A Spanish priest was arrested in El Salvador and charged with allegedly smuggling banned items to gang members behind bars, the police said Wednesday.

The Rev. Antonio Rodriguez was taken into custody Tuesday night "for the crime of introducing illicit items into (prisons)," national police director Mauricio Ramirez told the media.

Rodriguez, popularly known as "Father Toño," is also accused of influence-peddling, the police force said on Twitter.

He is the parish priest of Mejicanos, a municipality near San Salvador, where for years he has headed a program to rehabilitate gangmembers.

Ramirez said that among the 127 people in the sweep are also at least 12 police officers, two prosecutors, three court employees and several attorneys.

The operation was carried out in San Salvador and five other provinces in coordination with the Attorney General's Office.

Ramirez did not say what kind of "illicit items" Rodriguez brought into the prisons or which prisons around the country he went to.

"That is part of the investigation. For the moment, what we can confirm is his arrest," the police chief said.

He said that the other people arrested in the extensive operation belong to "several (criminal) structures" linked to crimes such as murder, robbery, extortion, theft and drug trafficking, among others. EFE