El Salvador Hits Ex-President With 14-Year Sentence

Mauricio Funes was convicted in absentia of illegally negotiating with gangs
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 29, 2023 2:55 PM CDT
Ex-El Salvador President Sentenced to 14 Years
El Salvador's then-President Mauricio Funes stands in the National Assembly before speaking to commemorate the anniversary of his third year in office in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 1, 2012.   (AP Photo/Luis Romero, File)

A judge sentenced former El Salvador President Mauricio Funes to 14 years in prison Monday for negotiating with gangs during his administration. Funes’ trial began in April with the former leader living in Nicaragua. El Salvador changed its laws last year to allow trials in absentia. Prosecutors had accused Funes of illicit association and failure to perform his duties for the gang truce negotiated in 2012, the AP reports. Funes had denied negotiating with the gangs or giving their leaders any privileges. Funes’ former Security Minister Gen. David Munguía Payes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in the negotiations.

Munguía Payes said after the sentencing that the trial was full of irregularities. "I consider myself a political prisoner, for only having served as the ex-minister of President Funes. They accuse me of a series of accusations that have no foundation," he said. Funes' sentence was the sum of eight years for illicit association and six years for failure to perform duties. Funes is the second former Salvadoran president sentenced to prison for illegal activity during his administration. In 2018, former President Tony Saca was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to diverting more than $300 million in state funds. He was Funes’ predecessor, governing from 2004 to 2009.

Prosecutors say the gang negotiations were aimed at getting the country’s powerful street gangs to lower the homicide rate in exchange for benefits to the gangs’ imprisoned leaders. El Salvador has pursued Funes, 64, who governed from 2009 to 2014, for other alleged crimes in at least a half dozen cases. Nicaragua gave him citizenship in 2019.

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Current President Nayib Bukele has been accused of engaging in the same kind of negotiations with the gangs. In December 2021, the US Treasury said that Bukele’s government secretly negotiated a truce with leaders of the country’s powerful street gangs. Imprisoned gang leaders were allegedly given privileges in exchange for slowing down killings and for giving political support to Bukele’s party. The truce apparently broke down when the gangs killed 62 people in a single day in March 2022. Bukele responded by suspending some fundamental rights and waging an all-out war against the gangs that carries on today. (Read more El Salvador stories.)

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