Did El Salvador’s Attorney General Protect ‘Chepe Diablo’?

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In this article, the role of El Salvador Attorney General Luis Martinez in obstructing investigations into the Texis Cartel, and its supposed leader “Chepe Diablo,” come under scrutiny at a time when Martinez is being considered for a second term as the country’s head prosecutor.  

Salvadoran Attorney General Luis Martinez, whose reelection was discussed by El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly on December 3, made changes to the prosecution team assigned to cases against the Texis Cartel. He also told his subordinates not to ask a judge for documents in which the Treasury Ministry established the participation of Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, Wilfredo Guerre Umaña, Juan Umaña Samayoa (mayor of Metpan) and the businesses Hotesa S.A. of C.V. and Gumarsal S.A. of C.V., in money laundering and illicit enrichment.

El Salvador’s Treasury Ministry had concluded that the three businessmen and the two consortiums aligned with the Texis Cartel — a drug trafficking group based in the northeast of the country —  had committed at least two crimes between 2010 and 2011: money laundering and illicit enrichment

This article was originally published by Factum and was translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission. See the Spanish original here

The Criminal Investigations Unit of the General Tax Directorate of the Treasury Ministry determined these contributors had “falsified accounting records, fabricated operations … established unaccountable and undeclared asset increases in their bank accounts,” confirmed the government investigators on the case and a lawyer familiar with the initial accusation against Salazar Umaña and the suspected Texis Cartel members. A third source from the Treasury Ministry confirmed the findings. 

The evidence of these crimes were documented in two financial and accounting audits the Treasury Ministry carried out on Hotesa and Gumarsal between 2010 and 2011. According to a summary of these reports, obtained by Factum, “there was sufficient evidence to justify opening an investigation, due to operational inconsistencies and lack of apparent economic reason…”

The Treasury Ministry carried out these audits as part of a tax evasion case against Salazar Umaña, Juan Umaña Samayoa, and the two companies in San Salvador’s Ninth Peace Court. With these findings, as Factum previously reported, the Attorney General’s Financial Investigation Unit opened the record labeled 22-UIF-2014. 

Nevertheless, Attorney General Luis Martinez acted as a defender of “Chepe Diablo,” as the businessman had come to be known.

In July 2014, the Organized Crime Special Unit seized all formal accounting records of the three people and the two businesses. Prosecutors also began working with the Financial System Superintendent, the National Police’s (PNC) Financial Crimes and Forfeitures Division, and Customs and Immigration, in order to assign experts to aid prosecutors in establishing, in court, “the type of laundering used by those investigated to legitimize identified capital of an unknown origin.” Sources from the three previously mentioned institutes confirmed the prosecutors’ requests. 

What was needed, according to the investigators who participated in the tax evasion case and the initial money laundering inquires, was to exhaustively follow the suspects’ money and assets “through public sources, private records, property, companies, vehicles, taxes, financial institutions and brokerages…”

But the Treasury Ministry is not the Attorney General, who is constitutionally responsible for prosecuting and imprisoning criminals. In this case the Treasury did its work to prove Jose Adan Salazar Umaña had laundered money and enriched himself through illegal means. Nevertheless, the Attorney General under Luis Martinez acted as a defender of “Chepe Diablo,” as the businessman had come to be known. In order to protect him, Martinez asked his prosecutors to suspend a court process in which all the evidence found by the Treasury Ministry would have been added to the case.   

The Texis Cartel is one of the two criminal groups in El Salvador that traffics drugs, launders money and receives political protection from important business people, according to the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime. 

SEE ALSO: Texis Cartel News and Profile

Investigative journalists determined that Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo,” and Juan Umaña Samayoa — the mayor of Metapan — are the leaders of this organization. United States President Barack Obama’s administration has labeled Chepe Diablo as an international drug trafficking capo.

15-12-14-ChepeAndFriends

Herbert Saca (left, yellow shirt) is a political operator related to ex-President Antonio Saca and the GANA political party. Juan Umaña Samayoa (right, with a purple scarf) is the mayor of Metapan.

In other words, under Luis Martinez the Attorney General’s Office worked so that Salvadoran justice could push forward money laundering accusations against the only man in El Salvador identified by the White House as an international drug trafficker. 

The Order to Not Continue 

Between April and May of 2015 the financial investigations unit asked San Salvador’s Second Judge of the Peace to carry out a “court ordered test,” a forensic audit or expert financial account. In other words, a judicial act through which prosecutors could formally add the Treasury Ministry’s findings to the case of tax evasion and money laundering. 

The prosecutors had already requested the Eighth Peace Judge to seize all accounting and financial information of the suspected Texis Cartel members, which at the moment was held by the Ninth Peace Judge, where the tax evasion trial was held. In the tax evasion trial, the defendants acknowledged the crime and paid fines of up to a million dollars to the Treasury, at which point the accusation was finished and all the accounting and expert documents were to be returned. 

In that conversation, Martinez lead the journalist to believe there was no proof against Texis Cartel members. This of course is a lie.

To avoid being left without the definitive proof of money laundering already uncovered by the Treasury Ministry, the prosecutors asked for another seizure. Everything looked set for Salvadoran justice’s first big money laundering case against a designated international drug trafficker. 

“We were ready. We’d studied and defined all the evidence and knew how to prove the money laundering,” one of the experts told Factum. The expert had been called to testify and agreed to speak anonymously, so as not to put other investigations at risk. 

Everything looked ready, but was not. That’s when the order from above came.

Two of the investigators in the money laundering case confirmed that last June the head of the financial investigations unit, Prosecutor Tovias Menjivar, gave the order to cancel the expert financial accounting. The reasoning: that the court building in San Salvador didn’t have enough “physical space” to contain the audit. (Factum confirmed that in other big cases, audits such as this have been carried out in hearing halls at the central court, such as in the cases against Cel-Enel, OBC or the Perrones.)

By August 24, 2015, Tovias Menjivar had already signed an internal order to close the money laundering case. Lastly, the lawyer Alessia Esteffi Herrera Menjivar, who was assigned by Attorney General Martinez to ask the court to return all the seized documents to the Texis Cartel. In other words, the auxiliary prosecutor assigned by the Attorney General asked the judge to return to the suspects the proof that, according to the Treasury Ministry, implicated them in the crimes of money laundering and illicit enrichment. 

Lawyer Bertha Deleon, the plaintiff in the corruption case against former President Francisco Flores, accused Attorney General Martinez of hiding, seizing and silencing evidence in court that had the potential to incriminate the defendants. 

The US Treasury Departments Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has called Jose Salazar Umaña a regional head of drug trafficking. OFAC came to this conclusion by reviewing, among other things, documents similar to those studied by Salvadoran prosecutors: account records, audits, financial movements and commercial relations. A US federal agent, well known in El Salvador, said Chepe Diablo had “a lot of money which he couldn’t explain,” the same as what Salvadoran Treasury Ministry investigators had established in their report. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Chepe Diablo

When he had just arrived at his post and still had support from the US Embassy in San Salvador, Luis Martinez said in public and private that he would make prosecution of the Texis Cartel one of his priorities. 

However, by August 2015 the official was satisfied with the tax evasion case and dismissed in a conversation continuing the money laundering investigation, according to a journalist at La Prensa Grafica. In that conversation, Martinez lead the journalist to believe there was no proof against Texis Cartel members. This of course is a lie. The Treasury Ministry had indications and evidence that prosecutors were about to bring forward a money laundering court case. But the Attorney General, who was their boss, kept this from happening. 

Luis Martinez then told La Prensa Grafica: “There’s no reason to listen to people intent on slander and defamation … If they have proof they should present it or they should stop making such comments…” 

In reports made leading up to the case, Treasury Ministry experts said: “there was sufficient evidence to justify opening an investigation, due to operational inconsistencies and lack of apparent economic reason…” and: “(The suspects) had falsified accounting records, fabricated operations … established unaccountable and undeclared asset increases in their bank accounts.”

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Factum tried to get the Attorney General’s Office’s official version of what happened, but as of publication they have not responded.  

On December 3, Luis Martinez’ first term as Attorney General expired. According to many of their respective members, political parties Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA) consider Martinez an excellent option to continue on as Attorney General. The Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) is divided on the prospect.

*This article was originally published by Factum and was translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission. See the Spanish original here.

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