker, former minister of agriculture. Both Recinos and Anliker were listed by the US State Department on the Engel List, along with Jose Luis Merino, for having engaged in acts of corruption. Delgado, however, says he has no basis to open investigations against anyone on the list.
The flow of money into and around Alba Petroleum touched a wide variety of actors in the FMLN in the past dozen years, including Bukele and many of his government officials. Bukele has decried past corruption in the FMLN, but the insertion of Delgado as Attorney General may suggest an intention to avoid anyone pursuing corruption investigations that might relate to Alba's wrongful influence. The Legislative Assembly must act to decide on whether to elect Delgado again at the end of this year after he finishes out the prior Attorney General's term. At least then, the Assembly can't say it did not know of Delgado's links to Alba.