A high-profile alleged affiliate of both the MS13 street gang and Texis Cartel drug traffickers has been acquitted in El Salvador, highlighting once again the difficulty Salvadoran prosecutors have in building successful cases against powerful organized crime operators.
On March 1, a judge in El Salvador absolved José Misael Cisneros, alias “Medio Millón,” of involvement in two murders, reported El Diario de Hoy.
The judge indicated there was not sufficient evidence to convict after two key witnesses for the prosecution unexpectedly withdrew at the last minute citing security concerns.
Medio Millón was first arrested on murder and weapons charges in 2012, but released after prosecutor's failed to bring a case against him. He was re-arrested in September 2015 and despite his acquittal, he remains in custody as he still faces active money laundering charges.
In 2013, the US Treasury Department placed sanctions on Medio Millón for his alleged roles with the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) street gang and as a transnational drug trafficker. Additionally, he is thought to be an active affiliate of the Texis Cartel, a powerful drug trafficking and money laundering organization with links to the Salvadoran elite.
InSight Crime Analysis
This latest failure to secure a conviction against Medio Millón speaks to larger concerns about prosecutorial incompetence and widespread impunity in El Salvador's justice system.
Hector Silva, an El Salvador organized crime expert and long-time InSight Crime contributor, suggests that at one level the prosecutors simply did a poor job of constructing a case against Medio Millón.
"Witnesses refusing to testify in-person is something that happens all the time in sensitive cases like this. The prosecution should have been prepared," he said.
However, at a deeper level, Silva fears that this is another example of powerful organized crime operators benefiting from a system of institutionalized impunity.
SEE ALSO: Texis Cartel Profile
Former El Salvador Attorney General Luis Martínez, who lost his reappointment bid earlier this year to current Attorney General Douglas Meléndez, was dogged by corruption allegations and accusations he had intentionally derailed a money laundering investigation into Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias "El Chepe Diablo," one of the main alleged Texis Cartel figures. The case against Medio Millón, also a presumed Texis Cartel affiliate, was built during former Martínez's tenure.
While it may be unfair to judge the newly installed attorney general on the outcome of a case built under his predecessor, Silva noted that he has not seen any evidence to suggest that the current Attorney General's Office is changing strategy or pursuing new cases in a way that suggests a significant departure from the past. "Impunity rules," he said.