Thursday, September 01, 2016

A tangled story of corruption

A tangled story of corruption in the attorney general’s office in El Salvador is playing out in El Salvador’s courts.  El Salvador’s former attorney general, Luis Martinez  was arrested on August 22, 2015.    Here is a brief summary of this complicated web of corruption:

Luis Martinez in custody
Luis Martinez was arrested along with Salvadoran businessman Enrique Rais.   Rais has a number of business interests including the operation of El Salvador’s largest landfill.   The allegations against Martinez and Rais involve prosecutorial and judicial corruption in which Martinez accepted favors from Rais in return for protecting El Salvador’s king of solid waste.  

Many of the dealings between Rais and Martinez had been previously  described in reporting by investigative journalist Hector Silva Avalos who publishes the online journalism site RevistaFactum.

The allegations against Rais and Martinez involve Martinez allowing the use of the attorney general’s office to attack Rais’ enemies through litigation, including two Canadian former business partners of Rais who have a long-running legal dispute with Rais.   As an example of the how Rais works, when an aide left his company and began working for the Canadians, both the aide and his wife found themselves thrown in jail by prosecutors directed by Martinez. 
  
Enrique Rais

There was a preliminary hearing on the charges against Rais and Martinez over the weekend of August 26-28, 2016 to determine whether they would be held in custody pending the conclusion of the investigation and a trial.   Current Attorney General Douglas Melendez called that hearing a circus and strongly suggested that the judge was biased and manipulating the results to favor the defendants.    At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge decided that Rais and Martinez would not be held in custody, but could be released on bond.   Prosecutors have said they will appeal.

But that did not produce freedom for the former Attorney General.    The current attorney general proceeded to hold Martinez on a new set of charges related to Father Antonio Rodriguez.   As readers of the blog will remember, “Padre Toño” was arrested in 2014 and charged with providing contraband cellphones to gang leaders in prison.  Rodriguez pled guilty and was freed after agreeing to leave the country.   Now it appears that Martinez crossed the line in his zeal to prosecute the Spanish priest.   He is charged with having divulged wiretapped conversations of Padre Tono of an “intimate nature” to the Roman Catholic bishops of El Salvador.  (El Faro first reported this story in 2014)   Presented with these charges, a different Salvadoran judge refused to release Luis Martinez and ordered him held over for trial.


Current attorney general Douglas Melendez, who replaced Martinez, has his hands full.   In addition to prosecuting his predecessor and former boss, Melendez is overseeing a major prosecution against the money men of the MS-13 gang, just raided several properties of a prominent businessman as part of a corruption investigation against former president Mauricio Funes, and is charged with prosecuting war crimes following the repeal of the post civil war amnesty law.   All of this as well as running an office charged with investigating criminal violence in the country with the highest civilian homicide rate in the world.   It’s not at all clear that he can be successful. 

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