Ex-President Flores Back Behind Bars, Now Faces Money Laundering Charges
On Thursday, December 3rd, the judge overseeing the corruption case of former President of El Salvador (1999-2004) Francisco Flores dealt a severe blow to the notorious impunity that has historically plagued the small Central American nation. As a result of the evidence presented in a recent preliminary hearing, Judge Miguel Ángel García, who is seeking election to the post of Attorney General by the Legislative Assembly, determined that the charges of illicit enrichment and disobedience against Flores will stand. García also added an additional charge of money laundering, and revoked the former president’s house arrest, sending him back to a jail holding cell for the remainder of the proceedings. Finally, he ordered that Flores’ accomplices in the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party also be investigated.
Flores is charged with misappropriating at least $15 million in funds donated by the government of Taiwan for victims of El Salvador’s devastating 2001 earthquake. According to the prosecutor, $5 million of these funds ended up in Flores’ personal bank accounts, while $10 million were channeled to the ARENA party for use in the 2004 presidential campaign in a conspiracy that implicates several top ARENA officials.
The civil society plaintiffs in the case celebrated the decision as a vindication of their efforts to hold the public prosecutor accountable in the face of great resistance. Attorney General Luis Martínez, himself seeking re-election, advocated against the inclusion of money laundering charges and sought, along with Flores’ defense attorneys, to remove the civil society plaintiffs from the trial. “Flores is not the only one favored by the [Attorney General’s] omission of money laundering charges: the Attorney General has also protected the leadership of ARENA,” said plaintiff Bertha De León of the Foundation for the Study of the Application of the Law (FESPAD), “The participation of ARENA in these acts is clear.”
Much is at stake in the verdict and sentencing of the Flores case, and not just for the careers of García and Martínez as they vie for the next term as Attorney General. The trial comes just as the Salvadoran right-wing opposition, led by the ARENA party and its supporters, has opportunistically taken up calls by the US State Department for a Guatemala-style international commission against impunity in El Salvador as part of their campaign to turn public opinion against the current leftist government. The administration and other progressives contend that rather the country’s own judicial institutions must be strengthened to fight impunity. The result of the Flores case, then, will either confirm the possibilities of redeeming El Salvador’s judicial system, or give fodder to those calling for international intervention.