SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Prosecutors in El Salvador said Sunday they have formally charged former President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and nine other former officials with illicit enrichment and money laundering.
The charges are related to crimes allegedly committed when Sánchez Cerén served as vice president in the administration of President Mauricio Funes from 2009 to 2014. Sánchez Cerén left the country in December and has not returned.
The nine other former top officials in the Funes' adminsitration were also charged in an alleged illegal scheme to pay exorbitant bonuses. Four of them are also at large.
The scheme allegedly involved $351 million in government funds that were used to make illegal payments to government employees and their associates. The case has become known as the “Public Looting” scandal.
Sánchez Cerén, who went on to serve as president from 2014 to 2019. allegedly received $530,000 from the scheme.
Both Funes and Sánchez Cerén were members of the FMLN party, founded by guerrillas who fought the government in the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.
Funes fled to Nicaragua, where he was granted asylum in 2016, allowing him to avoid facing trial back home on corruption charges.
Some of the officials detained are considered top leaders of the FMLN, which along with the conservative ARENA party, governed El Salvador for many years.
On Sunday, FLMN supporters gathered outside the court demanding the release of the five detained ex-officials. The protesters claimed those arrested are political prisoners.
Both the FMLN and ARENA were reduced to a shadow of their former levels of support by the appearance of the populist New Ideas party of the current president, Nayib Bukele.
Most of the country’s post-war presidents have been charged with corruption.
Francisco Flores, who was president in 1999-2004, died in 2016 while awaiting trial under house arrest.
Tony Saca, president from 2004 to 2009, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for corruption and has been ordered to return some $260 million to the state. Courts ruled Saca could not explain the origin of $6.5 million in income he made while president.