El Salvador Anti-Mafia Judges Arrested For Ties to Organized Crime

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Authorities in El Salvador have arrested three anti-mafia judges accused of accepting bribes from organized crime groups, highlighting the corruption that plagues the country’s judicial system and allows impunity to flourish.

On August 12, Salvadoran authorities detained three judges from the eastern city of San Miguel who are accused of taking money in exchange for favoring criminal defendants, reported El Diario de Hoy. The Attorney General’s Office identified the judges as part of a network that includes lawyers, prosecutors, police, and court employees.

The arrests came after 15 judges from the country’s Constitutional Chamber approved the removal of the judicial immunity afforded to the three judges, reported La Prensa Grafica.

According to Prensa Libre, the judges served on special tribunals that tried more serious and complex crimes including those tied to organized crime, such as gang-related homicides, kidnappings, drug trafficking and money laundering.

InSight Crime Analysis

Allegations of judges accepting bribes from powerful criminals are nothing new in El Salvador, and the revelations in 2012 that there were open investigations into 80 percent of the country’s judges hint at just how widespread judicial corruption is.

Combined with rampant corruption in the security forces and other state institutions and the protection offered organized crime groups by powerful politicians it is little wonder El Salvador’s impunity rates are estimated to stand around the 90 percent mark. And El Salvador is far from alone in this, with neighboring Guatemala and Honduras suffering similarly. 

SEE ALSO: Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

These types of cases are not always clear cut, however. Powerful criminal groups often put officials and politicians in impossible situations — forcing them to choose between working with the group or facing death threats. Recently, an official in neighboring Honduras stated that threats against judges have increased, and called on the state to provide protection.

Many judges also face heavy political pressures, as appeared to be the case in Guatemala during the Rios Montt trial, when the historical verdict condemning the former dictator was rapidly overturned by judges allegedly under heavy political pressure.

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