SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- A judge sentenced former El Salvador President Mauricio Funes to 14 years in prison Monday for negotiating with gangs during his administration.
Funes’ trial began in April with the former leader living in Nicaragua. El Salvador changed its laws last year to allow trials in absentia.
Prosecutors had accused Funes of illicit association and failure to perform his duties for the gang truce negotiated in 2012. Funes had denied negotiating with the gangs or giving their leaders any privileges.
Funes’ former Security Minister Gen. David Munguía Payes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in the negotiations.
Munguía Payes said after the sentencing that the trial was full of irregularities.
“I consider myself a political prisoner, for only having served as the ex-minister of President Funes. They accuse me of a series of accusations that have no foundation,” he said.
Funes' sentence was the sum of eight years for illicit association and six years for failure to perform duties.
“In my opinion, the sentence, insofar as it refers to me, is illegal, doesn’t have legal foundation; the sentence of General Munguía Payes seem unjust to me,” Funes said. He said the state failed to prove the charges.
Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado, on the other hand, said via Twitter, “we proved that these two ex-officials, who had the obligation to protect Salvadorans, negotiated their lives in exchange for electoral favors, acting like gang members.”
Funes is the second former Salvadoran president sentenced to prison for illegal activity during his administration. In 2018, former President Tony Saca was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to diverting more than $300 million in state funds. He was Funes’ predecessor, governing from 2004 to 2009.
Prosecutors say the gang negotiations were aimed at getting the country’s powerful street gangs to lower the homicide rate in exchange for benefits to the gangs’ imprisoned leaders.
El Salvador has pursued Funes, 64, who governed from 2009 to 2014, for other alleged crimes in at least a half dozen cases. Nicaragua gave him citizenship in 2019.
In 2015, El Salvador's Supreme Court ruled that the gangs are terrorist organizations.
Current President Nayib Bukele has been accused of engaging in the same kind of negotiations with the gangs.
In December 2021, the U.S. Treasury said that Bukele’s government secretly negotiated a truce with leaders of the country’s powerful street gangs. Imprisoned gang leaders were allegedly given privileges in exchange for slowing down killings and for giving political support to Bukele’s party. Local news site El Faro had previously reported negotiations.
Former Attorney General Raúl Melara had said at the time that he would investigate the allegations, but when Bukele’s party dominated mid-term elections and took control of Congress, the new lawmakers ousted Melara.
The truce apparently broke down when the gangs killed 62 people in a single day in March 2022. Bukele responded by suspending some fundamental rights and waging an all-out war against the gangs that carries on today.