A court in El Salvador has ruled that a corruption network run by a former attorney general and powerful businessman constituted an organized criminal structure, officially confirming what many had believed for years.
Officials in El Salvador said that former Attorney General Luis Martínez and prominent businessman Enrique Rais created an organized criminal association that was “led by a decision making center that gave orders to buy justice,” the Attorney General’s Office said in a January 25 tweet.
Authorities arrested both Martínez and Rais in August 2016 on judicial corruption charges for conspiring to defraud the justice system on several occasions. The case at the center of the investigation involves a multimillion-dollar lawsuit involving two former partners in Rais’ waste disposal company, MIDES S.A. de C.V.. Authorities allege Martínez and Rais entered into an “improper” relationship to advance the latter’s legal agenda.
The judges determined that Martínez and Rais, along with others, corrupted the justice system using a structure that met the requirements established by the country’s organized crime law: It was a hierarchical organization composed of two or more people with defined roles who acted together with the intention of committing a crime, according to La Prensa Gráfica.
The structure had three levels, according to the judges. The businessmen, led by Rais, gave orders to their group of lawyers who then allegedly bribed public officials.
In one instance, a legal medicine expert confessed to receiving $5,000 in exchange for lying about supposed psychological problems that Rais and one of his co-conspirators allegedly had in an official report, according to La Prensa Gráfica.
The business tycoon has since fled to Switzerland where he is hiding out to avoid the charges he faces in El Salvador.
InSight Crime Analysis
The court's ruling that the corruption ring led by Rais and Martínez constituted an organized criminal structure is not surprising, but it is significant, as it shows authorities in El Salvador clearly identifying this type of organization as such.
Rais was the perfect example of the intersection between organized crime, powerful elites and the state in El Salvador.
Travelers in airplanes owned by Rais reportedly included Martínez, former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo and outgoing El Salvador President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, as well as a number of other members of his administration. Rais' planes were seized by US authorities in Florida, but the case calling for their forfeiture was later dropped and the aircraft returned.
SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles
Rais was also an important political player who helped propel Martínez to attorney general in 2012, lobbying through the controversial politician José Luis Merino of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN) and Guillermo Gallegos of the Grand Alliance for National Unity (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional – GANA).
Martínez is currently accused of turning the Attorney General's Office into a pay-to-play shop, where he was gifted vehicles, credit cards, trips and monthly bonuses of up to $20,000 for stopping or delaying corruption investigations.
The links between elites in El Salvador and organized crime stretch back years, but times may be changing after the recent election of Nayib Bukele as the country’s next president. His election ended 30 years of two-party rule. The president-elect ran largely on an anti-corruption ticket pledging to root out graft in part by installing an internationally-backed commission against impunity and corruption.