June 3, 2016 / 1:17 AM / a year ago

El Salvador wants to investigate ambassador for arms sales

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador prosecutors on Thursday asked Congress to allow the government to investigate the country’s ambassador to Germany for illegal arms sales during his time in the Defense Ministry.

Congress must approve criminal proceedings against any public official. The government said Ambassador Jose Atilio Benitez, 57, a retired general, committed fraud with more than 30 weapons that belonged to the armed forces, selling everything from military rifles to handguns on the black market.

Prosecutors want to bring charges “for corruption, specifically for the crimes of illegal commerce and storing of weapons, for arbitrary acts, and for the deception committed by this person,” Douglas Melendez, the attorney general, told reporters.

El Savador’s embassy in Germany was not immediately available for comment. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.

Benitez, who led Salvadoran troops on missions in Iraq, was named deputy defense minister of El Salvador in 2009, and two years later became defense minister for ex-President Mauricio Funes, a leftist whose party continues to be in power.

Benitez was named ambassador to Spain in 2013, and has been head of El Salvador’s mission in Germany since April of last year.

The value of arms sales could be as high as $100,000, investigators said. If Congress approves the case against him, Benitez could face charges that carry penalties of between three and 15 years in jail, prosecutors said.

Reporting by Nelson Rentería; Editing by Leslie Adler

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