Nicaragua harbors ex-Salvadoran president caught in graft probe

Former president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes arrives at the attorney general office in San Salvador February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

MANAGUA (Reuters) - The Nicaraguan government said on Tuesday it has granted political asylum to former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, who is being investigated over allegations of corruption in his homeland.

Funes, a leftist who governed for the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) from 2009 to 2014, faces trial for failing to explain over $700,000 found in his bank account when he disclosed his personal assets at the end of his term.

“The constitution ... guarantees a haven for political refugees, protecting the persecuted who fight for democracy, peace, justice and human rights,” Nicaragua’s government said in its official gazette.

A onetime journalist, Funes was the first person to win the presidency for the FMLN, an alliance of leftist guerrillas in the country’s civil war which later became a political party.

As such, Funes enjoyed good political and ideological relations with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla. Asylum was also granted to the partner and three children of the former Salvadoran president, 56.

Funes says he is innocent and that the civil case against him is politically motivated, even though the FMLN is still in power. Funes’ successor, President Salvador Sanchez Seren, is a former guerrilla who served as vice-president under Funes.

“I have well founded reasons to state there is an assassination plot against me by the extreme right,” he tweeted, noting he had decided to seek asylum on Aug. 31. “I have not refused to face a judicial process or to prove my innocence.”

Salvadoran authorities last month raided one of his residences, where they found weapons and ammunition. No charges were filed against Funes, who said on Twitter he had been doing consulting work in Managua for more than three months.

Prosecutors are investigating Funes’ travel as well as the truce brokered with criminal gangs while he was in office.

Reporting by Ivan Castro; Editing by James Dalgleish