US foreign policy

US names El Salvador president’s aide on “corrupt officials” list

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A US State Department report on Central American officials “credibly alleged” to be corrupt includes a member of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s cabinet and a former minister, according to an extract of the document leaked on Monday.

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The report also includes two opposition figures and a lawmaker in Bukele’s alliance. A US congressional aide told Reuters that the document circulating in El Salvador media was accurate.

The document emerged less than a week after the US special envoy for Central America, Ricardo Zuniga, visited the country and met Bukele amid a push from Washington to curb corruption and address a lack of judicial independence and weak rule of law in the region.

Zuniga said his visit aimed to express Washington’s disapproval of Bukele’s recent removal of top judges and the attorney general as unconstitutional.

Bukele appeared scornful of the State Department list, noting on Twitter that it did not include any members of the conservative opposition party ARENA. A spokeswoman for the presidency said Bukele’s post on Twitter was his only immediate response on the matter.

Ricardo Zuniga, US President Joe Biden's special envoy for the Northern Triangle, speaks with the media after a TV interview in San Salvador, El Salvador May 12, 2021. (Reuters)
Ricardo Zuniga, US President Joe Biden's special envoy for the Northern Triangle, speaks with the media after a TV interview in San Salvador, El Salvador May 12, 2021. (Reuters)

A State Department spokesman said he could not comment on a “nonpublic report to Congress,” but noted that the department works with lawmakers on fighting corruption and impunity, including in Central America.

“The department takes seriously any and all allegations of corruption,” he said.

The document seen by Reuters describes the five lawmakers and officials as “credibly alleged to have committed or facilitated corruption or narcotics trafficking.”

One of them is Carolina Recinos, described as Bukele’s chief of cabinet and said to have “engaged in significant acts of corruption during her term in office.”

Reuters requested comment from Recinos through Bukele’s office but did not immediately receive a reply.

In a news conference last year, Recinos denied accusations of nepotism and conflict of interest.

The document alleges Rogelio Rivas, Bukele’s security minister until March, had awarded building contracts to his own construction firm and overcharged for materials. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

It also names Sigfrido Reyes, a former lawmaker from the opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), alleging he misused public funds for “fraudulent travel expenses.”

Reyes said on Twitter that the State Department was repeating “unfounded” allegations from Raul Melara, El Salvador’s recently removed attorney general. Reyes moved to Mexico in 2019, shortly before being accused in El Salvador of illicit activity including money laundering.

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