SAN SALVADOR – Former Salvadoran President Tony Saca and six officials from his time in office will remain in custody on corruption charges, a judge ruled Saturday.
Judge Nelly Pozas found on the third and final day of the initial hearing in the case that prosecutors had provided sufficient evidence against the suspects, who are accused of embezzling $246 million in public funds during Saca’s 2004-2009 term.
She also ordered an embargo on the suspects’ assets and accounts, the Attorney General’s Office said.
Pozas said the defense attorneys had not presented sufficient arguments for securing their clients’ release because the alleged crimes are punishable by more than 30 years in prison and the suspects have the economic resources to evade justice.
The former president and the other six suspects were sent back to the National Police’s Anti-Narcotics Division in San Salvador, where they will be held until the second stage of the court proceedings begin.
Saca; his former private secretary, Elmer Charlaix; and his erstwhile communications and youth affairs secretaries, Julio Rank and Cesar Funes, are accused of illicit enrichment, unlawful association and money laundering in connection with their alleged embezzlement of $246 million in public funds.
Pablo Gomez, Francisco Rodriguez Arteaga and Jorge Alberto Herrera, who were aides to the former president and still are employees of the president’s office, also have been taken into custody on the same charges.
All were arrested on Sunday.
Saca and the other suspects ran a scheme within the president’s office that moved the $246 million to 14 personal accounts held by Charlaix, Rodriguez and Gomez, according to Salvadoran Attorney General Douglas Melendez.
A total of $116 million in cash was subsequently withdrawn, of which $6 million was laundered, he said.
Saca won El Salvador’s 2004 presidential election as candidate of the right-wing ARENA party.
After he was expelled from that political grouping in 2010, the former sports broadcaster formed the center-right Grand Alliance for National Unity, or GANA.
He ran for president in 2014 as candidate of the Unity coalition, which comprised the National Conciliation Party, the Christian Democrats and GANA, but finished third and did not qualify for the runoff election.