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Fugitive Salvadoran ex-president given Nicaragua citizenship

July 31, 2019
FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2014 file photo, accompanied by former Honduras President Manuel Zelaya, center left, in black, El Salvador President Mauricio Funes, center, in white, greets supporters after voting in the presidential election in San Salvador, El Salvador. The government of Nicaragua announced on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, that it has awarded Funes, who is living in Nicaragua since 2016 and is wanted in El Salvador for the embezzlement of $351 million, Nicaraguan citizenship. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)
FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2014 file photo, accompanied by former Honduras President Manuel Zelaya, center left, in black, El Salvador President Mauricio Funes, center, in white, greets supporters after voting in the presidential election in San Salvador, El Salvador. The government of Nicaragua announced on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, that it has awarded Funes, who is living in Nicaragua since 2016 and is wanted in El Salvador for the embezzlement of $351 million, Nicaraguan citizenship. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua granted citizenship Tuesday to former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, who has been in the country under political asylum since 2016 and is wanted back home on allegations of illicit enrichment and embezzlement.

The decision by President Daniel Ortega’s government, which took legal effect with its publication in the official Gazette, also made Funes’ wife and two sons citizens.

The move would block current Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele from bringing Funes and his family before that country’s justice system, as Nicaragua’s constitution prohibits extradition of Nicaraguan nationals.

Funes tweeted an image of that constitutional article, saying: “Not today, nor in the first 100 days of (Bukele’s) government, nor in years will extradition be possible.”

Bukele said via Twitter that Funes was “only doing everything possible to avoid justice. But like we all know. Sooner or later it arrives.”

Funes, El Salvador’s president from 2009 to 2014, faces four arrest warrants for alleged corruption and the purported diversion of $351 million in state money. He denies the allegations.

The certification of Nicaraguan citizenship was signed by immigration director-general Juan Emilio Rivas Benítez, who said Funes “has fulfilled the requirements and formalities established by law to acquire Nicaraguan nationality, taking into account his continued presence in national territory and being a permanent resident of the country.”

The decision prompted criticism from opposition leaders and human rights activists in Nicaragua, where the government and its opponents have been at political loggerheads following protests last year demanding Ortega’s exit from office and a deadly crackdown by security forces.

Dora María Téllez, a former guerrilla and a dissident Sandinista, tweeted that Funes was “covering himself under the blanket of immunity” of the Ortega government.

The move was also criticized by the rights group Nicaragua Nunca Más, Spanish for “Nicaragua never again,” which was formed by Nicaraguans who fled to exile in Costa Rica during the anti-Ortega unrest.

“Even as thousands of us Nicaraguans have been displaced by persecution, uprooted and violently separated from our families and our lands, without enjoying freedom, the government rewards the aforementioned citizen without him having the least merit to obtain status as a Nicaraguan,” the group said.

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Associated Press writer Marcos Aleman in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this report.

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