Q24N – Former El Salvador President Francisco Flores has been ordered to stand trial on corruption charges, adding to the lengthy list of current and former Latin American heads of state to come under judicial scrutiny in 2015.
On December 3, Judge Miguel Angel Garcia Argüello determined there was sufficient evidence to try former President Francisco Flores (1999 – 2004) on corruption charges, reported The Guardian.
According to El Faro, Flores faces four criminal accusations:
Embezzlement – Flores allegedly diverted $10 million in donations from Taiwan intended for earthquake victims in 2001 to bank accounts in Costa Rica. This money was later transferred to accounts belonging to his Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, and some of the money allegedly helped finance the 2004 presidential campaign of ARENA’s Antonio Saca (El Salvador’s president from 2004 to 2009).
Money laundering – Judge Argüello held that another $5 million in Taiwanese donations that was hidden or disappeared — possibly in Flores’ personal accounts — constituted money laundering and not illicit enrichment, as prosecutors originally argued.
Illicit enrichment – Flores had an unexplained increase in wealth of around $340,000.
Disobedience – Flores apparently failed to report to an appointment with a special committee that was investigating the Taiwanese donations.
The charge of embezzlement alone carries a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years. If convicted on multiple charges, Flores could receive over 20 years in prison.
Allegations against Flores first surfaced in 2013, when then-president Mauricio Funes — a member of the rival Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party — disclosed a US Treasury Department suspicious activities report regarding the Taiwanese donations.
Following the judge’s ruling, Flores was transferred to a police prison cell to be held in preventative detention. He has been under house arrest since November 2014.
Flores has maintained his innocence, saying all the money received from Taiwan was handled properly.
In Latin America, 2015 has been notable for the large number of high-profile corruption scandals, with multiple current and former political leaders being subjected to judicial proceedings.
Central America’s Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) has been the eye of the political storm. In September, Otto Perez Molina resigned as Guatemalan president and was arrested shortly thereafter on charges related to a customs fraud scandal. In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernandez also came under intense scrutiny for his links to an embezzlement scandal in that country’s social security administration (although he has not faced charges). Some observers have claimed the region is experiencing a “Central America Spring,” owing to these revelations of corruption and the corresponding anti-impunity demonstrations.
Similar corruption allegations have arisen in Brazil. President Dilma Roussef and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have come under increasing pressure due to a widening corruption scandal at the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. Additionally, on December 3, an impeachment process was opened against Rousseff for alleged fiscal improprieties.
Moving forward in El Salvador, the pending trial against Flores — if prosecuted competently and fairly — may mark an important milestone for the country’s notoriously weak judicial system, which until now has consistently failed to hold elites accountable for their illicit activity.