El Salvador’s attorney general has issued an arrest warrant for leftist former president Salvador Sanchez Ceren and announced the apprehension of several ex-ministers on charges of embezzling state funds.
The charges date from the 2009-2014 government of Mauricio Funes, under whom Sanchez Ceren was vice-president, during which time he and others are alleged to have pocketed undue bonuses.
Sanchez Ceren lives abroad but his co-accused — former ministers Carlos Caceres and Violeta Menjivar, plus deputy ministers Calixto Mejia, Erlinda Handal and Hugo Flores have all been arrested.
They were paraded before the press in handcuffs on Thursday.
“All these people contributed to embezzlement that cost the Salvadoran state more than $350 million,” Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado told journalists.
“They will be charged with the crime of money laundering,” he added.
“The money was delivered to the presidency… on a monthly basis and constituted an addition to the salary that by law should be earned for exercising a public service.”
President Nayib Bukele, who replaced Sanchez Ceren, tweeted that his predecessor was “officially a fugitive from justice,” as he had “left our country via a terrestrial border in December 2020, and never came back.”
Funes, also the target of a corruption investigation, resides in Nicaragua, where Sanchez Ceren is also believed to be.
Their leftist FMLN party, a former guerilla group, cried foul and accused Bukele’s government of using state machinery for “political persecution.”
When he came to power in 2019, Bukele broke decades of power alternating between the FMLN and the rightwing Arena party.
The 39-year-old president, himself accused by detractors of authoritarian tendencies, has enjoyed majority backing in parliament since May.
Since then he has replaced a number of judges and the attorney general, who has rebooted investigations into previous governments.