El Salvador’s Supreme Court has charged the former director of the country’s social security institute with illicit enrichment, highlighting the agency’s deep-rooted susceptibility to corruption in Central America’s Northern Triangle region.
Leonel Flores Sosa, who served as director of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute (ISSS) from 2011 to 2014, came under investigation for a series of suspicious bank transactions that occurred during his time in office.
According to the Supreme Court, Flores Sosa received some $512,000 in deposits and made withdrawals in excess of $367,000 during his tenure, despite earning a salary of only $194,733. The high court also indicated that he was unable to account for his purchase of a $60,000 Mercedes Benz and a $15,000 BMW Mini Cooper, as well as his ability to finance more than $159,000 in credit card purchases.
Additionally, the court found that Flores Sosa and his wife Dennis Karina Hernandez de Flores had around $105,000 in savings in several undeclared accounts, bringing the total amount of questionable income to more than $600,000.
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The investigation also revealed that some of the suspicious deposits originated from employees of the social security agency, who reportedly received thousands of dollars in cash from Flores Sosa’s personal assistant, Mildred Diaz, which they then funneled back into the ex-director’s possession.
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Allegations of high-level corruption within the ISSS come as little surprise, considering authorities in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras have uncovered massive fraud rings within their respective social security agencies in recent years.
As InSight Crime has previously reported, several factors make Central American social security systems prime targets for corruption. For one, they are huge institutions. The ISSS, for example, has a budget of around $492 million, representing roughly 10 percent of the government’s $4.8 billion total expenditures in 2015.
In addition, these agencies issue a large number of contracts, often to companies tied to government officials. Flores Sosa himself pointed this out in March of last year, when he said, “This institution, with much respect, has historically been the petty cash box of various political interests.”
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But perhaps the most salient reason for the prevalence of corruption is widespread impunity in the region, where even the most serious crimes typically go unpunished. Transparency International’s regional director for the Americas, Alejandro Sales, said in a recent interview that limited public access to information about government contracts and a lack of judicial autonomy have contributed to this broader problem.
“Often officials who want to do the right thing are confronted with the bureaucracy of their own institution,” Sales said. “It must be recognized that it is not easy to [denounce corruption] in institutions where mafias are already installed.”