Authorities in the Dominican Republic have arrested 19 people in a sweeping corruption case that accuses a well-known former presidential candidate and three former officials of embezzling nearly $350 million and illegal campaign financing.
The arrests are the latest in a string of investigations that officials have launched in the past two years as part of a crackdown on rampant government corruption in the Caribbean country.
Among those detained Saturday night is Gonzalo Castillo, a former public works minister who won 37% of the vote when he ran as presidential candidate for the Dominican Liberation Party in the 2020 general elections won by current President Luis Abinader.
Also arrested is a former treasury minister, Donald Guerrero; former comptroller general, Daniel Omar Caamaño; and former administrative minister to the presidency, José Ramón Peralta.
Prosecutors said they are accused of paying bribes, laundering assets and illegally financing the previous electoral campaign on an “unprecedented” scale after embezzling $347 million of government funds.
The suspects were charged after authorities launched 40 raids targeting their properties and businesses in the capital of Santo Domingo and beyond.
Hundreds of Castillo supporters gathered Monday outside the Justice Palace to protest his arrest as they waved the party's purple-and-yellow flag and tried to damage the building before police scattered the crowd with tear gas. Meanwhile, officials with the Dominican Liberation Party questioned the impartiality of prosecutors and accused them of only investigating and arresting former government officials and not looking into corruption allegations against Abinader's current administratoin.
“It is clear that behind these actions, there are markedly political and re-election interests," said Charlie Mariotti, the party's secretary general.
Police on Saturday also arrested the former director of the State Sugar Council, Luis Miguel Piccirilo; former director of the National Cadastre, Claudio Silva Peña; and the former directors of Casinos and Gambling, Oscar Chalas Guerrero and Julián Omar Fernández.
Defense attorneys for the accused could not be immediately reached for comment. The suspects were expected to appear in court Monday.
Last year, authorities arrested Jean Alain Rodríguez, the country’s former attorney general, and other suspects accused of diverting government funds in an unrelated case.
One of Abinader's promises in the 2020 campaign was to appoint an independent attorney general to fight corruption and impunity. He selected Miriam Germán Brito, a former judge held in high regard.
Since then, various high-ranking government officials tied to former President Danilo Medina have been arrested, along with two of his siblings.