El Salvador intel army bosses involved in criminal network

The telephone communications of the former chief of the Army Information and Analysis Battalion (BIAE) and two successive commanders of the Joint Intelligence Unit II of the Armed Forces were intervened by the Attorney General’s Office in the middle of a judicial case against eight soldiers for the crimes of kidnapping and torture. High-ranking army officers planned to evade justice in order to free their soldiers using police, lawyers, doctors and informants at their disposal, with whom they set up a network that even planned to kill the victims so that they would not testify before the judge.

By Fernando Romero

Photo Salvador Meléndez

Date: 3 de diciembre de 2018

Three officers of the Armed Forces of El Salvador have been accused by the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) for crimes ranging from the planning of murders, illicit groupings and ideological falsehood, after having tried to intervene in a trial against eight soldiers in the department of Ahuachapán. The soldiers were prosecuted for depriving and torturing two people who had been signaled, by the same military intelligence, to steal a Sig Sauer gun from the financial director of the Ministry of National Defense, Colonel Federico Reyes Girón, on May 22. 2016

The soldiers kidnapped Victor, 21, and Diego, 17, in the colony San Jorge, of Apaneca. The soldiers, who had left the BIAE in San Salvador on June 3, 2016, under the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Leonel Ascencio Sermeño, were surprised by the National Civilian Police while they had Víctor and Diego as prisoners. The police arrested the eight soldiers and the Attorney General’s Office opened a file to initiate a judicial process.

Revista Factum reconstructed the story of BIAE soldiers and military intelligence chiefs since May 2016, when Colonel Reyes Girón’s gun was stolen, until June 2018, when the specialized judge of Instrucción B of San Salvador, Lorena América Rodríguez, decided to place a reserve on the trial against Lieutenant Colonel Ascencio Sermeño and against colonels Héctor Alfredo Solano Cáceres, former head of EMCFA Intelligence Unit II, and David Edilberto Iglesias Montalvo, who replaced Solano Cáceres in that same position.

The Attorney General’s Office intervened the telephone communications of the three officers, who, based on the evidence collected, spun an intelligence network in Ahuachapán that included police officers, lawyers, doctors and civilian informants with one mission: to obtain, by illicit means, the release of eight soldiers of the BIAE. They even planned the murders of Víctor and Diego so that they would not declare before the judge that they had been kidnapped and tortured.

The plans of the heads of military intelligence failed. The soldiers were sentenced to 14 years in prison in March 2017, and the Attorney General’s Office was able to intercept officers’ phone calls between February and August 2017.

The communications of the military not only revealed the strategies used to prevent the soldiers from being condemned: to bribe or kill the victims, and to evade justice by feigning diseases of the lawyers to delay the judicial process, it also exposed activities that, the Prosecutor suspects, are related to extermination groups.

The defense minister, General David Munguía Payés, reacted to the arrests of his intelligence chiefs, in February 2018, and denounced in public that the Armed Forces were being harassed by the Attorney General’s Office. The general was accompanied by the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chief, General Felix Edgardo Nunez, described the prosecution’s accusations against his colonels as “irresponsible”.

Munguía Payés did not agree to an interview with Revista Factum and did not authorize any interviews with any the military officers involved. He argued that the case is sealed. Judge Rodríguez also did not want to discuss the case, despite the fact that an interview with her was conducted through the communications office of the Isidro Menéndez Judicial Center in San Salvador.

After the Peace Accords of 1992, when the reduction of the Armed Forces and its submission to the civil power was established, the records of violations of human rights by the military have remained active. In recent years, soldiers have been involved in disappearances of civilians such as the cases of Armenia, in Sonsonate, and San Martín, in San Salvador, in 2014. A 10-year prison sentence against four soldiers of the Fourth Brigade of Infantry in Chalatenango was established for having tried to shoot and kill a victim.

The Office of the Prosecutor now has accused three senior Salvadoran military intelligence officers for planning murders of civilians; what could portray an armed force that refuses to consider itself a subordinate of the democratic State.