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Lawyer claims that the Salvadoran government has not quashed a probe into gang pact. Reuters

Former prosecutor says that President Nayib Buke's government reached a deal to strengthen its power with violent street gangs.

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Lawyer claims that the Salvadoran government has not quashed a probe into gang pact. Reuters

An ex-senior Salvadoran anticorruption prosecutor claimed that President Nayib Bikel's government closed down an investigation into his unit's alleged negotiations with street gangs in order to expand its power. This is as the United States increases pressure on Central America over these talks.

German Arriaza was the head of an anti-corruption unit within The Attorney General's Office. He said that his team compiled photographic and documentary evidence that Bukele's government made a deal in 2019 with the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs to lower murder rates and support the ruling New Ideas party in February's legislative elections.

Arriaza's remarks mark the first time a former Salvadoran official has publicly accused Bukele of making a deal to the gangs. The gangs have been plagued by violence and extortions in the country for at least 20 years. The end of Arriaza’s investigation and his departure abroad are not reported.

The US Department of the Treasury claimed that the talks took place on December 8 and placed sanctions against two Salvadoran officials it claimed were responsible for them. This was part of a series of similar actions taken to commemorate a summit on democracy hosted by President Joe Biden.

The United States is putting pressure on Bukele's government for what Washington calls anti-democratic practices such as the destruction of the judiciary. Two sources said that the US Department of Justice Task Force on MS-13 Crime in America is preparing to bring charges against two Salvadoran officials over their alleged involvement in the negotiations.

According to his transfer notice, which was seen by Reuters and dated May 20,21, the government had removed Arriaza. This followed a purge carried out by Bukele’s legislative allies, which saw five constitutional judges and the country’s top prosecutor being replaced by loyalists.

According to Arriaza, a source from the Salvadoran Attorney General's Office as well as two US justice officials, the investigation was closed. Fearing retaliation by the Salvadoran government, Arriaza stated that he went into exile immediately and the members, known as the Special Anti-mafia Group, (GEA) were either exiled or transferred.

"Our investigations led to the government dissolving anti-corruption agency," Arriaza stated from a location outside El Salvador, which he requested not to reveal to Reuters.

The Attorney General's Office and Bukele's Press Office declined to comment on Arriaza's investigation and his work. Opposition allegations and media reports that the president negotiated a truce have been repeatedly denied by Bukele's press office.

Arriaza's unit produced a detailed report on an investigation that began in 2020. It was based upon wiretaps and security camera footage, photos, and hard drives. He said it showed how Osiris Luna, Deputy Justice Minister, and Carlos Marroquin went into prisons to strike a secret truce with the gangs.

Similar allegations were made by the US Treasury Department.

Arriaza stated that his unit discovered that Luna and Marroquin were the heads of a government social assistance agency and offered gangs better prison conditions and money in return for lowering homicide rates.

Reuters independently obtained a 129-page section of the report. Officials from the United States confirmed that the document, which was first reported in August by El Faro, a Salvadoran news outlet, was genuine.

Marroquin and Luna did not respond to repeated requests to comment, and Reuters could not locate any legal representatives.

US sanctions against the pair increased tensions between El Salvador, Washington and Washington. Washington views Bukele increasingly authoritarian.

Many MS-13 members were convicted in US of drug trafficking and murder. Several of the gang's leaders were also indicted in New York on terror charges. US officials claim that the gangs ordered the murders in the US using El Salvadorian prisons.

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Arriaza stated that he was under pressure after Bukele's party won May's elections. They replaced the attorney general with Bukele and took out top judges.

He stated that he was summoned by Rodolfo delgado, the new Attorney General, to discuss cases against government officials.

Hours after describing his investigations to Delgado including the probe into negotiations between gangs, Arriaza was given a written notice by Reuters that he would be transferred as an advisor to El Salvador's public procuror school.

Delgado was not available for comment.

Arriaza claimed that he was blocked from accessing his computer, office and files within minutes of the May 5th meeting. He fled the country the following day to seek refuge abroad. He claimed he was afraid of being retaliated by the Salvadoran government for the investigations he led.

"I have been a government prosecutor for 18 years. I have prosecuted corruption cases from all political spectrums, including politicians, judges and police officers, as well as gang members and narcos. But this is the first time that I felt the need to leave."

Bukele, one of Latin America's most admired leaders, has tried to prosecute members of past governments who negotiated with gangs in return for their political backing.

Rumours of a truce were sparked by the drop in murder rates in the year following Bukele's election in June 2019. Bukele said that the drop in murders was due to his policies.

Reuters obtained transcripts from prosecutors describing alleged audio messages from gang members, handwritten demands allegedly by the gangs, and logbook entries detailing who was allegedly meeting with government officials. The report also detailed alleged attempts made by Luna to destroy evidence from prison meetings.

It contained security camera footage that showed Luna entering two prisons with people wearing ski masks. According to the presentation, Marroquin was identified by investigators.

The report details investigations into embezzlement of prison funds, and illegal pandemic spending in various government ministries.

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