Investigations into alleged arms trafficking by members of El Salvador’s military have now reached the top, with a former defense minister, and an ex-vice defense minister and police and intelligence chief among those under investigation for the illicit sales of army weapons.
Reports have emerged that on June 23 prosecutors raided the house of former defense minister current Salvadoran Ambassador to Spain General Jose Atilio Benitez as part of investigations into his suspected involvement in selling military weapons. They found the registration for 29 firearms that were supposed to have been destroyed, but did not find the weapons, El Faro reported.
According to the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office, retired General Francisco Salinas — a former national police director and ex-State Intelligence Agency director who briefly served as vice defense minister under Atilio — is also under investigation for his possible role in the scandal and has already given testimony, reported El Diario de Hoy.
Attorney General Luis Martinez said new evidence had emerged — which he refused to reveal — that had led prosecutors to widen investigations, and that as part of this, they would be calling various witnesses to newly testify, according to El Diario de Hoy.
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The current investigations are part of 17 cases that have been opened regarding the illegal sale of hundreds of military arms that were intended to be destroyed. According to El Faro, these cases are based largely on testimony given by a retired coronel who was himself tried for illicit arms sales.
Arms trafficking allegations have plagued the Salvadoran army for years, with many weapons stolen from military stocks believed to have been sold to criminal organizations including Mexico’s Zetas, as well as transnational street gangs the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18. In addition to the current ongoing investigations, authorities are looking into the recent disappearance of four M-60 machine guns from an army cache.
The fact the investigations are now reaching powerful officials may be making the country’s top military official and current defense minister, David Munguia Payes increasingly nervous. Although a police official told El Faro Munguia Payes’ name did not appear in any of the 17 cases in question, last month Attorney General Luis Martinez announced the minister was among several high-level military officials under investigation.
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