El Salvador forms panel to probe ex-president over missing Taiwan funds

Current president says his predecessor will be brought in for questioning on suspicion US$10 million donation might have been "skimmed or misused"

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 11:41am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 11:41am

El Salvador pushed through with its investigation into former leader Francisco Flores’ suspected graft, with the legislature opening a commission to spearhead the case on Tuesday.

The government was trying to locate US$10 million given by Taiwan to the country, according to President Mauricio Funes.

Funes suggested that the missing funds might have been skimmed or misused, and said prosecutors were “going to call him [Flores] in for questioning”.

Authorities did not immediately say when Flores would be questioned.

Funes added that the decision to move forward with a probe was a sign “that our branches of government are working. That is just what I had hoped for”.

The president, whose predecessor Antonio Saca had taken over after Flores stepped down in 2004, first made related allegations in November. Flores has rejected these allegations as “crazy”.

Funes, a leftist, reiterated that in his opinion, Flores – a conservative who ruled from 1999-2004 – would not be investigated if prosecutors did not have grounds to prove his guilt. Funes had said earlier this month that irregularities were detected by the US Treasury Department, and information was received by prosecutors in El Salvador in September.

Funes recently charged that three cheques – for US$1 million, US$4 million and US$5 million – were issued by the Bank of New York, on behalf of Taiwan, and endorsed by Flores.

The cheques were received by a branch of Banco Cuscatlan in Costa Rica and sent to a bank in the Bahamas, through another bank in Miami, Funes said.

Funes said Taiwan donated the money to El Salvador in the waning months of Flores’ presidency between 2003 and 2004.

Flores is a member of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance, or Arena for its initials in Spanish, which held the Salvadoran presidency for 20 years until the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front’s candidate, Funes, was elected in 2009.

With a presidential election coming up in February, Arena is calling the investigation into the missing millions as political persecution. Flores is campaign director for Arena’s presidential candidate, Norman Quijano.

The attorney general is also investigating nine people from Flores’ administration on suspicion of embezzlement.

With additional reporting by AP