Salvadoran Congress asked to strip former presidential candidate of immunity

Quijano, presidential candidate of ARENA speaks to Reuters journalists at the international airport in San Salvador

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - The Salvadoran attorney general's office asked Congress on Monday to strip former presidential candidate Norman Quijano of his immunity so he can be prosecuted for allegedly negotiating with gangs during his campaign in 2014.

The attorney general, Raúl Melara, said the petition arises from an investigation that includes a video in which Quijano can be seen in a meeting with alleged members of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang, better known as MS-13.

"As an advocate for all Salvadorans, I announce that after a serious, rigorous and objective investigation, I have ordered that ... the request for [removal of immunity] be filed against Deputy Norman Quijano," Melara said in a video published on Twitter.

In October, during a trial against 425 members of the Mara Salvatrucha and several collaborators, a witness declared having held a meeting with the conservative politician.

Quijano defended himself in a post on Twitter.

"I have not given money to criminals, much less agreed to benefits," he said.

The 73-year-old dentist vied for the Salvadoran presidency in 2014 as part of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) party. After his defeat, he returned to the legislature.

MS-13 and its rival, Barrio 18, have spread throughout El Salvador and control many territories, creating temptation for political parties to negotiate with them for electoral support.

In August 2015, the Salvadoran Supreme Court declared gangs as terrorist groups.

President Nayib Bukele has promoted a security plan to reduce the amount of territory and prisons under gang control. In 2019, the number of homicides in the country fell by 28.4% from the previous year.


(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; writing by Julia Love; Editing by Leslie Adler)