SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Prosecutors in El Salvador have ordered the arrests of former President Mauricio Funes and 30 members of his inner circle on a range of corruption charges for allegedly siphoning $351 million from public coffers, the Attorney General's Office announced Friday.
The 31 arrest orders include Funes' private secretary, his long-time partner Ada Mitchelle Guzman Siguenza, his ex-wife Regina Canas and two of Funes' sons.
"In the government of Mauricio Funes there were serious and outrageous cases of corruption in which they extracted $351 million from public accounts," said Salvadoran Attorney General Douglas Menendez.
Funes, 58, immediately mounted a defense via Twitter, taking on charges one by one and asking "where was the crime?" and "what does that have to do with me?"
"It stands out that the (Attorney General's Office) has only made incriminations without presenting a single piece of evidence against me," Funes wrote.
Melendez said that Funes stole $292 million from El Salvador's mortgage bank, including millions carried out as cash in plastic garbage bags.
Jorge Cortez, head of the Attorney General's financial investigation unit, said that Funes' partner, Guzman Siguenza used some of the diverted funds for cosmetic surgery in Beverly Hills.
Funes held office from 2009 to 2014 as president for the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, and has been living in exile in Nicaragua since 2016. He has alleged that the government of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who is from the same party, is trying to settle political scores in pursuing him.
Melendez said prosecutors had alerted Interpol that Funes was "a person of interest" and the government would seek his extradition from Nicaragua.
Melendez declined to respond to Funes' assertions that the moves against him were a political vendetta.
"Former president Funes is a suspect, accused of corruption crimes, a fugitive from justice," he said. "Everything proven with technical, witness and other evidence."
Authorities said they captured Miguel Menendez, a coffee empresario and former president of the International Fairs and Conventions Center. Prosecutors allege he was one of the principle organizers of the diversion of funds.
"It is a sophisticated structure that was created by Mr. Funes and Mr. Menendez, alias Mecafe, to extract public funds from the government and later distribute them to key people, front men and shell companies," Melendez said.
Funes was convicted in November 2017 of illegal enrichment in a civil court and ordered to return money to the government. One of his sons, Carlos Mauricio Funes Canas, was convicted of the same offense. The senior Funes was barred from holding public office for 10 years.
In recent years, two other former Salvadoran presidents have faced corruption charges.
Francisco Flores, who held office from 1999 to 2004, died in 2016 while awaiting trial for allegedly diverting $15 million in public funds in 2001.
Tony Saca, president from 2004 to 2009, is facing charges that at least $246 million in government funds went missing during his term.