Prosecutors in El Salvador have asked Congress to strip the country’s ambassador to Germany and former Defense minister of immunity so they can pursue charges against him related to an alleged arms trafficking ring.
The Attorney General’s Office is accusing Gen. Jose Atilio Benítez of fraud, illegal possession of weapons, and illegal arms trafficking, La Prensa Grafica reported. The prosecutors alleged that Benítez ordered subordinates to fraudulently register firearms, allowing for their subsequent illegal sale.
Attorney General Douglas Meléndez filed the petition with the Legislative Assembly on June 2, alleging that Benítez was at the head of an arms trafficking ring. State prosecutors said the ring involved current and former officials essentially transforming a military logistics office into a gun shop.
Investigations of Gen. Benítez have reportedly been ongoing since 2014. Prosecutors raided Benítez’s home in July of that year, finding the registrations for 29 firearms that were supposed to have been destroyed. The general was serving as ambassador to Spain at the time.
A simple majority of Chamber of Deputies is needed to remove Benítez’s constitutional immunity. Prosecutor Rodolfo Delgado said the investigation has found no connection between the arms trafficking ring and organized crime, the Prensa Grafica reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is not the first time that higher ups in El Salvador’s military have been accused of trafficking arms. In September of 2015, a retired colonel was arrested for weapons possession and trafficking. Military officials have traditionally experienced a high level of impunity when it comes to these types of crimes.
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While no links have yet been established between Gen. Benítez’s alleged arms dealing and organized crime groups, active duty and retired military officials have sold weapons to transnational criminal groups in the past, including Los Zetas in Mexico and both the MS13 and Barrio 18 in El Salvador. Arms trafficking at the upper echelons of government can undermine the state’s legitimacy and its efforts to crack down on organized crime.