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June 23, 2017

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El Salvador ex-president tries to flee probe

SAN SALVADOR--El Salvador's ex-president Francisco Flores, who is under investigation over alleged misuse of US$10 million donated by Taiwan, tried to flee the country Tuesday, President Mauricio Funes said.

But Flores denied the accusation and appeared before a congressional committee to say so. He denied any wrongdoing.

A border agent noticed strange behavior in a bus in which Flores was seeking to leave the country for Guatemala, Funes said earlier.

"At 11:00 a.m., ex-president Flores tried to leave the country on a bus (at the) La Hachadura crossing and he had gone through immigration ... seeking to flee from justice," he told a press conference.

"We made him come back because he had not reported his departure, in other words he was hiding there; only the driver had reported he was there," the president said, adding Flores was supposed to appear Tuesday before lawmakers investigating the donation case.

Funes recently alleged that three checks — for US$1 million, US$4 million and US$5 million — were issued by the Bank of New York, on behalf of Taiwan, and endorsed by Flores.

The checks were received by a branch of Banco Cuscatlan in Costa Rica and sent to a bank in the Bahamas, through another bank in Miami, Funes said.

Taiwan donated the money to El Salvador in the waning months of Flores's presidency, between 2003 and 2004, said the president.

"If his conscience is clean, if he didn't do anything with that US$10 million, then why is (Flores) sneaking out of the country at the Hachadura border crossing?" Funes asked.

Flores said he had personal business in Guatemala but turned back at the border

"I did not leave the country. I did not hide. I decided at the border not to attend the meeting I had in Guatemala and I came back. That's why I am here before you," he told an investigative commission in Congress.

He insisted he made no personal use of the money.

Flores maintains that he accepted the money but did nothing inappropriate, passing it on through the proper channels.

Flores has told investigators he did not receive the funds from Taiwan for a government cooperation account. He said he received them on a personal basis from the president of Taiwan.

These contributions were "normal," said Flores, and that Taiwan for years had been giving them to countries that recognized the island diplomatically.

Just 22 countries, most in Central America and the Caribbean, recognize Taiwan diplomatically. China regards Taiwan as a rebel island awaiting reunification with the mainland.

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