Crime & Justice

Ex-Salvadoran minister accused of providing benefits to gangs awaits verdict

San Salvador, Jul 28 (efe-epa).- El Salvador’s former Minister of Defense David Munguia Payes on Tuesday faced the initial hearing of a case against him for allegedly providing benefits to criminal organizations during a 2012-2014 truce between these gangs and is now awaiting the decision that will determine his future legal status.

The retired general, who arrived in handcuffs and with a police escort at an anti-mafia court in San Salvador, faces the crimes of unlawful association, committing arbitrary acts and non-compliance with duties.

“The negotiation that was captured in the conversations they had with the main leaders of the gangs was to lower homicide rates in exchange for benefits,” Julio Batarse, representative of the Attorney General’s Office (FGR), told reporters.

He added that during the truce, several parties were recorded in prisons with gang members as well as the entry of illicit objects, a situation known to Munguia Payes and former President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), also charged with the same crimes.

He claimed that “all information was directed” to the retired general, who allegedly placed people he trusted in key positions to provide the benefits to the gangs.

The Public Ministry asked the court to move the process to the next stage and for Munguia Payes to face the judicial investigation in pre-trial detention.

The retired general’s defense attorney, Manuel Chacon, requested that he not be sent to pre-trial detention as he was suffering from a chronic illness which led him to being examined by experts from the Institute of Legal Medicine.

The lawyer pointed out that the case is a “continuation” of the trial faced by 20 people, who allegedly orchestrated the truce, and in which only seven persons were sentenced to light penalties.

He added that the charges by the prosecution “seem a little out of context,” given that the defense minister cannot be aware of “everything that goes on in the prisons.”

Chacon indicated that one of the main witnesses, an alleged gang member who agreed to testify in exchange for legal benefits, is only “referential” and that he had no contact with the accused during the truce.

In March 2012, the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs agreed to a truce backed by the administration of then-President Mauricio Funes, which claimed it considerably lowered homicide rates.

The decline in violence due to the alleged agreement of the gangs caught everyone’s attention but behind it, according to the Attorney General’s Office, was an agreement with the government.

This allegedly included prison benefits for incarcerated gang leaders, public investment in regions controlled by these groups and a reduced presence of security forces in those areas.

Former President Funes denied, after testifying at the Attorney General’s Office in 2016, that his government had provided perks to imprisoned gang leaders in exchange for a decrease in homicides and said that his government’s role was to accompany the process.

However, in the trial against the truce operators, Munguia Payes testified as a witness and changed the official version by noting that the truce was a policy of “pacification” of the government.

Following the breakdown of the truce, homicide rates doubled in 2014, soaring to 103 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 and 81 in 2016. These were the two most violent years in the recent history of the Central American country. EFE-EPA

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