Former El Salvador President Elías Antonio Saca and several members of his administration have been arrested on corruption-related charges, another indication that accountability may be finally reaching the country's political elites.
Police arrested Saca and two officials from his administration (2004-2009) on October 30, at the wedding of one of Saca's children, reported La Prensa Gráfica. Three other suspects were also arrested, all of whom currently work at the Presidential House. The president's former private secretary, Élmer Charlaix, turned himself in hours later.
El Salvador's Attorney General's Office announced via Twitter that Saca, Charlaix and two of the other suspects are accused of embezzlement, illicit association and money laundering.
Saca was already under investigation by a civil court for illicit enrichment. The court recently found that Saca received nearly $16 million from a government account, and that those funds were later deposited in Charlaix's private accounts.
In recent weeks, Charlaix has said that those funds, as well as another $3 million that is under scrutiny, ended up in a "secret account," reported El Faro. The "secret account" has been talked about among politicians for years, but it is not explicitly defined in the national budget, according to El Faro.
All of the suspects are currently in the custody of the National Civil Police's anti-narcotics division.
InSight Crime Analysis
In the last several months, authorities in El Salvador have uncovered apparent high-level corruption that stretches back decades and cuts across political affiliation. This suggests a cyclical and perhaps even systematic siphoning off of millions of dollars from a government that is currently facing a financial crisis, and may be forced to default on its debt.
Both Saca's predecessor, Francisco Flores, and his successor, Mauricio Funes, have also come under scrutiny for alleged illicit enrichment while in office. Saca and Flores belonged to the right-wing ARENA party, while Funes represented the leftist FMLN, which is still in power. Furthermore, the country's former Attorney General Luis Martínez was arrested in August for allegedly using his position to obstruct investigations into a prominent businessman.
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That El Salvador is investigating and bringing charges against such powerful figures suggests the country is making progress in terms of ensuring that official misbehavior does not go unpunished. Successfully prosecuting these cases is another matter, however. Flores died in January 2016 before his investigation went to court, while Funes has been granted aslyum in Nicaragua. And Martínez, who was being held on charges stemming from an unrelated case, was freed in September.