SAN SALVADOR – A Salvadoran court has remanded into police custody a Spanish priest accused of collaborating with gangs, the State Prosecutor’s office (FGR) said.
The court ruling came after a 10-hour hearing Tuesday into the cases of priest Antonio Rodriguez and 37 gang members detained a week ago, the FGR said on its Twitter account.
The court accepted the evidence provided by the prosecution and ordered the detention and formal investigation of the 38 people, including Rodriguez, who has been linked to Gang Mara 18 and accused of illegal association.
Rodriguez, who is originally from Daimiel in Ciudad Real, in central Spain, was put under precautionary measures by another court on different charges Monday, barring him from leaving the country, meet with gang members or consume alcohol.
After Tuesday’s ruling, Rodriguez will continue to remain under police custody while his trial continues.
Father Antonio’s case has been transferred to a court in Santa Ana, in the west, where investigation into the charges against him began.
Public prosecutor Alvaro Rodriguez told reporters the priest is accused of “illegal association and smuggling banned objects into prisons,” directly linking him to jailed Gang Mara 18 leader Carlos Mojica, alias “El Viejo Lin.”
The link between father Rodriguez and the gang leader was uncovered in phone tapping during a probe of extortion cases in Santa Ana, the prosecutor said, adding that the accused was not linked to that crime.
According to the prosecutor, as a result of his “permanent contact” with Mojica, the priest facilitated the transfer of several gang members to more lenient prisons.
Father Rodriguez allegedly also negotiated with unidentified officials to decrease cellular signal-blocking devices in Cojutepeque prison.
Other charges include the smuggling of televisions, fans, jewelry and mobile phones, all of which are prohibited in prison centers.
Rodriguez’s lawyer, Bertha de Leon, told reporters the accusations “are just mere interpretations and speculations of the prosecution.”
Leon maintained that “there is no voice recognition (system)” to prove that Mojica and Antonio Rodriguez are the ones speaking in the recordings of the calls intercepted by the FGR.
The priest was arrested a week ago in massive raids by police and the FGR in which 127 people were detained for different crimes in various parts of the country.
Those arrested included 12 policemen, three judges and two public prosecutors belonging to different criminal outfits, none of which have any connection to the case of the priest.