EspañolIn San Salvador at noon local time, former President Francisco Flores (1999-2004) was sentenced to house arrest by Judge Levis Italmir Orellana, just hours later he stunned observers by voluntarily appearing in court at 8:00am. Homebound, he now awaits trial.
Since May, he has been pursued by Interpol and the Salvadorean Office of the Attorney General. The charges are embezzlement and illicit enrichment of a US$15.3 million donation from the government of Taiwan. It was for victims of the 2001 earthquakes that occurred when he was in office.
— Juan Carlos Vásquez (@juancarlosvrm) September 5, 2014
Judge Orellana is well known for presiding over controversial rulings of corruption in the past, and has received considerable criticism, given the outcomes. A 2001 case went in favor of the director of the National Federation of Football, accused of fraud and theft of $11.42 million. Similarly, in 1997, accusations of a multimillion-dollar bank fraud ended with the principal exonerated.
With today’s case, Orellana gave no explanation for why Flores was sent to home detention instead of jail.
Flores, who has noticeably lost weight during his time on the run, gave a brief statement on his way out of the court. “I have presented myself voluntarily in front of the judges and in respect for the law,” he said, as police escorted him away.
#EnVivoEF "Me he presentado voluntariamente ante el juzgado en respeto a la ley", dijo Francisco Flores a su salida.
— elfaro.net (@_ElFaro_) September 5, 2014
The presence of Flores at the court was so unexpected, even his defense attorney Edgar Morales Joya had to find out in the news. Once his presence got out, media surged to the court and waited for his release.
— elfaro.net (@_ElFaro_) September 5, 2014
The minister of justice and security lamented the judge’s ruling. He also highlighted that Flores was able to enter the court on foot without being arrested on the spot. Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, director of the National Civil Police (PNC), added that “Possibly the capture of Fransciso Flores was going to take us more time, but the institution was not going to drop the case.”
URGENTE: Expresidente Francisco Flores es favorecido con arresto domiciliar por presunta corrupción. pic.twitter.com/KkqwveEzhl
— Javier Menjívar (@Javiermengo) September 5, 2014
Francisco Flores on the Run for Four Months
On April 30, the Office of the Attorney General initiated the charges against Flores, of illegal enrichment, graft, and disobedience, which drew a red alert with Interpol. Today, in a press conference, the executive director of Migration and Aliens of El Salvador, Héctor Antonio Rodríguez, denied the existence records of Flores ever leaving or returning to the country via any legal route. His whereabouts remained unknown, although rumors suggested he was in Panama.
Earlier, on January 7, Flores testified before a special commission of the National Congress, after they had also opened an investigation into the corruption accusations against him. At that time, Flores was the chief adviser to the presidential campaign of former candidate Norman Quijano. He admitted that he received the money and that no formal institution had accounted for it.
When confronted regarding the money’s whereabouts, he simply stated that it had been delivered via key officials to the corresponding addresses tied to the donations. The session ended with a resolution for another hearing on January 28. Several days after the first meeting, however, several officials from Flores’s tenure denied knowledge of any such money transfers or donations.
At the second hearing, Flores avoided several questions and repeated that “the money went to the addresses.” That was the last day that Flores was seen in public. The hearing had a break, to be resumed on January 30, but Flores did not show up, even after a call went out that he could come in the next day.
On April 30, the Office of the Attorney General presented a formal accusation of embezzlement and illicit enrichment. At the same time, Flores’s defense attorneys submitted a petition to Judge Marta Rosales. They sought conditional freedom while the case was being processed. Instead, the judge ordered his immediate arrest.