New Investigations Target El Salvador Ex-President’s Cousin

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Authorities in El Salvador are investigating the cousin of an incarcerated former president, another sign that the Central American country may be deepening its drive to root out elite corruption.

Herbert Ernesto Saca Vides has been placed under investigation by the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office in connection with a case against his cousin and former President Antonio “Tony” Saca, reported Factum.

Herbert served as Tony’s political advisor during his 2004 to 2009 term in office, a role he eventually resumed under the jailed ex-president’s successor, Mauricio Funes.

Tony Saca was arrested in October 2016 on corruption-related charges. Together with other associates, the former president has been accused of embezzling over $240 million of public funds.

Between February 1 and February 24, 2017, El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office asked the Supreme Court to issue twelve judicial requests to foreign countries in order to obtain more evidence on former President Saca’s case. In eight of these, the Attorney General requested official information on his cousin Herbert, Factum reported.

This is not the first time Herbert Saca has come under the authorities’ spotlight. Shortly after his cousin’s arrest in October 2016, police forces searched some of Herbert’s companies, including a car dealership allegedly implicated in illicit sales to former members of the ex-president’s administration.

InSight Crime Analysis

The decision to investigate Herbert Saca provides additional evidence that El Salvador’s fight against corrupt elites might be getting more aggressive.

The move follows the arrest of José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo,” the alleged leader of the Texis Cartel who is suspected of having ties to numerous Salvadoran elites, including current Vice President Óscar Ortiz. In addition, an InSight Crime investigation found evidence to suggest that former Attorney General Luis Martínez had obstructed efforts to investigate and prosecute Chepe Diablo and his associates.

According to well-informed sources, the same may have been the case in probes of Herbert Saca that took place under Martínez.

“It is no secret that Herbert Saca was protected by Martínez, and that the Attorney General’s Office deliberately avoided investigating the evidence provided by the police,” Factum journalist César Fagoaga told InSight Crime.

Martínez was arrested in August 2016 on judicial corruption charges. Current Attorney General Douglas Meléndez took office in January 2016, and has appeared intent on reopening investigations seemingly stymied by his predecessor.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Previous reporting by InSight Crime suggests that Herbert Saca was a crucial link between El Salvador’s elites and the country’s underworld. He has been tied to various people and groups under investigation by authorities, and his name has been connected to two major drug trafficking groups, the Perrones and the Texis Cartel.

Admittedly, as far as Factum was told, the Attorney General has placed Herbert Saca under investigation for money laundering, and not for alleged links with organized crime. Still, the opening of the investigation is a sign that El Salvador’s anti-corruption drive may be expanding, though due to weaknesses in the country’s judicial system, its ultimate impact remains unclear.

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