Reports indicate that on October 16 the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) issued arrest warrants against 25 people, including former President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) former Attorney General Luis Martínez, and Enrique Raís, a businessman tied to Funes’ administration. According to judicial authorities, these individuals are suspected of participating in a bribery scheme during Funes’ presidency. Funes allegedly gave Martínez a series of benefits, including vehicles, government credit cards, and monthly payments of up to 20,000 USD to halt investigations potentially incriminating the executive office. The investigation carried by judicial authorities further suggests that Martínez’s office deviated close to 750,000 USD from state coffers to pay shell companies, used in reality to embezzle public funds to increase his wealth. In June 2018 the FGR had already issued arrest warrants for Funes, his ex-wives, sons, girlfriend, and other members of his inner circle. Funes is currently exiled in Nicaragua, where he and his family were granted asylum as investigations got underway. El Salvador’s Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, has requested Funes’ extradition from Nicaragua.
Judicial institutions of El Salvador have been chronically underfunded and overburdened since the end of civil war in 1992. This is underscored by the inability of judicial authorities to successfully prosecute criminals suspected of manslaughter, with approximately 95% of homicides going unpunished. The country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 64 cases per 100,000 people in 2017 alone. In this context, high-ranking public officials have traditionally abused their influence and power to increase their wealth at the expense of taxpayers, without risking public scrutiny or prosecution for that matter. Funes is the third consecutive Salvadoran president to be implicated in a major corruption scandal after Francisco Flores (1999-2004) and Elías Antonio “Tony” Saca (2004-2009). While Flores avoided custody by fleeing to Nicaragua, Saca was jailed in October 2016. The perceived improvement of the judicial system is attributed to incumbent Attorney General Douglas Melendez, who was appointed in January 2016. He has since initiated numerous corruption cases against high-ranking public officials, further prosecuting violent drug gangs and police officers involved in extrajudicial killings. However, Melendez’ term ends in December, and it is yet unclear whether he will be re-elected by the country’s legislature. Although he is a popular figure and has expressed a willingness to continue his mandate, the FGR is facing political pressure from incumbent President Salvador Sánchez Cerén over a legal measure that would undermine executive prerogatives, granting more autonomy to the Financial Investigation Unit (UIF). Considering Melendez’ campaign against corruption, elements within the political establishment are likely to lobby against his designation. For instance, earlier in August, Sánchez Cerén, who served as Vice President and Minister of Education under Funes, vetoed the aforementioned proposal empowering the UIF citing purported constitutional impediments. In light of these complexities, it remains to be seen if corruption probes continue in case Melendez is not reelected.