Nayib Bukele appointed police officers linked to drug trafficking as Salvadoran diplomats

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At least three officers who were investigated for their ties to the Texis Cartel were sent to consular posts in Los Angeles, Houston and New York

 Nayib Bukele appointed police officers linked to drug trafficking as Salvadoran diplomats

By

Héctor Silva Ávalos

 Nayib Bukele appointed police officers linked to drug trafficking as Salvadoran diplomats

President Nayib Bukele took over the congress of his country on February 9, 2020 protected by the National Civil Police . Police officers linked to drug trafficking have received protection in the Bukele government. REUTERS/José Cabezas

Commissioner Héctor Raymundo Mendoza Corderovisited one of the police headquarters in Los Angeles, California, on November 22, 2022. He did so in his capacity as an attaché to the National Civilian Police of El Salvador in the American city, a position in which he had just been appointed by the government of President Nayib Bukele.

The consulate's Facebook account uploaded, that day, a photo of Commissioner Mendoza and Consul General Alejandro Letona meeting with the interim chief of the detective section of the Los Angeles police. “Having the commissioner here in Los Angeles is beneficial to our county as a constructive relationship with him will lead to more cooperation between our law enforcement agencies and ultimately justice for victims of violent crime,” the Los Angeles Police Department wrote. Los Angeles on his Facebook. Nothing was written, in the public communication after that meeting, about Commissioner Mendoza Cordero's past and about the internal investigations by the Salvadoran police and prosecutor's office that placed him at the center of a network of drug traffickers.< /p>

Héctor Mendoza Cordero is one of the high-level officers of the Salvadoran PNC whose name appeared in several internal intelligence reports and in files of the Attorney General's Office, opened between 2009 and 2015, for alleged links to the Texis Cartel, one of the most influential drug trafficking organizations in the country in recent decades.

On September 24, 2010, the then Inspector General of Police, the lawyer Zaira Navas, handed her bosses a report detailing that she had opened investigations of 40 high-ranking officers range, including 14 of the highest leaderships. Mendoza's name appears there.

One of the reasons why the inspectorate opened those investigations, according to an official memo of which Infobae has a copy, is the “relationship of police headquarters with drug traffickers and (the) participation of police members with these criminal structures.”< /p>

For years, Mendoza Cordero and dozens of officers accused of working with organized crime who were investigated by the General Inspectorate and the General Prosecutor's Office (FGR) and even profiled by the same police intelligence, escaped criminal prosecution thanks to the timely intervention of judges or politicians, who were also accused at the time of collusion with organized crime.

The officers investigated by the General Inspectorate were released from criminal cases by a judge named Carlos Linares promotion, who in 2011 was appointed inspector general to replace Navas. The first thing Linares did when he arrived at the post was to file the investigations into the relationship between the police leadership of that time and drug trafficking. The friendship between Linares and Mendoza Cordero, according to police intelligence reports held by Infobae, comes from the years in which both were stationed in the western region of the country, where the Texis Cartel and other criminal organizations operated, some linked to to the gangs MS13 and Barrio 18.

 Nayib Bukele appointed police officers linked to drug trafficking as Salvadoran diplomats

Commissioner Héctor Mendoza Cordero (left), investigated for alleged links to a drug trafficker, was sent as police attaché to the consulate Los Angeles in November 2022.

Linares Ascencio, the judge who shielded Mendoza Cordero and other officers from the investigation, is also dotted with other accusations, but he, like the police, is also shielded. Linares is currently the second in command in the FGR, and his boss is Rodolfo Delgado, the attorney general.

A recent investigation by the newspaper Salvadoran El Faro revealed that Delgado had been a lawyer for a businessman named Jorge Manuel Vega Knight, accused and prosecuted for using motels he owned to launder money from the MS13 gang. In 2021, when Delgado was representing him, Vega Knight was acquitted of all charges by the then-judge in charge of the case, Carlos Linares Ascencio, whom Delgado later made his lieutenant in the attorney general's office. Vega Knight also had a relationship with Gustavo Villatoro, Bukele's current security minister. Villatoro and Mendoza Cordero met at the Military School of El Salvador in the 1980s.

After having escaped criminal prosecution after being investigated for his ties to drug trafficking, thanks to the good offices of Linares Ascencio, officer Mendoza Cordero lowered his profile in the PNC. He reappeared close to political power in 2019, after Nayib Bukele won the country's presidency. He was an adviser to the office of the security minister and the police director, Mauricio Arriaza Chicas. In the end, the Bukele government sent him to the consulate in Los Angeles, where as a police attaché he enjoys immunity.

The threads that reach the Texis Cartel

Between 2009 and 2010, the PNC Inspectorate opened investigation files on several high-level officers, including Mendoza Cordero, on suspicion that they were involved in organized crime activities. Agents from the Police Intelligence Center were then in charge of compiling information on the investigated officers; the file they did on Mendoza Cordero, to which Infobae has had access, is one of the thickest.

The first inquiries linked Mendoza Cordero to a man named Leonel Sandoval Villeda, a moneylender in the western city of Santa Ana, near the Guatemalan border, who made his fortune seizing property from clients to whom he lent money at usurious interest and who were forced to transfer their real estate to him to avoid default. PNC intelligence agents detected, in 2010, that it was Mendoza Cordero, then chief in the western part of the country, who was helping Sandoval Villeda to extort money from his clients.

That investigation He also discovered that Leonel Sandoval Villeda trafficked arms for the Texis Cartel, the organization that moves cocaine from Honduras through El Salvador en route to Guatemala and Mexico and that, in the past decade, set up a money laundering network in Salvadoran banks. The head of the organization is called José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias Chepe Diablo, prosecuted for laundering and at the time sanctioned by the United States Department of the Treasury. Internal investigations by the Salvadoran police also located Mendoza Cordero as a man close to Chepe Diablo.

The Texis Cartel was formed at the end of the last century, when smugglers and dollar exchangers settled in Texistepeque and Metapán, two cities in northwestern El Salvador on the border with Guatemala, took advantage of the routes they had opened in previous years to move cocaine through the area's mountains. That route that the smugglers opened was then known as “El caminito”.

Unlike the drug gang Los Perrones, who had grown up in the eastern part of the country, Texis had political protection from the beginning, and kept it for years. At the top of the hierarchy were Chepe Diablo and Juan Umaña Samayoa, a man who was mayor of Metapán.

 Nayib Bukele appointed police officers linked to drug trafficking as Salvadoran diplomats

Commissioner José Osmín Bográn (center) as El Salvador's police representative to the United Nations in New York. Bográn was investigated for alleged failures to investigate drug traffickers. Also pictured is Ronald Arriaza, son of Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, director of the Salvadoran police.

Since the early 2000s, Texis has grown and Chepe Diablo has been able to move millions of dollars through Salvadoran banks, according to investigations by the Salvadoran prosecutor and police, as well as one by the United States Department of the Treasury that ended in an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designation of the Salvadoran as a target in 2014. (Three years later, Treasury removed the Texis leader from the list.)

In western Salvador, Texis grew largely thanks to the complicity of police and judges. Commissioner Mendoza Cordero, today a police attaché for the Nayib Bukele government at the Los Angeles consulate, was one of the main links between the cartel and the PNC, according to dozens of pages of official investigations opened in El Salvador.

By 2008, the intelligence of the Salvadoran police already had several lines of investigation open that would later be passed on to the prosecutor's office. Sandoval Villeda, the friend of Commissioner Mendoza Corder, appeared in several of them. That year, the police began to monitor a restaurant called Los Compadres in the center of Santa Ana, the most important city in the country.

The intelligence agents detected that the place was used as a meeting place by the leaders of the Texis Cartel and that the police used to arrive there.

One ​​of the frequent visitors was the businessman Sandoval Villeda . “He goes to the restaurant two or three times a month… he meets to talk about business or to drink liquor… he is a friend of the commissioner Ricardo Menesses Orellana ”, says a police intelligence report from the time of which Infobae has a copy. Menesses was director of the National Civil Police between 2004 and 2006 and was also investigated by the General Inspectorate for alleged links to drug traffickers and gang members.

In the same report, the agents in charge of monitoring The Los Compadres restaurant wrote that it was Commissioner Mendoza Cordero who warned Sandoval Villeda, in 2008, of an operation that the police had set up to capture him.

Not only Mendoza Cordero has sent the Bukele government to the Salvadoran foreign service in the United States. To the consulate in HoustonCommissioner Alex Enrique Lemus Recinos, whose name also appears in police reports related to the Texis Cartel, was sent as police attaché.

Nayib Bukele appointed Salvadoran diplomats as Salvadoran diplomats police officers linked to drug trafficking

Commissioner Enrique Lemus Recinos (far right, in khaki pants, investigated for alleged ties to the Texis Cartel and accused of sexual harassment, at the El Salvador consulate in Houston.

Lemus Recinos was classmate in the Armed Forces of El Salvador of Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, current director of the National Civil Police. Both passed to the National Civil Police (PNC) when it was created by the 1992 Peace Accords, which ended the civil war between guerrilla fronts and the national government. Both became part of the elite of the new police without having discharged from the army, as agreed in those peace agreements. Lemus Recinos was prosecuted for sexual harassment in 2016.

The Bukele government also sent Commissioner José Osmín Bográn to the permanent mission to the United Nations in New York , pointed out for omitting investigations against members of the Texis Cartel. in the sdiplomatic office before the UN Ronald Arriaza, son of director Arriaza Chicas, was also prominent. Infobae contacted the Salvadoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the PNC spokesperson for comment but received no response.

A force with suspicions from its inception

The PNC of El Salvador was born in 1992, as a product of the Peace Accords of that year, and began to deploy in the territory the following year. The idea of ​​the peace signatories was for the new police to distance itself from the history of human rights violations associated with the police attached to the armed forces, which were responsible for disappearances, torture and other crimes during the internal conflict.< /p>

Very soon, however, officers who jumped into the new PNC without being discharged from the army began to ally themselves with the drug gangs that formed in the late 1990s in El Salvador, the Texis Cartel in the west and Los Perrones in East. The officers who were investigated in 2010 but never brought before a court or removed from the police force have held leadership positions for more than three decades. Some of them found renewed power when Nayib Bukele became president of the country.

 Nayib Bukele designated police officers linked to drug trafficking as Salvadoran diplomats

Excerpt from the report of the internal investigation of the Salvadoran police officers accused of various crimes.

Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, appointed police director by Bukele, was in charge of directing the security perimeter made up of PNC agents and soldiers on February 9, 2020, when the president stormed the Legislative Assembly to demand the approval of a loan, he sat in the chair reserved for the leader of congress and said that he had spoken with god. Arriaza Chicas was investigated at the end of the 1990s for tampering with crime scenes and pointed out at the end of the last decade for tolerating extrajudicial executions when he was in charge of the forces police specials.

, for setting up police checkpoints to allow vans loaded with drugs to pass through, for negligence in storing explosives, and who was accused by the Human Rights Ombudsman of tolerating torture. Some of the old officers who did not reach management positions traveled to consulates in the United States.

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