SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Luis Antonio Martínez, the Attorney General of El Salvador, has begun criminal proceedings and ordered an arrest warrant for former President Francisco Flores for serious acts of corruption.

Francisco Flores
Francisco Flores

Martínez decided to order the arrest of the former leader after discussing and dissecting the issue, two months after the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador decided to officially recommend that the nation’s Attorney General investigate and prosecute Francisco Flores Pérez for grave corruption charges, including the illegal appropriation of some $70 million.

A majority of the 84-seat unicameral legislative body, 55 deputies, voted in favor of the investigation after being presented with the Special Commission’s report that documented Flores’ alleged wrongdoing.

If the former leader is arrested and made to stand trial, this would make him the first head of state to do so in the history of El Salvador.

Martínez said that he is ordering the capture of Flores and that he is charging him with three corruption-related offenses: embezzlement, illicit enrichment and disobedience.

“We have had an ongoing and very serious investigation across three nations. This process begins with those three crimes, but it is unknown where it will end,” said Martínez, and added that Flores is also being investigated for money laundering but that charge has not been added to the indictment yet.

When presented with the Legislative Assembly’s findings in late February, Martínez said he would start the criminal proceedings but that he would wait until the second round run-off vote of this year’s presidential election is concluded.

Indeed, in mid-March, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the ruling center-left Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) was ruled the official winner of this year’s presidential election with 50.11% of the vote while Norman Noel Quijano González, the candidate of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and former mayor of the capital of San Salvador, received 49.89%.

Following several weeks of protests by ARENA who alleged that electoral fraud had taken place, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal confirmed the FMLN man’s victory, allowing Martínez to begin criminal proceedings against Flores as he promised.

For his part, Quijano González asked that Flores, who was part of Quijano’s election committee and advisory team for the presidential campaign, be suspended from ARENA until the investigation is over. Flores, at the time, said that he, along with his party, was being “politically persecuted.”

Flores held the presidency of El Salvador from 1999 to 2004 on behalf of ARENA, and his tenure was marked by the “dollarization” of the economy when he retired the local currency, the colón, with the United States Dollar. Additionally, he imposed the ‘Manos Duros’ or ‘Harsh Hands’ policy of dealing with gang violence in Salvadoran prisons.

The document that the Legislative Assembly handed Martínez included evidence that Flores was involved in several illegal exchanges of money which totalled some $75 million dollars throughout his five years as President.

In September of 2013, a report composed by the US State Treasury Department named the “Suspicious Transactions Report” included three checks totaling nearly $10 million made by the government of Taiwan to Flores for development projects as a “suspicious transaction,” as the report’s name indicates.

Outgoing President Mauricio Funes of the FMLN filed a complaint soon after to the Legislative Assembly, who summoned Flores to a hearing on January 7 in relation to the allegations.

Flores acknowledged receiving the money and not putting it into the official state coffers, known as the General Fund, but rather used it to fight drug traffickers in the country and aid in rebuilding efforts following two earthquakes and Hurricane Mitch.

If the funds came from the Executive of Taiwan, this means that the money would have been donated to Flores by former Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bian, who served from 2000 to 2008. Notably, Chen himself was implicated in a notorious corruption and abuse of power trial in Taiwan in which he was found guilty. He is currently serving 19 years in a prison outside of Taipei, the Taiwanese capital and he, too, claimed that his trial was politically motivated.

For this reason, the three nations that Martínez mentioned as forming part of the investigation are El Salvador, the United States (because money passed through Miami-based banks) and Taiwan (Republic of China).

At the end of January, Flores missed the early hearing but later arrived at the summons, saying that the investigation is, again, politically motivated and that he did nothing wrong beside not following protocol.

Two days later (January 29), the former President missed another hearing and has not been seen or heard from since, and was considered a “fugitive” at the Legislative Assembly’s hearing for the investigation. It is for this reason that “disobedience” was added to his indictment.

No one knows where Flores is, and there have been no departure records involving him at any of El Salvador’s border checkpoints, land or maritime. There have been allegations, however, that Flores fled to Guatemala, although no evidence supports that at the moment.

“Nobody knows where he is,” Funes said. “We have no idea where he is, nor do we know whether he is in the country or not. There is no record of his leaving, but there are many illegal crossings and blind spots throughout El Salvador and we have no idea if he has decided to use one of these routes,” said the outgoing leader.

His real estate assets and financial accounts in El Salvador have all been frozen in an attempt to prevent him from leaving or hiding, if he has not already done so. It is expected that Salvadoran authorities will issue a “red alert” for the capture of Flores through Interpol.