El Salvador Prosecutor Says Government Formed 'Pact' With MS-13 to Keep Peace

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele is facing heat over his administration's means of conducting business after a former senior anti-corruption prosecutor came forward alleging that the Bukele camp had negotiated deal with MS-13 and the Barrio 18 gangs.

It marks the first time that a Salvadoran official publicly accused the Bukele administration of working out a deal with the country's most powerful and notorious gangs, Reuters reported.

The prosecutor at the center of the allegation, German Arriaza, told the news organization that his team had compiled "documentary and photographic evidence" showing that Deputy Justice Minister Osiris Luna and Carlos Marroquin, head of a government social welfare agency, visited prisons to negotiate covert truces with the gangs.

In exchange for a reduction in homicides and support for Bukele's New Ideas party during the February 2019 elections, the gang members would allegedly receive better prison conditions money, and "other benefits."

After Bukele's party won elections in May of this year, the attorney general and other top judges were replaced with Bukele allies. Not long after this, Arriaza says he was summoned to present his investigations before the new attorney general, Rodolfo Delgado.

As a part of the alleged deal, El Salvador gang members would receive better prison accommodations. Here, members of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs sit in a cell at the Quezaltepeque prison in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador, on September 4, 2020. Photo by YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Arriaza said that hours after this presentation he received written notice that he would be leaving the investigation and transferred to El Salvador's public prosecutor school to serve as an advisor. He fled the country out of fear for his safety after the meeting and now lives at an undisclosed location abroad.

"I was a government prosecutor for over 18 years, have prosecuted corruption cases across the political spectrum—politicians, judges, police, gangs members, narcos—but this is the first time I felt I had to leave," Arriaza told Reuters. "Our investigations were what led to the government dissolving the anti-corruption body," he added.

These allegations corroborate with a December 8 claim by the U.S. Treasury Department that Luna and Marroquin "negotiate(d) a secret truce with gang leadership" on behalf of the Bukele administration. This led the Treasury to slap sanctions on both individuals.

U.S. authorities with the Department of Justice are in the midst of preparing criminal charges against both Luna and Marroquin. This comes as part of the Biden administration's initiative to put pressure on the Bukele for what it sees as a series of "anti-democratic practices," according to Reuters, such as replacing the judiciary.

Reuters could not reach Luna, Marroquin, Bukele's press office, or the attorney general's office for comment.