By Marcos Alemán - The Associated Press
A court in El Salvador on Monday sentenced former President Mauricio Funes to 14 years in prison for negotiating a truce with criminal gangs to lower the homicide rate, offering prison benefits to their prison leaders in return.
The court also imposed an 18-year prison sentence on his former security minister, retired Gen. David Munguia Payes.
Funes faced charges for the crimes of illegal assembly and dereliction of duty, while General Munguía Payes was convicted of those crimes and was joined by arbitrary acts.
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Funes, 64, thus became the country's second president convicted of breaking the law during his term (from 2009 to 2014).
The court argued in its ruling that testimonial, expert and documentary evidence proved the commission of the crimes committed by the defendants when they were officials.
He pointed out that in the trial it was established that both had the knowledge and control of the illegal actions that were carried out as part of the truce agreed with the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs and the two factions of the Barrio 19, in 2012 and 2013.
Funes, June 1, 2012.Luis Romero / AP
He added that meetings between gangs were accredited, for which illegal transfers were made from different prisons, and the entry into prisons of orchestras and women, as well as mediators, without complying with the proper protocols. According to the court, prison directors had no decision-making power for such actions.
At the conclusion of the trial, Munguia Payes said that there were many irregularities in the process and he considered himself "a political convict just for having served as a former minister of Funes." "They charge me with a series of accusations that are baseless," he lamented.
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The former security minister said he will appeal the conviction, as he hoped he would be released "because there was no legal basis for all the accusations that have been made against us."
Funes, who lives in Nicaragua under the protection of Daniel Ortega's regime, which in 2019 granted him nationality to avoid extradition, was not present at the trial. The former president did not appoint a defense lawyer, so he was assigned one ex officio.
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A penal reform approved in September 2022 allows trials to be held with absent defendants.
Witnesses (including Bishop Fabio Colindres and former Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo) said at trial that Funes and Munguia Payes were aware of all the details of the truce agreements.
The bishop explained that the truce began in March 2012 with a meeting at the maximum security prison known as Zacatraz, where gang leaders were held, and that in the process they agreed not to attack each other and lower homicide rates in exchange for benefits for them.
The ringleaders asked in return to be transferred from the maximum security prison to ordinary prisons, and to be allowed intimate visits and have cell phones.