El Salvador launches anti-corruption commission, inspired by Guatemala

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele on Friday unveiled a new independent commission to tackle corruption, taking inspiration from a U.N.-backed body that toppled the previous president of neighboring Guatemala.

Slideshow ( 7 images )

Bukele, who took office in June, has vowed to stamp out corruption that has implicated former presidents and said he had created the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES) through presidential decree.

The body’s name draws heavily on that of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, whose probes brought down dozens of senior officials and politicians there including Otto Perez, the prior Guatemalan president.

“There’s a clamor among the Salvadoran people to combat corruption,” said Bukele as he signed an agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS) to create the CICIES.

“The people aren’t just calling for corruption to be fought, it wants corruption to be fought with a CICIES.”

The United Nations is also considering a request from Bukele to join the OAS in backing the commission.

“Our biggest achievement would be that CICIES isn’t around in 10 years in El Salvador because democratic institutions have strengthened so much,” said Luis Porto, head of the OAS technical mission. “We didn’t come to stay; we came so that we can go.”

So disruptive was the CICIG in Guatemala that President Jimmy Morales, whose term ends in January, declared its commissioner persona non grata and refused to renew the commission’s mandate after he too ended up in the crosshairs of its investigators.

The CICIG left Guatemala earlier this week.

Bukele said he would also create a special department in the police and the finance ministry to recover money embezzled from taxpayers and to investigate businesses that evade taxes.

Salvadorans are fed up with graft scandals, and many welcomed news of the CICIES’ creation.

“It’s right that they investigate. We can’t have more people coming to line their pockets,” said Juan Lopez, 51, a security guard. “Be it good or bad, things have to come to light.”

Antonio Saca, who was Salvadoran president from 2004 to 2009, is in prison for money laundering and embezzlement.

Mauricio Funes, president from 2009 to 2014, is accused of money laundering and embezzlement involving $351 million. El Salvador is seeking his extradition from Nicaragua, where Funes has lived since 2016 and claims to have political asylum.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Editing by Dave Graham and Cynthia Osterman