Judge allows El Salvador ex-defense minister house arrest

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — A judge ordered house arrest Wednesday for a former El Salvador defense minister who was arrested last week for his involvement in a pact with the country’s main gangs in 2012.

Prosecutors accuse retired Gen. David Munguía Payes of the equivalent of criminal conspiracy, arbitrary acts and failure to comply with his duties for the gang truce that aimed to lower the country’s sky high murder rate under President Mauricio Funes. Funes who fled to Nicaragua and received asylum there faces the same charges.

Prosecutor Álvaro Rodríguez said the decision on house arrest was based on concerns about Munguía’s hypertension. Munguía is barred from leaving the country, must remain at home and cannot have contact with anyone else involved in the case.

The Funes administration allegedly made a pact with the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs to dramatically lower the country’s murder rate. In exchange, the gangs’ imprisoned leaders were moved from maximum security to medium security prisons where they were able to continue managing the gangs’ operations.

Funes has denied any involvement in the gang pact.

When Munguía was previously called to testify in another case related to the pact, he said it was public policy born in Funes’ security Cabinet.

“My role was to facilitate the work of mediators and receive reports from the mediators and members of the (Organization of American States) and keep the president of Republic informed of advances in the process,” Munguía said.

During the pact, daily homicides dropped from about 14 to five. But the pact dissolved in September 2013 after El Salvador’s Supreme Court removed Munguía from his position and new authorities withdrew the privileges that imprisoned gang leaders had received. Homicides then rose again.

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