El Salvador’s new attorney general said the prosecutors’ office may have been infiltrated by outsiders, underscoring the long road ahead to repairing the damaged institution he inherited.
On January 19, Attorney General Douglas Meléndez told reporters that he was worried about criminal penetration of his office.
“We have indications that there might be an infiltration of outside persons that want to influence the institution,” he said, according to El Diario de Hoy.
He did not refer to any parts of the office or specific cases, but Meléndez added that the infiltrations could extend to ongoing investigations.
In the same press conference, Melendez also noted additional institutional irregularities, including poor financial management, significant backlogs of unpaid benefits, and ghost employees receiving compensation without actually working for the institution.
The new attorney general announced a laundry list of 60 changes that his office would be making in an effort to both correct course and tackle high crime rates across the country, which has become the most violent in the region.
Meléndez was sworn in to office on January 5, after a contentious months-long debate about the future of the country’s Attorney General’s Office.
He succeeds former Attorney General Luís Martínez who was dogged by allegations of corruption.
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At his swearing in ceremony, Meléndez made it clear that tackling corruption would be a top priority. His latest revelations about possible infiltrations may be a sign that he is willing to at least admit that there is a problem.
The truest sign of any clean-up efforts in the Attorney General’s Office, however, will be how prosecutors handle several ongoing high-profile corruption investigations, including those of the former director of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute, Leonel Flores, and Representative Reynaldo López Cardoza.
Despite the infiltration concerns, Meléndez has explicitly stated that his office will continue to pursue the Flores and López Cardoza investigations.
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Meléndez seems to have been elected, at least in part, because of his strong anti-corruption credentials. In December, it was revealed that several US lawmakers had weighed in on the attorney general debate in El Salvador, in what was widely seen as a vote of no confidence for then Attorney General Martínez, urging the Salvadoran congress to elect a new attorney general committed to tackling issues of corruption and organized crime.