El Salvador Transfers Judges to Combat Corruption in Judiciary

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El Salvador’s Supreme Court has transferred 21 judges, including four that made rulings favorable to a prominent businessman accused of corrupting the justice system, a clear sign that the high court supports the current crackdown on impunity by the Attorney General’s Office.

The Supreme Court removed the judges from their posts in the capital, San Salvador, and nearby Santa Tecla on September 20 and ordered they be sent to outlying jurisdictions, reported El Faro.

Four of the judges had issued rulings that benefitted Enrique Rais, a well-known businessman who was arrested in late August alongside former Attorney General Luis Martínez and several other suspects. The Attorney General’s Office alleges the group conspired to obstruct justice in cases related to Rais’ business interests, including a state-subsidized waste management firm.

Less than a week after the arrests, a judge ordered Rais and the other suspects be released from pretrial detention and placed under house arrest, a move that was questioned by the Attorney General’s Office. Martínez remained in prison due to pending charges in a separate case. The judge, Evelyn del Carmen Jiménez Solís of the Seventh Court of Peace, is among those who were transferred to other districts, reported El Diario de Hoy.

The Supreme Court’s judicial investigation unit currently has 43 open cases into eight of the judges who were moved, according to La Prensa Gráfica.

InSight Crime Analysis

None of the judges were dismissed by the Supreme Court, but its decision to transfer them does send a strong message that the the court is seeking to prevent corrupt judicial officials from derailing the case against Rais and Martínez. As noted by El Faro, the court’s decision is likely in response to recent comments by Attorney General Douglas Meléndez, who said he didn’t trust the judges in San Salvador to handle the high-profile case.

“It is not just the gangs that have cliques; the judicial system has them too,” he told reporters shortly after pressing charges against Rais. 

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Beyond a show of support to the Attorney General’s Office, the decision also sent a message to the judiciary: the Supreme Court will not protect judges who provide legal cover to well-connected suspects. 

Still, the transfers are just that; the judges remain on the bench, albeit in a different jurisdiction, and no criminal charges are being brought against them. While the ruling is a step towards reducing judicial corruption, more action will be needed to change the status quo of impunity for the country’s elites. 

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