Lawyer: El Salvador ex-prez Saca to plead guilty to graft

Lawyer: El Salvador ex-prez Saca to plead guilty to graft

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Former President Tony Saca will plead guilty to accusations of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds in return for a lighter sentence, his lawyers said Tuesday.

Attorney Lisandro Quintanilla said Salvadoran law allows for a more lenient punishment in view of a guilty plea.

Saca, 53, was arrested in October 2016 and accused of diverting $301 million in public money. He had faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Under the deal, prosecutors will ask for Saca to get 10 years — five for embezzlement and five more for money laundering.

Prosecutors asked the court Tuesday for the shorter sentence and an abbreviated trial process in which the ex-president would formally enter a plea and which would skip the evidentiary phase.

Three associates also charged in the case, including his former private secretary and two ex-Cabinet secretaries, were also set to plead guilty and receive lesser sentences.

Saca, who was president in 2004-2009, did not respond to questions from journalists.

According to authorities, about $195 million of the misappropriated funds was diverted as cash that was later transferred to bank accounts and businesses, including some belonging to Saca.

Jorge Cortez, head of the financial investigation unit of the prosecutor's office, said authorities are still trying to determine where that money ended up due to the difficulty of tracing cash.

Cortez added that officials also anticipate seizing between $25 million and $35 million in assets and property.

Three more defendants are not covered by the deal, but their lawyers said they would seek a similar agreement.

Saca is one of three consecutive ex-presidents to be accused of illicit enrichment or diversion of public resources while in office.

Francisco Flores, who was president in 1999-2004, died of a stroke while under house arrest, and Mauricio Funes, who was in office in 2009-2014, is a fugitive from Salvadoran justice who was granted asylum in Nicaragua.

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