As El Salvador's government battles widespread allegations of cronyism and misuse of funds in pandemic spending, the country's most senior police official is now accused of helping to cover up government corruption.
On December 15, the Attorney General’s Office opened judicial proceedings against Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, director-general of the National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC), on charges of failure to complete official duties, La Prensa Grafica reported.
These charges came on the heels of a complicated pre-trial process in congress, which ended with Arriaza Chicas stepping down as Vice Minister of Justice and Public Security. President Nayib Bukele had only named him to this position in October, granting him immunity from prosecution. Despite his resignation, he retained his position as police commander.
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Arriaza Chicas first faced charges of disobedience and fraud in November after refusing a congressional order to bring Health Minister Francisco Alabí and Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya to answer questions about expenditures during the pandemic.
Six officials in Bukele’s administration, including Alabí and Zelaya, are currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for irregular purchases and questionable dealings when handing out contracts paid with emergency funds. Last month, prosecutors raided dozens of government offices in the capital of San Salvador, including those of the health and finance ministries.
InSight Crime Analysis
A police chief allegedly protecting cabinet ministers under criminal investigation underscores how the force's highest officials still act in ways that obstruct justice and guarantee impunity.
Arriaza Chicas is considered one of President Bukele's most loyal officials, and he has taken part in acts that seemingly undermine any credibility of independence.
He was a protagonist in worrying events last February, when President Bukele, accompanied by soldiers and police commanded by Arriaza Chicas, marched out onto the floor of congress to demand lawmakers approve a loan to finance his security policies. On December 16, a congressional commission asked the president to remove Arriaza from office for participating in the takeover of the legislative building.
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But this was not the first time Arriaza Chicas came under scrutiny. When serving as the deputy director of special operations forces from 2016 to 2018 officers under his command were accused of belonging to death squads and of killing a fellow officer.
Arriaza and some of his lieutenants have also faced internal investigations for alleged crimes. Arriaza was even temporarily removed from the PNC in 2000 after an internal court hearing found him guilty of planting evidence during an illegal raid. The Supreme Court later absolved the official and ordered that he be reinstated into the police force.
In the late 1990s, investigations by the Attorney General’s Office linked Arriaza to alleged witness tampering in two high-profile cases: the murder of a radio host and a drug trafficking-related massacre. He was never prosecuted for these cases and has maintained his innocence.
In October, Arriaza Chicas testified in a hearing on the murder of agent Carla Ayala. The killing in December 2017 occurred at a party held by the Police Reaction Group. He was the commander of the force at that time. As a result of his links to this case, El Salvador’s influential Central American University publicly opposed Arriaza’s nomination as director of the PNC in June 2019.