A group of military officials charged with stealing weapons from stockpiles have received a slap on the wrist for their offense, suggesting there’s a troubling level of impunity for military personnel when it comes to arms trafficking cases.
On October 22, a civilian court in El Salvador absolved three of seven military officials accused of stealing 1,812 M-67 grenades from military stocks that were supposed to be destroyed in 2010 and 2011, reported La Prensa Grafica. Another three were sentenced to community service, while the court has yet to deliver a verdict in the case of the seventh.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, a military court exonerated two military officers and one soldier in the theft of four M-60 machine guns from a warehouse, first reported in June. Even though the soldier testified that that one of the officers had forced him to open the warehouse in order to steal the weapons, the military court struck this from the record as under El Salvador’s military justice code, accusations made by one defendant against another cannot be considered when deciding the case, reported El Diario de Hoy.
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The two cases suggest there may be high levels of impunity for military personnel accused of stealing weapons, setting a troubling precedent in a country where powerful street gangs have attacked police with military-grade weapons, including M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles. There is evidence to suggest the military may be the source of some of these weapons, and that arms trafficking could reach the highest levels of the government. According to a statement Attorney General Luis Martinez made in June, Defense Minister David Munguia Payes is among those under investigation.
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The fact that the defendants in these two cases were absolved by military courts also calls into question the effectiveness of El Salvador’s military justice. Those charged with stealing the M-67 grenades had previously been tried and absolved by a military court.
There have been previous cases involving members of Salvadoran security forces accused of selling arms to criminal groups. In 2011, an army deserter was detained for trying to sell M-16 rifles, uniforms, and military equipment to an alleged member of the Zetas.