El Salvador’s Legacy of Impunity Hampers Its Ongoing Fight Against Corruption

El Salvador’s Legacy of Impunity Hampers Its Ongoing Fight Against Corruption
Mauricio Funes, then the president of El Salvador, prepares to speak in the National Assembly, San Salvador, June 1, 2012 (AP photo by Luis Romero).

Former President Mauricio Funes is the latest leader to be implicated in corruption scandals that are consuming El Salvador. In June, 32 arrest warrants were issued for Funes, who was in office from 2009 to 2014, along with his first two wives, his two sons, his current partner, his secretary and other members of his inner circle, including businessman Miguel Melendez Avelar, known to Salvadorans as “Mecafe.” Most of them have been accused of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement of some $351 million. Two others have been accused of obstruction of justice.

The warrants follow years of investigations into Funes’ finances. El Salvador’s attorney general alleges that Funes and his associates stole nearly $300 million from the country’s mortgage bank—millions of it allegedly carried out in black trash bags.

So far, 17 people have been arrested, including the former first lady and the current minister of social inclusion, Vanda Pignato. For almost two years now, Funes has been in exile in Nicaragua, where he and his family were granted asylum as the corruption investigation got underway. El Salvador’s attorney general, Douglas Melendez, has requested Funes’ extradition from Nicaragua, which is currently in turmoil amid a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

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