A Salvadoran court sent former President Mauricio Funes to trial on Thursday for special cases of money and asset laundering for allegedly having received a small plane as an alleged gift in exchange for a public contract of 8.4 million dollars with a Guatemalan company.
For the same crime, in August 2022, his partner Miguel Menéndez was sentenced to eight years in prison, while businessman Jaime Ramón Aparicio Mejía was prosecuted for active bribery.
“We have 34 witnesses who confirm the fiscal hypothesis. In exchange for giving this project, he received a plane,” reported a prosecutor in the case about the decision of a San Salvador judge to order the opening of the trial and admit the evidence presented.
Former President Funes reacted on Twitter and the prosecution alleging that the tender was declared void. “How is it that the FGR accuses me of having received a “King Air” plane in payment for granting a Guatemalan company the construction of the San Isidro bridge over Lempa in 2013 if the tender was declared void?”, he claimed. According to the Public Ministry, the contract “expired” due to non-compliance.
Funes (2009-2014) faces seven criminal proceedings in absentia in El Salvador for money and asset laundering, embezzlement, special cases of money laundering, concealment, illegal groups, breach of duty, active bribery and disclosure of secret documents by an employee or official.
But his Nicaraguan nationalization since July 2019 and political asylum in Nicaragua since 2016 prevent his extradition.
According to the Public Ministry, Funes received the Beechcraft King Air 90-TG ADL plane from the Guatemalan Jaime Ramón Aparicio Mejía, legal representative of the Guatemalan company Servicios Calificados de la Construcción (Serdelco, SA), as compensation for the award of the construction of the San Isidro in March 2013 for $8.4 million.
“This plane is a gift that former President Mauricio Funes received to grant the construction of certain works that were not necessary to carry it out to a certain extent,” said the Prosecutor’s Office on July 12, 2022.
The Prosecutor’s Office indicated that the former president used the aircraft on 16 flights to travel to the United States, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama between March 28, 2013 and October 31, 2014; and that his partner Menéndez Avelar used the plane on 47 flights to the United States, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, from June 27, 2013 to September 13, 2016. Both, according to the tax version, rented it to $1,300 an hour.
A criminal reform approved on September 21, 2022 allows trials to be held with defendants absent, so the former president may face trial without his presence on March 6 -when the hearing is called- in another case he is facing, the largest in against him, for the alleged diversion of 351 million dollars from the presidential budget for reserved expenses.
Funes is also prosecuted for illegal groups and breach of duty when accused of agreeing benefits in favor of the MS13 and 18 gangs, in exchange for a reduction in homicides, along with former Security Minister David Munguía Payés.
In this case, the Prosecutor’s Office maintains that there is intervention in telecommunications where “in a categorical way they speak of the events developed in the anti-gang truce and that there was indeed an agreement between the gang members and the then Security Minister David Victoriano Munguía Payés with the approval of the President of the Republic”.
The ex-governor also faces processes for the payment of 108.5 million dollars to a company for the construction of a hydroelectric dam, due to the disclosure of a Suspicious Operations Report (ROS) that revealed the diversion of 10 million donated dollars for Taiwan by the late former president Francisco Flores and for bribery of former attorney general Luis Martínez.