MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Mauricio Funes Cartagena, the former President of El Salvador, has been granted political asylum just across the Gulf of Fonseca in Nicaragua as he faces allegations of corruption including illegal enrichment, embezzlement and influence peddling in his native country.
As Salvadoran security forces stopped and seized two trucks that were loaded with the former leader’s belongings and headed for Nicaragua, his home was being raided and certain belongings and documentation was collected. Meanwhile, Funes and his family were already in the neighboring nation.
Funes, who led the Central American country from 2009 to 2014 on behalf of the center-left Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), was succeeded by his second-in-command Salvador Sánchez Cerén in June of 2014 when the latter narrowly defeated Norman Quijano González of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA).
Less than a year after he left office (following a generally positive five-year-term), Funes was formally accused by the Attorney General’s Anti-Corruption Crimes Unit of being in possession of some $700,000, funds that neither he nor his family could explain.
The Salvadoran Supreme Court confirmed the case and announced in March of 2016 that Funes would have his personal bank accounts frozen, his assets investigated and that he would stand a civic trial on charges of illegal enrichment.
Douglas Meléndez, the Salvadoran Attorney General leading the case, said several weeks ago that Funes was seeking asylum in Nicaragua after the latter was seen in a Managua supermarket. Funes was photographed with his wife and children and the group was being guarded by several members of the Nicaraguan National Police.
When asked why he was in Nicaragua, Funes said that he was simply doing “political consulting work” and that he was given the official security detail as he is a “former head of state and as such, was offered state security.”
In El Salvador, former leaders, domestic and foreign, are given state security services when visiting; past visiting leaders from Nicaragua and other nations were given security detail in El Salvador and according to Funes, “the government here in Nicaragua was simply acting reciprocally” when they offered him the security team.
Furthermore, Funes directly denied allegations that he was in Nicaragua in order to seek political asylum and once again said that he was simply in Managua for professional reasons.
“I do not have asylum in Nicaragua nor am I asking for asylum. I am simply here for work,” he said in a message posted to his Twitter account in mid-August, and he added that his lawyer had already sent proof to the Supreme Court that the $700,000 came through legal means.
This week, however, Funes cleared the air and said he “decided to officially apply for asylum in Nicaragua on August 31 after realizing that a campaign of political persecution was being launched” against him in El Salvador.
Funes insisted that he was sent “messages” from “right-wing forces that threatened him” by assuring that once he returned to El Salvador, his “physical integrity would be violently compromised.”
Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry explained that they granted Funes, a former journalist, asylum on the basis of political persecution through a ministry resolution as the Nicaraguan Constitution establishes asylum for any individual that is being “persecuted politically by another nation.”
El Salvador is fresh off another corruption case involving a former head of state. Former President Francisco Flores was imprisoned and then placed on house arrest two years ago after being on the run for several months for misappropriating millions in public funds.
Flores, of the right-wing ARENA party, faced a trial and sentencing that could have eventually left him in prison for up to 25 years for the serious acts of corruption committed throughout his 5-year presidential term (1999-2004).
Initially, he was charged with embezzlement and illicit enrichment but the Attorney General later added money laundering to the list, which meant that Flores was being tried for illegally appropriating some $75 million, including $10 million donated to El Salvador by the government of Taiwan for national development projects and natural disaster relief efforts.
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, like Flores and now Funes, say the legal actions carried out against them were politically motivated.
Flores, who was still awaiting trial while remaining under house arrest, died from a stroke at in January of 2016. Ironically, the Flores corruption case was brought to the attention of the Salvadoran National Assembly by none other than Funes.