El Salvador orders arrest of ex-president Sanchez Ceren in graft probe

·2-min read
President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador waits to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York

By Nelson Renteria

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) -El Salvador has ordered the arrest of former president Salvador Sanchez Ceren and nine top officials from a past administration as part of a money laundering and corruption probe, the Attorney General's office said on Thursday.

The office said Sanchez Ceren was out of the country, but five former high-ranking members of former president Mauricio Funes's government from 2009 to 2014 have been detained.

Sanchez Ceren was vice president at the time, before becoming president in the following term. His successor, President Nayib Bukele, has drawn rebukes for a string of controversial moves, including removing the attorney general and closing an anti-corruption office.

The Attorney General's office said Sanchez Ceren and the other officials - including former heads of the health, finance, labor, agriculture and environment ministries - are wanted on charges of money laundering, embezzlement and illicit enrichment after they were transferred unauthorized funds.

Sanchez Ceren could not immediately be reached for comment.

"They were favored with the payment of bonuses," the Attorney General's office said in a statement.

Speaking at a news conference, Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado added he would seek international help to locate Sanchez Ceren.

"We've issued arrest orders and later we will request a red alert for Interpol to activate its search mechanisms against Salvador Sanchez Ceren," he said.

Bukele on Twitter described Sanchez Ceren as a "fugitive from justice" who left the country in December 2020.

Sanchez Ceren and the other members of Funes' government belong to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the leftist party that Bukele represented early in his career, including as mayor of San Salvador.

Two years after becoming mayor in the capital, the FMLN expelled him, saying he had sowed division and violated party statutes, accusations that Bukele denies.

In recent months, some of Bukele's own government officials, as well as opposition figures, have been deemed suspected of corruption by the United States.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Michael Perry)

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