El Salvador Detains Officials in Ongoing Fight Against Corruption

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El Salvador has taken down a network of colluding officials from within its judiciary, a sign that the momentum against corruption propeled by Attorney General Douglas Meléndez remains strong.

Former judges, legal assistants, lawyers and a current and former prosecutor were among at least 14 individuals captured on August 14, according to a press release by El Salvador’s police. The operation is ongoing, with four outstanding arrest warrants.

Authorities say the corrupt network was involved in at least 29 cases of manipulating judicial processes in favor of criminals, according to El Diario de Hoy. The detainees allegedly offered judicial benefits to the defendants, including leaking confidential information, in exchange for bribes ranging from $50 to $10,000.

The ring assisted criminal suspects ranging from gang members to former Salvadoran President Antonio Saca, who stands accused of embezzlement. The latter allegedly paid a legal assistant $10,000 to obtain information on his case — which now includes an additional charge for bribery — according to a press release by the attorney general’s office.

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The arrests come less than a week after an alleged leak from within El Salvador’s judiciary was made public, although the two events currently appear to be unrelated.

On August 7, Police Chief Howard Cotto stated that authorities would pursue politicians that financed death squads in the country, without giving names. The following day, former San Miguel Mayor Will Salgado, who will run in the 2018 mayoral elections, stated that a judicial official had warned him of his imminent arrest for allegedly financing deaths squads, and advised him to flee.

Attorney General Douglas Meléndez neither admitted nor denied that Salgado was being investigated, according to La Prensa Gráfica. Salgado has not been arrested.

In another crackdown against corruption in El Salvador, former Mayor Florentino Rivas and over a dozen other individuals were sent to prison on the same day as authorities dismantled the corrupt judiciary ring, reported elsalvador.com. Rivas was arrested last week, accused of heading a transnational cocaine trafficking network.

InSight Crime Analysis

Corruption is no novelty in El Salvador, whether among judiciary, police or mayors. But these operations suggest an ongoing crackdown on the phenomenon under the impulse of Attorney General Douglas Meléndez.

Since taking office in January 2016, Meléndez has arrested former former President Saca and investigated his successor Mauricio Funes. In addition, the new attorney general distinguished himself from his predecessor in the high-stakes case against José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo,” the suspected leader of one of El Salvador’s most powerful drug trafficking groups, the Texis Cartel.

As InSight Crime reported at the time, the former attorney general had all but buried the case against Salazar Umaña. Once in office, Meléndez reopened the investigation and eventually ordered Chepe Diablo’s arrest. This move against a powerful criminal figure whose political ties appeared to reach as high as El Salvador’s current vice president was a strong sign of Meléndez’s intent to bring about change. These latest arrests suggest that more decisive action against corrupt elements of El Salvador’s own government may be yet to come.

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