Alfredo Cristiani. (Credit: David Hernandez/ AFP/ Getty Images)
(CNN Spanish) -- The Attorney General's Office of El Salvador presented on Monday a criminal accusation against eight people, including former President Alfredo Félix Cristiani (1989-1994), for the deaths of six Jesuit priests and two of their collaborators.
The Prosecutor's Office says it has several witnesses who relate and locate the former president in the meeting in which the decision to assassinate them would have been made. "He agreed or authorized the events that triggered that death," one of the prosecutors says in a video posted by the Prosecutor's Office on its Twitter account.
Cristiani has not commented on the criminal indictment and CNN is trying to reach him for comment, but so far has not heard back.
In March of last year, when a peace court issued an arrest warrant for the alleged crime of omission during his tenure, the former president rejected the accusation and in a statement pointed to the attorney general, Rodolfo Delgado, of moving from defamation and media harassment to a judicial persecution vitiated by irregularities.
- El Salvador Constitutional Court orders reopening case for massacre of Jesuit priests
"The truth is that I never knew of the plans they had to commit these murders. They never informed me or asked me for authorization because they knew that I would never have authorized harm to Father Ellacuría or his brothers," the statement read.
However, the Attorney General's Office says the investigation has determined that the former president and Father Ignacio Ellacuría, then rector of the UCA, held several calls prior to the massacre.
According to the authorities, Cristiani assures him, in the calls, that he should not worry about the registration that was executed at the university and asks Ellacuría to remain calm and in place.
The prosecution says that in addition to the 20 witnesses it also bases its accusation on the conviction imposed in September 2020 by a Spanish court against retired Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano. The Salvadoran soldier was sentenced in Spain to 133 years and four months in prison for the "terrorist murder" of the five Jesuit priests of Spanish origin.
The case of the massacre of the Jesuits was reopened in January 2022 by order of the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), sworn in on May 1, 2021 by the Legislative Assembly, with a pro-government majority.
The magistrates invalidated the decision taken by the Criminal Chamber of the CSJ that in September 2020 had ordered the closure of the criminal process.
In addition to Montano, retired Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1992, but released when the Amnesty Law was approved in 1993, is in prison for this case.
In February 2016, he was arrested in El Salvador at the request of Spanish judge Eloy Velasco. His lawyers applauded that the extradition to Spain did not materialize when, in July of that year, the Supreme Court of Justice declared the Amnesty Law unconstitutional.
With that decision of the magistrates, a court upheld the conviction and he was imprisoned in El Salvador. Benavides has not accepted the charges, even through his lawyers he appealed the sentence, without success.
On November 17, 2021, El Salvador's Legislative Assembly denied the pardon petition requested by Benavides Moreno's defense lawyers.
Other investigations against Cristiani
Cristiani, in addition to this criminal accusation, is under investigation for alleged illicit enrichment during his tenure. The Prosecutor's Office began on Thursday a process of extinction of the domain, in favor of the State, of all its assets in El Salvador. The former president, who according to the Prosecutor's Office is out of the country, has not ruled on that process and CNN has not been able to contact him for comment.
In June 2021, he was questioned by a special commission created by the Legislative Assembly to investigate the delivery of bonuses to former officials with funds from the Presidential House in previous governments.
Cristiani explained to the legislators that the funds were not for personal use, but for the operation of the State Intelligence Agency (OIE), for the administration of the Presidential House and to finance the efforts made by the government delegation in the process of the Peace Accords, which in January 1992 ended 12 years of civil war.
Murder of Jesuit Priests