The Corrupt Alliance of Two Former Presidents in El Salvador

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Two former presidents of El Salvador formed a political alliance to carry out clandestine operations that attacked opponents with classified intelligence information, a new investigation has revealed. The operations were illegal and also interfered with inquiries by the Attorney General’s Office.

Audio recordings recently published by Revista Factum provide details of an October 2013 meeting that former Salvadoran presidents Antonio Saca (2004-2009) and Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) held in a house owned by Saca. The meeting included several of Saca’s closest advisers, including Herbert Saca, a shadowy political operator who, among other things, has been investigated for possible links to the Perrones drug trafficking organization in El Salvador, one of the most important to ever exist in the history of Central America.

*This article serves as an introduction and companion analysis to an investigation published by Revista Factum. InSight Crime presents the full investigation in English here. See the Spanish original here.

Those present at that October meeting headed by Funes discussed how to illegally obtain classified information from the Attorney General’s Office and the United States in order to launch a political attack against former President Francisco Flores, Saca’s predecessor. All of this occurred at the end of 2013 in the lead up to the 2014 presidential election in which Antonio Saca ran as a candidate of a right-wing coalition.

In September 2013, Funes and Saca received information that Flores had illegally moved some $10 million donated by the government of Taiwan for victims of two earthquakes that devastated El Salvador in 2001. The cash assistance ended up in accounts belonging to his Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista – ARENA) political party.  Saca would later win the presidency as part of the ARENA party, and part of the Taiwanese funds were used to finance Saca’s 2003 political campaign and ARENA’s 2006 legislative campaign.

Eventually, the attorney general prosecuted Flores for corruption and illicit enrichment. The former president died in 2016 before the prosecution concluded.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

However, in 2013, Funes and Saca planned to obtain a key piece of information that implicated Flores: a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) that the US Treasury Department opened against Flores, which detailed the irregular transfers of the money donated by Taiwan. The objective, as revealed by the audio recordings published by Factum, was to deploy a political operation that would create a legislative subcommittee to open a political proceeding into Flores.

To get there, Funes proposed several courses of action at the October 2013 meeting. Some of these were illegal, such as bribing a member of the Attorney General’s Office who was supposed to have the STR and sending envoys of Salvadoran police that would try to clandestinely obtain the classified information in the United States.

Responding to questions from Factum, Funes denied that he had spoken with Saca about the operation to implicate Flores, although the audio recordings leave little room for confusion. Funes, who a few days after the October meeting with Saca showed the STR on a local television program, said that the Presidential Intelligence Service (Organismo de Inteligencia del Estado – OIE) had provided the document. The decision to use the classified documents the OIE had access to is the exclusive responsibility of the president, according to Salvadoran law.

Saca is currently in jail serving a 10-year sentence after having confessed to diverting some $300 million from the treasury for the personal benefit of himself and his cronies. Funes, who is accused of various corruption charges, is a fugitive on the run under the protection of the dictatorial regime of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. In 2015, Flores admitted that he had diverted funds from Taiwan.

InSight Crime Analysis

This new Funes-Saca-Flores plot shows once again that El Salvador’s political system functions in large part thanks to corruption, shady dealings and the use of state institutions for private purposes.

Funes used the OIE, according to his own words, to provide himself with information that he would later use as a weapon against his political opponents. A 1992 legal reform that was later signed into law in 2001 established the OIE as the main intelligence agency of the state. Presumably, the agency’s primary goal is to safeguard national security, not to engage in political vendettas.

When this arrangement between Funes and Saca occurred, Luis Martínez headed the Attorney General’s Office. Martinez’ appointment was made possible by all of El Salvador’s political parties, and Martinez is imprisoned today and accused of crimes ranging from receiving bribes to obstructing investigations, such as the investigation against Francisco Flores regarding the funds from Taiwan. As part of their plot, Funes and Saca also tried to illegally interfere in the Attorney General’s Office’s work by bribing an agent to obtain privileged information.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Aside from the illegal operations planned and carried out by Funes and Saca to get the best political benefits from their adversary’s crimes, what these audio recordings reveal is that people like Herbert Saca — accused time and time again for possible criminal activity, including allegedly having direct links to organized crime — are among the most influential political operators in El Salvador.

There don’t appear to be any winners in this story. Saca and Funes connived to bury  Flores for misusing the $10 million from Taiwan, although part of that money was used precisely for Antonio Saca to reach the presidency. Funes, who assumed the presidency on a promise to eradicate years of corruption, is accused of filling trash bags with stolen public money.  But Flores is not the victim. He deprived Salvadorans of millions in international aid that was desperately needed after so many had lost their homes and relatives in the 2001 earthquakes.

*This article serves as an introduction and companion analysis to an investigation published by Revista Factum. InSight Crime presents the full investigation in English here. See the Spanish original here.

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