>> NARRATOR: Now, two global investigations on this special edition of FRONTLINE.
First a massive leak of tax haven documents... >> They give you visibility into what people are doing with money that they don’t want you to see.
>> NARRATOR: With the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and reporters around the world... >> We have never seen this many heads of state and global billionaires in one location before.
>> NARRATOR: Secretive finance - Overseas - and in the United States...
The Pandora Papers.
And later in El Salvador... >> All the evidence pointed to large scale execution.
>> The ongoing fight for justice >> Killing 989 people cannot go without punishment in our country.
>> NARRATOR: In collaboration with Retro Report and Propublica... >> Did you see them killed?
>> NARRATOR: These two stories - on this special edition of FRONTLINE.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Washington, D.C., late 2019.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists began receiving a trove of leaked documents.
In all, nearly 12 million confidential financial files from firms that set up shell companies and offshore accounts for clients seeking to keep their wealth in the shadows.
The leaked records are called the Pandora Papers, and they expose a financial system that shields the deals and assets of some of the world's richest and most powerful people.
>> We arrived at the conclusion pretty quickly that this was going to be bombshell material.
Bank accounts of politicians that showed tens, or even hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets that have never been publicly associated with these politicians or public figures before.
>> NARRATOR: Over the past two years, journalists from 150 news organizations, including "Frontline," have been examining the leaked documents, emails, spreadsheets, contracts.
>> I am Zach Dubinsky, I'm based in Toronto, Canada.
>> I'm from Bosnia.
>> From Chile.
>> I am based in Washington, D.C. >> NARRATOR: In an online meeting, "Frontline" producers Evan Williams and James Oliver joined other journalists working on the story to discuss where the reporting was leading.
(indistinct chatter) >> Looking at it, there seems to be a lot of Russians.
>> There are a lot of Russians, there are a lot of people from the... Putin's inner circle.
>> That meeting is the starting gun.
That sets hundreds of journalists off around the globe; within 12 or 24 hours, you have reporters from the Philippines to Israel to Brazil who are announcing that they've found offshore secretive deals related to finance ministers or their transport minister or billionaires from their country.
>> NARRATOR: In the documents, the reporters were tracing how billions of dollars were being hidden from tax authorities, criminal investigators, creditors, and the public.
>> Hey, Greg.
>> NARRATOR: Early on, we began talking to Greg Miller of the "Washington Post" about what he was finding.
>> They're all kind of windows into bigger stories that you've been covering for a long time, then, you see, wow, there's more to that story than I, than I was capable of seeing or understanding previously, and you have to build it out with material outside the files.
>> (speaking Russian) >> NARRATOR: Around this time, a report surfaced on a Russian investigative website about a woman named Svetlana Krivonogikh.
>> (speaking Russian) >> It was a story about a woman from St. Petersburg who had become mysteriously extremely wealthy.
This very detailed account, they connected her to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin; their story alleged that she had a secret relationship with Vladimir Putin, and that they had in fact perhaps even had a child in, in or around 2003.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Journalists from the ICIJ collaboration searched for the name Svetlana Krivonogikh, and they found it.
The files showed her listed as the "beneficial owner" of a company based in the British Virgin Islands.
It was called Brockville Development.
>> The documents surrounding that shell company indicate that it was created to hold property.
And then it indicates that that property is located in Monaco.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: We traveled with Miller to Monaco to find out more.
On the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco is a low tax principality popular with wealthy people from around the world.
♪ ♪ Miller and two other reporters were here trying to flesh out Krivonogikh's holdings and her connections to Putin.
(indistinct chatter) Jorg Schmitt is an investigative reporter from Germany's "Suddeutsche Zeitung."
Luke Harding is from Britain's "Guardian" newspaper and has reported on Putin's inner circle.
>> I kind of know these guys.
I spent four years in Moscow as the "Guardian's" bureau chief there, and one thing I do know about them is they are very secretive, especially when it comes to money, but also they're rather paranoid.
>> We're here for what I think is one of the most important stories and one of the most fascinating stories in the Pandora Papers.
>> NARRATOR: What the reporters were finding in the leaked documents was yielding fresh evidence of how those close to Putin, like Krivonogikh, were amassing hidden fortunes abroad.
>> What's happening is that Putin and his friends, his kind of inner circle, particularly friends from St. Petersburg, have become extremely rich, mainly on the back of state resources-- oil, gas, things like that.
And they've created these colossal offshore structures where their assets have been hidden and also that it's been done with help from the West.
It's being done by an army of accountants, lawyers, company formation agents in this tax haven and other places.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: In the case of Krivonogikh, a month after her child was born, the shell company, Brockville, was formed and later purchased an apartment here.
Luke Harding trawled through the property records and found the address.
>> Which showed that Svetlana, Putin's close friend, actually owned a rather nice flat in the marina just opposite us, which she had bought for 3.6 million Euros in 2003 five months after she gave birth to Putin's alleged daughter.
>> NARRATOR: The journalists went to the apartment in the prestigious Monte Carlo Star complex.
A woman who answered the door said no one named Svetlana Krivonogikh lived there.
Svetlana Krivonogikh did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The investigative website "Proekt" has estimated her assets in Russia alone are worth around $100 million.
>> She was suddenly going a bit like Cinderella, from being a cleaner in a store to having the lifestyle of a princess with properties in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where she's from, in Sochi on the Black Sea, a share in a bank closely associated with the Putin regime called Bank Rossiya, and I discovered a secret flat in Monaco.
>> NARRATOR: Nothing in the leaked documents directly linked Krivonogikh to Putin.
The Russian president has long faced claims that he has helped enrich his inner circle and used them to hide his own wealth, allegations he and the Kremlin deny.
But in the trove of leaked files, there was something that tied Krivonogikh and others close to Putin together.
They all had used the same financial firm: Moores Rowland in Monaco.
>> This company here in Monaco has done a lot of work for people who are very close to Vladimir Putin.
This company, Moores Rowland, shows up in the documents as one of the companies that work with Putin and allies to set up shell companies.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: One of those Putin allies found in the documents is oil trader Gennady Timchenko.
He's a close associate of President Putin, and has been accused of using his connections to amass an oil-trading fortune estimated at $20 billion.
As with Krivonogikh, Moores Rowland Monaco helped Timchenko by setting up shell companies used to buy yachts and jets, and it also assisted in setting up a company that would become part of his oil-trading empire.
The documents also show that Moores Rowland Monaco set up a shell company for Peter Kolbin, a childhood friend of Putin, who's since died.
He was suspected by U.S. officials and others of holding hundreds of millions of dollars in assets for him.
>> One of the biggest questions about Russia is how does it work for Vladimir Putin?
There's widely held suspicion among financial experts and U.S. officials and western intelligence officials, that he uses something, something called wallets.
Basically, individuals who he trusts.
The supposition is that they are then enlisted to set up accounts holding money that really belong to him.
>> NARRATOR: A law firm representing Gennady Timchenko said that he "has always acted entirely lawfully throughout his career and business dealings."
Moores Rowland Monaco officials declined to comment on the firm's work for clients, citing confidentiality.
They said in a statement that "at all times it complied with its obligations and applicable laws and regulations."
♪ ♪ Unlike with Putin, in many cases, the leaked documents were leading directly to world leaders themselves.
>> Yeah, lovely, okay, there we go.
>> NARRATOR: With ICIJ reporter Will Fitzgibbon, we started examining these figures.
>> We're certainly seeing powerful people for various reasons-- maybe for tax purposes, maybe simply to hide the fact that they're multi-multi-multi multi-millionaires from their own citizens who often live in poverty.
>> NARRATOR: In all, there were more than 300 public officials around the world, and 14 cases involving current leaders of countries.
>> Very quickly, we established a pattern, which was that hundreds and hundreds of politicians from heads of state to ministers to diplomats, were active participants and beneficiaries of this offshore system.
And I remember it dawning upon me quite suddenly, how on earth can we hope to reform the offshore system, as so many experts say needs to be done, if all of these politicians are benefiting from it?
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: One leader was the owner of more than 30 shell companies.
In this document he is referred to only as "you know who."
This document shows 16 of the companies that he owned all registered in offshore tax havens.
The owner: Abdullah al Sharif al Hussein.
The address listed: Raghadan Palace, Amman.
He is the king of Jordan, who has championed government transparency.
>> The king and Jordan have been an important American ally for a long, long time.
Has more or less gone along with the United States on its adventures, good and bad, in the Middle East.
A country that the United States has compensated to the tune of billions of dollars for its role.
>> NARRATOR: The leaked documents show that while his country was undergoing increasing economic hardship, he was making secretive financial transactions using a network of offshore accounts.
>> When somebody has that many shell companies, that raises a lot of questions right away.
What are they for?
How is he using them?
That's where the hunt begins.
>> NARRATOR: One of the companies was called Nabisco Holdings.
>> Nabisco was listed in the Pandora Papers as a company belonging to the king, but it didn't have any extra information.
What we were able to do, though, was to obtain land records from Los Angeles, and confirm that a company with that same name was the owner of a $33.3 million luxury mansion overlooking the ocean in Malibu.
And then we realized, actually, that there were two neighboring houses right next door, also owned by the king of Jordan through different shell companies.
>> NARRATOR: Based on the documents, the companies tied to the king spent nearly $70 million on these homes.
The search for properties owned by the king's companies also led to Washington, D.C., where records show he spent nearly $10 million on luxury condominiums in Georgetown.
>> This is not illegal in any way, and our reporting doesn't suggest that that's the case.
I think it's very important for a few reasons-- let's remember that the first property here was bought in 2012 for about $6.5 million.
That's the same year in Jordan that thousands of people had poured onto the streets to complain about poverty and corruption because it puts into sharp relief the contrast between million dollar luxury here, and the reality of average Jordanians who live under this king.
>> NARRATOR: And the king's holdings stretched even farther.
In London, with Greg Miller, we used information from the leaked documents and property records to find addresses in the city tied to King Abdullah.
>> So that lines up with where we are here.
A two-million-pound property purchased by Kinnevere Enterprises.
the king of Jordan.
>> NARRATOR: In all, the documents show the king has spent millions of dollars over the past decade through shell companies for real estate here, including 13 million for a collection of apartments near Buckingham Palace.
>> In the end, our investigation revealed that the king had owned more than 30 shell companies and had used those companies to buy property around the world worth more than $106 million.
The king is a king, he's expected to have money.
But I think what interested so many of us reporters about his secret property empire was precisely that-- it was secret.
>> NARRATOR: The U.S. provides Jordan with more than a billion dollars every year.
In response to questions, American officials said the funding is tracked carefully and they've seen no evidence it has been misused.
In a statement, the Jordanian Royal Family said some of the facts were being distorted and exaggerated but they did not specify what.
They also said there was nothing "unusual or improper" with the king's transactions, and that the homes are for both official and private visits.
As for the secrecy, the statement said it's for the privacy and safety of the king and his family.
>> Thank you for joining, everyone, good to see you all here.
>> NARRATOR: In early 2021, the ICIJ held an online meeting to discuss a new and surprising aspect of the reporting coming from the documents.
>> We finally have some data about the kinds of people who are using secretive trusts that are in the United States.
>> NARRATOR: They were focusing on evidence that wealthy people from abroad were using trusts to hide money in the U.S. >> If you find that, take a look, it may be an interesting lead.
>> NARRATOR: We began working with "Washington Post" reporter Debbie Cenziper to investigate.
>> How are you doing?
>> It's a little bit overwhelming right now, and it, it's getting a little bit easier for me as the days go on, and I become more familiar with the documents.
One of the things that has surprised me most this early on, and I'm just starting and still working at it, is, you know, I always thought this was an issue off shore.
You know, this was an issue somewhere else, in the Caribbean somewhere, on an island perhaps.
And what I'm finding, and what I'm focusing on at this early stage, is how the U.S., and specifically some states in the U.S. that you wouldn't expect, are really helping to, really, you know, becoming go-to destinations.
>> NARRATOR: The U.S. has long condemned offshore financial havens, but the documents showed how people have been sheltering their money in states promising protection and secrecy that rival traditional offshore locations.
Will Fitzgibbon and Debbie Cenziper noticed in the documents that one state stood out: South Dakota.
>> I'd heard rumors of South Dakota being an increasingly aggressive tax haven and attracting billionaires and millionaires from around the world, I simply just started to dig into the data.
Searching South Dakota into our search box in these 12 million records that we had.
And pretty quickly I got a sense that there was something there that I wanted to explore.
>> We early on found a document in the leaked records that showed that there were a number of trusts established in South Dakota and, of course, our question was, who's establishing trusts in South Dakota?
You know, what... why would someone from 2,000 miles away turn to Sioux Falls, South Dakota?
And we just really wanted to answer that question.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: The reporters found clients from 41 countries had set up more than 200 trusts in South Dakota and other states.
There is no evidence in the documents that the trusts held criminal proceeds, which they are barred from knowingly accepting.
But nearly 30 of them were connected to people or companies accused of fraud, bribery, or human rights abuses.
>> If you set up a trust in South Dakota, those records can be sealed by a court.
So that's an incredibly strong incentive for someone whose primary objective is to make sure that his or her assets are not discoverable by a reporter or the tax authority back home.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: This document shows a South Dakota trust for Colombian textile magnate Jose Douer Ambar.
Douer had a well-publicized past before setting up the trust: he had forfeited $20 million to the U.S. government as part of a settlement of a drug money laundering case.
He died in 2020.
The documents also show three trusts in South Dakota created for Ecuadorian bankers William and Roberto Isaias.
The brothers had been convicted in absentia in Ecuador for embezzling government bailout money from their failed bank.
The trust owned several shell companies in the British Virgin Islands.
One held a family inheritance valued at $5 to $10 million.
The Isaias conviction was later overturned amid controversy.
Neither of the brothers responded to requests for comment about the trusts.
>> What we found so far is that roughly 20 high-profile politicians and industrialists from countries ranging from Ecuador to the Dominican Republic to India, who have been in trouble in their home countries for everything from human rights abuses to banking fraud, moved their assets and wealth into the United States, under the noses of investigators.
We're talking about people who have been in all kinds of trouble, accused of some very bad things, who are using this system to hide their wealth, not only potentially from the governments, and the taxing authorities in their home countries, but also from the victims in their home countries who might have a claim to some of that money.
>> NARRATOR: Two companies are prominent in the leaked documents: Trident, which created Ambar's trust, and the South Dakota Trust Company, which was used by the Isaias brothers.
Neither firm would answer questions about their clients, but said in statements they follow applicable regulations and perform extensive due diligence.
>> We realized that over the years, a whole industry of banking and trust leaders had pushed legislation at the state level to make South Dakota into this worldwide destination for foreign wealth.
And they did this by passing a number of laws that really appeared incremental at the time, but they were huge in this industry.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: The center of this industry is Sioux Falls.
Over the past decade, the amount of money in trusts in the state has more than quadrupled to $360 billion, fueled by dozens of laws that help protect trusts from creditors, taxing authorities, and foreign governments.
>> I was struck when I came in from the airport last night that the whole of skyline of Sioux Falls, so to speak, is banks and trusts.
♪ ♪ We'll go give this a shot.
>> NARRATOR: We came here with Cenziper and Fitzgibbon to meet a former lawmaker who has raised concerns about how the state has made itself such a welcoming place for the trust industry.
>> Part of what's troubled me about this trust industry, frankly, is that they have basically captured the state legislature, and can essentially pass whatever they, they put together.
I think they are trying to design a system that works well and is safe.
However, I also know that there are people in the world who are just as smart, and would take advantage of you if they thought they could.
And that's my concern, is that we get ourselves set up where all of a sudden, you know, we become like a Switzerland or like a Panama.
I would be concerned about reputational damage to this state.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: The South Dakota Division of Banking said in a statement it routinely audits trust companies, and that the firms are required to do intensive vetting, with extra attention to foreign clients.
But the leaked documents have heightened concerns about the secrecy of trusts and the limitations of existing state and federal oversight and regulation.
>> We already found evidence of people credibly accused of crimes and other wrongdoing, you know, breaching the U.S. financial system.
What about terrorists?
What about drug traffickers?
What about dictators or their associates?
We just don't know.
Because though we had almost 12 million documents, that's just this little, tiny glimpse into this thriving industry in the United States.
>> NARRATOR: Over the past month, journalists from around the world have published hundreds of stories stemming from the leaked Pandora Papers.
>> We have never seen this many heads of state, ministers, politicians, and global billionaires in one location before.
♪ ♪ My interest as a journalist is to connect these stories to contemporary issues in our society and the ills of our society, and many experts say that the secret financial system is a part of that, and they're the kind of stories I'm hoping that we can tell.
>> NARRATOR: Coming up next this special edition of FRONTLINE... >> The current president of El Salvador does not want this case to go forward.
The ruling class does not want accountability.
>> NARRATOR: A Decade long search for justice... >> There are still thousands of people that feel a silence has been imposed to them.
>> NARRATOR: In collaboration with Retro Report and Propublica Massacre in El Salvador -- starts right now.
♪ ♪ >> (speaking Spanish) (guns firing) (guns firing) (men speaking Spanish) (yelling, whistles blowing) (guns firing) >> (speaking Spanish) >> Very simply, guerrillas are attempting to impose a Marxist- Leninist dictatorship on the people of El Salvador.
(gun firing) >> NARRATOR: The story of the worst massacre in the modern history of Latin America began in December 1981.
(device explodes) It was in the midst of the Cold War.
(guns firing, people scream) The United States was supporting the government of El Salvador's fight against Communist-backed rebels known as the FMLN.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> There was a lot of risk involved.
There were targeted killings of people who organized peasants, organized labor, organized within their churches.
>> So, this is more of Mozote's houses.
>> NARRATOR: Photojournalist Susan Meiselas was covering the war when she began hearing rumors of a government attack on civilians in a remote village.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: She and her colleague, foreign correspondent Raymond Bonner, who was working for "The New York Times," decided to go behind rebel lines.
>> I think, I think that's you.
>> NARRATOR: With the help of FMLN fighters, they crossed into the Salvadoran mountains.
>> We heard about something, but we didn't really know.
And the question was, how do we even find out?
Could we even find out, or find a means of, a path to trying to find out?
We were walking in a terrain that was completely unknown to us.
There was no path.
There was no map.
But because we felt compelled, we just had to dig deeper, we had to know more.
We walked into a tiny pueblo that was completely evacuated.
All the houses had been burned to the ground.
You saw the remains of people.
You felt like it was a ghost town.
It was eerie.
It was like time was frozen.
>> NARRATOR: The village was called El Mozote.
>> I remember their bodies lying in the cornfield.
It was clear this had been a, you know, a scorched-earth policy, if you will.
They'd come through and just killed every man, woman, and child they found.
>> There was nothing that explained what happened except the remains, you know?
The remains couldn't speak to us.
You remember the guy that showed us that?
>> NARRATOR: They soon met a woman named Rufina.
>> And that's Rufina.
>> NARRATOR: Sitting in the middle of the village, in shock.
>> Rufina, the next day or two, spoke to us and filled in what we were seeing.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: Rufina was one of the few survivors, and told the reporters of how government soldiers had laid siege to her town.
>> She talked about seeing her husband pulled away, the kids screaming.
She was so numb.
I don't think she even shed a tear in the telling.
Could we believe this woman, a peasant woman, sitting in the middle of the field, pretty much in shock herself?
>> NARRATOR: After two weeks of reporting in the region, Bonner and Meiselas's story landed on the front page of "The New York Times."
It detailed the massacre of over 700 people in El Mozote and the surrounding villages by an elite Salvadoran military unit... (music playing) ...the Atlacatl Battalion.
>> It was the most elite unit in the Salvadoran army.
>> They've been specially trained by the United States Green Berets and they are undoubtedly the cream of the Salvadoran army.
♪ ♪ >> It was an American-trained battalion, and equipped.
All their uniforms, all their M16 rifles, the helicopters that flew them into El Mozote, all supplied by the United States.
>> NARRATOR: The U.S.-backed Salvadoran government quickly denied the allegations.
(fires) But inside the American embassy, they realized they had a problem.
>> The news doesn't get any bigger than this.
Front page of "The New York Times."
Front page of "The Washington Post."
>> NARRATOR: At the time, Todd Greentree was a junior officer at the embassy.
>> There was a lot going on at the time.
I mean, there were death squad killings every day.
We were associated with a government of which major elements were conducting state terror.
And if it meant killing women and children, well, they were just the by-product of this.
So, it was in that context that I received a message that there had been this massacre.
>> NARRATOR: The news reports about the massacre in El Mozote were explosive: they landed just days before congressional hearings on continuing aid to El Salvador.
The Reagan administration's Cold War strategy in Central America was on the line.
>> It was a sense of realization from the start that what's at stake is the entire policy.
That was the problem.
>> NARRATOR: As worries grew, Greentree and a military attaché were sent to find out what happened in El Mozote.
>> So, we flew out in a helicopter, and could see, you know, a fairly wide amount of destruction, so it was obvious there had been a military operation.
We went out to a displaced persons' camp, where people had fled El Mozote and were gathered.
That was a bit of a tricky situation, because we're being transported by Salvadoran soldiers.
It was obvious that the people in that camp were traumatized, there was no question.
I pretty much concluded that something had happened, something bad had happened.
>> NARRATOR: But Greentree and his partner wanted to reach El Mozote itself, which was in dangerous rebel-held territory.
>> We finally got to a point where the sergeant who was in the jeep with us just stopped and said, "That's it, we're not going any farther."
They were scared to death, basically.
So we never reached the site.
>> NARRATOR: Back at the embassy, Greentree wrote up what he had seen.
>> I drafted a report that basically said, "We can conclude from the evidence, from what we've seen, what people said, that there was a massacre."
>> NARRATOR: But that's not the report that reached Congress days later, when U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders went to testify.
>> There is no evidence at all to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operation zone, or that the number of civilians killed even remotely approached the 733 or 926 victims variously cited in the press.
>> NARRATOR: Greentree's initial report was never released, and to this day he says he doesn't know who changed his findings.
The final draft, which Enders read from, described what happened as a military operation that resulted in civilian casualties.
The U.S. would continue funding the Salvadoran military.
Having averted the crisis, the Reagan administration went after the reporters for the "Times" and "Washington Post" who'd broken the El Mozote story.
They had already been critical of how the press was covering America's involvement in El Salvador.
>> It's not just El Salvador.
If we took "The New York Times'" approach, I would guess that all of Central America-- at least all of Central America-- would be in the hands of governments which were manifestly unfriendly to the United States.
>> Nobody believed Rufina.
The denial, first to the State Department, and then, you know, the attacks more on you than on me, for writing what they accused you to, to have written as, you know, leftist propaganda, communist propaganda, whatever.
>> The reaction was fury, vicious.
They attacked us as reporters.
"The Wall Street Journal" did a whole editorial damning me.
"A reporter out on a limb," and... No, I was not prepared for that.
The United States government was going to back the Salvadoran government come what may.
And this was just another blip on the way to the support, so of course they were gonna claim we were lying.
>> It really wasn't until the bones were exhumed that people believed.
(men chanting in Spanish) >> NARRATOR: For the next decade, the story of El Mozote receded as the civil war in El Salvador raged on.
(guns firing) (crowd singing and clapping) Then, in January 1992, the government and the rebels reached a peace agreement.
As part of the deal, both sides agreed to let the U.N. investigate alleged atrocities during the war.
>> Last week, a U.N.-sponsored forensic team began digging in the remote village of El Mozote.
In what used to be the local church, they have now found more than 40 skeletons, nearly all children and infants.
>> There's also kids, just, like, three, four, five, six years old.
>> NARRATOR: Mercedes Doretti was one of the forensic anthropologists at the site.
>> As we start digging, we start finding the children, one after the other one, after the other one.
It was an extremely difficult situation to see.
You see all these little dresses, we'll have to look at the pockets of the girls and little boys.
And we found, you know, toys, all kind of little things that kid will have.
You know, there were babies.
The average age that was established was six years old.
And we found 263 cartridge cases inside the convent or immediately outside.
The majority of the ammunition that was found there was coming from the U.S. government.
All the evidence pointed to large-scale extrajudicial execution.
>> The forensic scientists say everything they have found is consistent with what human rights groups have said for years, that American-trained Salvadoran troops went on a four-day rampage, massacring 800 to 1,000 civilians while in search of leftist guerrillas.
>> That had a very big impact.
I mean, Rufina Maya was there during that.
She said, "Now we see the truth.
Now we have the proof of what happened."
>> The exhumation of the convent attracted an enormous amount of international press, and seeing all these little skulls and little remains of, of all these kids, I think that the government wanted to stop that kind of images and that kind of news to come out.
>> NARRATOR: A U.N. report would go on to accuse senior members of the Salvadoran military of human rights abuses during the war, including at El Mozote.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: Within days of the report, the Salvadoran congress passed a sweeping law granting amnesty to anyone implicated in the atrocities.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> I was 21 years old.
I wrote it down, right, the day they passed the amnesty law.
And I wrote... (speaking Spanish) "Here is our homeland, dancing with the deaths of its own kids."
That was the amnesty law for me: a party made up over dead people.
I still feel the same.
>> NARRATOR: Carlos Dada founded the investigative news site "El Faro."
He and his colleagues kept pursuing the story, pushing for someone to be held accountable.
>> The fact that you pass an amnesty law or the fact that the official narrative is, "Let's leave behind everything and move on," doesn't take the victims anywhere.
They are still there.
There are still thousands of mothers looking for their disappeared.
There are still thousands of people that feel they have not been served justice.
Well, they still remember their killed children, their killed husbands, their killed neighbors.
What happened in El Mozote was the worst massacre post-World War II in all Latin America.
That's what happened at El Mozote.
What happened after the massacre is a cover-up of the massacre.
I don't think you can hide the killing of 1,000 people.
I just don't think you can do that.
>> NARRATOR: Over the following years, victims' remains were returned to their families, and the government apologized.
But there was little movement towards holding anyone accountable.
Then, in 2016, on the 35th anniversary of El Mozote, the Supreme Court of El Salvador sided with human rights groups and victims' lawyers, and overturned the amnesty law.
>> The Supreme Court ruled that the amnesty law was unconstitutional, and this allowed for the opening of some of the cases that had been left into oblivion by the amnesty law.
The first of those cases was El Mozote.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Ray Bonner, now working for "Retro Report" and "ProPublica," returned to El Salvador to cover the developments.
>> The last time I was here, I walked in.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: He visited the scene of the massacre, where people were streaming in to pay tribute at a memorial that had been erected.
>> "140 of them children less than 12 years old."
(whistles) >> (singing in Spanish) (others join in singing) ♪ ♪ >> Did you see them killed?
>> (speaking Spanish) ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Bonner tracked down a witness who was going to testify at a preliminary hearing about the massacre.
Amadeo Martinez Sanchez was eight years old when Salvadoran soldiers killed 24 of his relatives, including his mother and his siblings, the youngest only a year old.
>> (speaking Spanish) ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Days later, pre-trial hearings were getting underway in the nearby town of San Francisco Gotera for more than a dozen former high-ranking military officers.
Bonner joined "El Faro" journalist Nelson Rauda in the tiny courthouse.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> We're a country that maybe has some sort of amnesia with our history.
♪ ♪ There are some people that say that in El Mozote, what was going on was a fight between the guerilla and the army, or that the amount of bodies in El Mozote is explained because it was a clandestine cemetery.
>> NARRATOR: All the officers contested the charges against them.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: The hearings would stretch on for several years.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: But in 2020, there was a breakthrough.
Former air force commander General Juan Bustillo said in court that Salvadoran soldiers carried out the massacre.
>> The trial is a landmark in, in our democracy.
It might set a new page for El Salvador, and build up on from there that killing 989 people, majority of children, cannot go without punishment in, in our country.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: After nearly five years of pre-trial hearings, the judge in the case, Jorge Guzman, was on the verge of taking the case to trial.
But the president of El Salvador had other plans.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: President Nayib Bukele has described himself as "the world's coolest dictator."
He's made Bitcoin an official currency of El Salvador, rallied the military behind him, and pushed his country towards authoritarianism.
>> The Bukele administration has gained control over everything that they can control, and the things that they cannot control, they attack.
>> NARRATOR: In the summer of 2021, he effectively purged the judiciary, paving the way for allies to be appointed by his handpicked Supreme Court.
Among the casualties was Judge Guzman.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: Bukele had been critical of those who'd brought the El Mozote case.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> NARRATOR: The president had even blocked Judge Guzman from accessing military records, despite a court order.
>> The president attacked the judge, he attacked the victims, he attacked the organizations, he attacked the lawyers of the victims, and he attacked the press.
We are now at a state where Judge Guzman had brought the case to nearly the brink of having a decision, to a point where we don't know if the case is going to continue, and if it continues, how it will continue.
>> NARRATOR: The judge spoke to Rauda after leaving the case.
>> (speaking Spanish) ♪ ♪ >> The current president of El Salvador does not want this case to go forward, just, the elite in that country, the ruling class in that country, does not want accountability.
It's that simple.
They didn't want it in 1982, and they don't want it today.
>> NARRATOR: As for the United States, many Salvadorans say that it should be doing more to challenge Bukele's actions.
And given America's history in their country, it should at least issue an apology.
>> Imagine if you have 24 of your relatives killed, and the U.S. government says, "Nothing happened there."
The U.S. kept backing up a government that were violating human rights because of a greater goal of stopping communism.
And after it occurred, the U.S. government tried to cover up the massacre.
>> Unfortunately, we don't see the implications of, of much of what we do in the world.
It's always beyond our sight.
Can the truth help Salvador outlive hate?
This is the important thing.
>> If you can't have justice in the El Mozote trial, can you have justice in El Salvador?
The answer is clearly no.
>> (speaking Spanish) >> Go to pbs.org/frontline for more about the El Mozote story from our partners.
>> 140 of them children less than 12 years old.
(whistles) >> And for more stories stemming from the Pandora Papers... >> I am Zach Dubinsky, I'm based in Toronto.
>> I’m from Bosnia.
>> From Chile.
>> I am based in Washington D.C. >> Connect with FRONTLINE on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and stream anytime on the PBS Video App, YouTube or pbs.org/frontline.
>> “Drop the gun!” >> NARRATOR: In Utah - A record number of police shootings.
>> When you start gathering data, the patterns start to become clear.
>> It’s a problem throughout our whole state.
>> NARRATOR: FRONTLINE and The Salt Lake Tribune investigate training.
>> Do not hesitate.
>> Gun, gun, gun!
>> NARRATOR: Accountability... >> Sometimes police are required to use force to protect the public.
>> NARRATOR: And Racial Disparities.
>> We want to know why police officers are using this power.
>> Shot fired.
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH access.wgbh.org >> For more on this and other "Frontline" programs, visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
♪ ♪ FRONTLINE's, "Pandora Papers" and "Massacre in El Salvador" are available on Amazon Prime Video.