More Cachiros News

Honduras Sacrifices Allies for Legitimacy With Arrest of Former First Lady

0
The arrest of the former first lady of Honduras is another nail in the coffin for the Lobo family, the scapegoat of Honduras’ elites, as President Juan Orlando Hernández attempts to legitimize his government, ingratiate himself with US President Donald Trump and demonstrate his commitment to the fight against corruption. Authorities in Honduras arrested former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, the wife of former President Porfirio Lobo, on February 28 at her home in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. The former first lady’s arrest followed an investigation by the internationally-backed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH) with the Attorney General’s Office. She is accused of misappropriating public funds, money laundering and illicit association. Interim MACCIH spokeswoman Ana María Calderón explained that the arrest was the result of four months of investigative work on a case that has since been dubbed the “first lady’s petty cash” (Caja chica de la Primera Dama). “An indictment was filed against Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, who, along with other former public officials, committed the crimes of misappropriation of public funds, money laundering and conspiracy for having seized more than 16 million lempiras [around $600,000] and created a money laundering network to conceal government funds intended for social works,” Calderón said during a MACCIH press conference. The investigation showed that between 2011 and 2014, Bonilla de Lobo “formed a network that appropriated public funds through 70 checks issued by nine individuals,” Calderón said. The network allegedly withdrew money from a government account that was then deposited into a personal account of the former first lady. Bonilla de Lobo’s arrest also coincides with a visit to Honduras by US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Haley met with President Hernández to discuss security issues, the fight against drug trafficking, migration and gangs. Haley thanked Hernández on behalf of President Trump for the work he has been doing to fight drug trafficking and gangs, while Hernández pledged to support the work of the MACCIH and appeared to demonstrate his willingness to fight corruption. However, Hernández’s supposed willingness to tackle graft came under question recently after congress passed a reform to Honduras’ budget law that effectively sidelined the country’s anti-graft body and its efforts to tackle corruption.

SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime

Bonilla de Lobo’s arrest makes her the most recent of the Lobo clan to face accusations of criminal activities. In 2017, a convicted drug trafficker from Honduras’ Cachiros criminal network alleged that former President Lobo, who governed Honduras following the 2009 coup d’etat from 2010 until 2014, had repeatedly accepted bribes from the group. And a recent report alleged that Lobo and the governing National Party helped the Cachiros obtain state contracts for hydroelectric power projects. Moreover, Lobo’s son Fabio was sentenced to 24 years in a US prison in September 2017 after pleading guilty to conspiring to traffic cocaine into the United States. All of these crimes were allegedly committed during Lobo’s time as president.

InSight Crime Analysis

With the capture of Bonilla de Lobo, President Hernández’s administration killed three birds with one stone. First, the former first lady’s arrest could be a way to reward the Trump administration for the support it has provided Hernández, mainly in terms of security and the fight against organized crime. The Lobo family’s ties to organized crime seem to stretch far beyond Fabio Lobo and his connection with the Cachiros. On the other hand, it also fits very well with the Organization of American States (OAS), the body responsible for the MACCIH’s creation, and its Secretary General Luis Almagro, who was forced to meet with Hernández after some recent upheaval at the MACCIH. The capture of Bonilla de Lobo could help quell recent problems and be seen as a show of goodwill, while also potentially showing a willingness from state institutions to work together in the fight against graft.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

“This joint arrest demonstrates the commitment of the MACCIH–OAS to continue working together to fight corruption through state institutions,” a February 28 joint MACCIH-OAS press release read. At the same time, President Hernández continues to look for ways to legitimize his administration after an election that raised strong allegations of fraud. The detention of the former first lady also adds to the Hernández administration’s recent announcements that it was strengthening the fight against drugs, organized crime and the country’s gangs. This could mean that Hernández is taking a hard line on fighting insecurity and organized crime, which offered him some results during his first term as president, to gain the respect and achieve the stability his government needs while using the Lobo family, former allies of his and the United States, as a scapegoat.

In Honduras, the Law of the Jungle Abides

0
A zoo full of wild beasts founded by a murderous drug trafficker. A presidential family, deeply involved with the zoo’s owners, bearing the name “Lobo” (Spanish for “wolf”). The law of the jungle still abides in Honduras, where the one who bites first — or strongest — rules. Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga is undeniably an animal lover. On top of having confessed to the murder of 78 individuals, he also admitted to using drug profits to build a zoo in western Honduras. He made these confessions in a New York court — not as a defendent, but as a witness testifying against Fabio Lobo, another self-confessed drug trafficker who is also the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Rivera Maradiaga’s zoo remains open to the public. An hour away from San Pedro Sula, one of the world’s most violent cities, the Joya Grande’s 20 hectares pop up in the middle of a green valley.

*This article originally appeared in El Faro and was translated, edited for clarity and length, and reprinted with permission. It does not necessarily represent the views of InSight Crime. See Spanish original here.

With 538 different species to feed and care for, the zoo provides work for nearly 70 farming families nearby. It hosts more than 50 big cats, including dozens of lions and tigers, five of them white or albinos; mountain lions; jaguars; and ocelots. The zoo also has four hippos, a handful of camels and dromedaries, alpacas, ostriches, South American tapirs, apes, bison, wildebeest and emus. Four crocodiles of Central American origin swim in an artificial enclosure, circling a small island where spider monkeys take refuge. The bird sanctuary hosts blue and red macaws, cockatoos and toucans. Guinea fowl, Japanese pheasants and hens stroll among the visitors. Rivera Maradiaga, the former leader of the Cachiros cartel, built this zoo with his brother Javier because of his love for animals and because capos are known for their extravagant tastes. But most of all, he built it because he could. Registering his animal collection as a zoo allowed Rivera Maradiaga to buy and import new species easily. This would never have been a problem on the Honduran side, but a zoo facilitated the legal paperwork abroad. Which is why the capo made his zoo public. Joya Grande has seven cabins and four trailers for rent, along with two swimming pools, a zipline, restaurants and cafes, a go-kart circuit and a paintball court, a small train and an artificial lake. In the middle of the lake sits a small island with the statue of a white horse rearing up on its hind legs — a peculiar figure in a zoo full of felines, but a hint at one of Rivera Maradiaga’s other animal obsessions. 17-10-19-Honduras-Law Jungle 2

(Image of the horse sculpture. Credit: Víctor Peña/El Faro)

The project is as much an imitation as a homage to Pablo Escobar’s reknown eccentricity: the Cachiros went so far as to select the same colors and typography for their trademark as Escobar’s Hacienda Nápoles. The brothers also drew from northern customs, commissioning a “narcocorrido,” or “narco song,” in the park’s honor. The song, strongly inspired by the genre’s classic “Caminos de Guanajuato,” became a hit in Honduras.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of NarcoCulture

Rivera Maradiaga lived in Tocoa, Colón, 300 kilometers away from Joya Grande. But he would fly in by helicopter from time to time, sleep in his own personal cabin and enjoy breakfast on the terrace. Before touring his different big cats, he would go visit Big Boy, Honduras’ only giraffe. Big Boy was the favorite of Rivera Maradiaga, a man who recently confessed to dozens of homicides in New York. Big Boy is on everybody’s lips here, but nobody pronounces the name of the owner. Here, he is simply known as “The Master” (“El Señor”). On the night we visited Joya Grande, we asked to stay in a cabin. The manager led us to a simple wooden construction: two beds, a porch and a balcony. “It was The Master’s Cabin,” he told us, emphasizing the word “master” as if speaking of Che Guevara or Rubén Darío. “That’s where he would stay when he came.” A cabin with two double-sized beds costs $200 a night. For half that price, one can sleep in one of the trailers nearby, each furnished with a double bed and a stool marketed as a single bed. These prices are colossal in a country like Honduras. 17-10-19-Honduras-Law Jungle 3

(The preferred cabin of “The Master.” Credit: Víctor Peña/El Faro)

Between 2003 and 2013, the Cachiros were the kings of Honduras’ underworld. They became the main link between Venezuelan and Colombian trafficking groups from the south, and the powerful Mexican cartels, especially the Sinaloa Cartel. They bought off politicians, soldiers and police officers. They associated with powerful businessmen. They even succeeded in surviving the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya and the country’s subsequent isolation on the international scene — the door of global commerce slammed shut for Honduras, but the cocaine trade was booming, as was the number of Hondurans looking to make a dime as traffickers. The Cachiros never made it to the Forbes list, yet estimates put the cartel’s portfolio at a billion dollars during its peak. The assets seized by authorities since their fall include a palm tree plantation, construction companies that laundered millions of dollars in government contracts, a mine — and the zoo. *This article originally appeared in El Faro and was translated, edited for clarity and length, and reprinted with permission. It does not necessarily represent the views of InSight Crime. See Spanish original here.

‘Organized Crime Permeates Society’ in Honduras: Presidential Advisor

0
While Honduran drug traffickers testify in US courts about their ties with the country’s political class, a presidential advisor in Honduras has no qualms about saying that the links between criminals and candidates encompass all political parties. Honduras’ political class for months has been keeping a concerned eye on a New York court, where self-confessed drug trafficker Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga has testified to dealings with a spate of Honduran elites. On October 17, an advisor to President Juan Orlando Hernández said Rivera Maradiaga’s allegations concerned politicians of all stripes. “If we’re going to look at how organized crime has permeated society in general and funneled money, placed deputies, placed judges, various offices, within the attorney general’s office and everywhere, hold on to your seats, because we’re talking about all colors here,” presidential advisor Ebal Díaz said in comments reported by La Tribuna. Díaz is President Hernández’ chief of staff, according to the official government webpage. He is charged, among other things, with “coordinating and following up on activities relevant to the president and the cabinet.” “There is an extradition list … They come from all colors, and if some keep digging, they’re certainly going to find dirt there … from people very close to presidential candidates that have taken up this issue, and have started talking about the New York Times,” the advisor added, referring to a recent article by the US newspaper that relayed accusations from Rivera Maradiaga tainting Hernández. “Many close acquaintances and some candidates are on that list.” Published on October 6, the New York Times article recounted part of the story of how Rivera Maradiaga — the former leader of the Cachiros drug trafficking group who confessed to being responsible for nearly 80 murders — struck a deal with US authorities to obtain judicial leniency in exchange for providing information on corrupt officials.

SEE ALSO: Cachiros News and Profile

It is on the basis of Rivera Maradiaga’s testimony that New York prosecutors succeeded in charging seven Honduran police officers, the son of former President Porfirio Lobo and members of the powerful Rosenthal family. The Cachiros leader also levied accusations against the brother of former President Manuel Zelaya, as well as the brother of current President Hernández. Among the evidence presented by US prosecutors is an audio in which an unidentified drug trafficker tells Rivera Maradiaga about a $250,000 bribe destined for Hernández. The president, who does not face any official accusations, has denied these allegations. Meanwhile, the head of the governing National Party (Partido Nacional), Renaldo Sánchez, demanded that Zelaya release the names of officials from his former government and members from his former Liberal Party that have been mentioned in the New York court. Statements by Juan Ramón Matta Waldurraga — another suspected drug trafficker who recently handed himself over to US authorities — may add to these telling declarations of the rampant links between drug trafficking and Honduran politics.

InSight Crime Analysis

At the same time as Honduran drug traffickers are pointing fingers at politicians in the Central American country, the politicians appear to have started a war of words in which the central thread seems to be an acceptance that drug trafficking and organized crime have infiltrated the state for decades. As presidential advisor Díaz just pointed out, the infiltration hasn’t discriminated in terms of political ideology or party: “All,” the official said, have been “permeated.” It’s no coincidence that the accusations have involved the country’s last three presidents, including former Liberal Party member Zelaya as well as Lobo and Hernández, both members of the National Party.

SEE ALSO: How Drug Trafficking Operates, Corrupts in Central America

All this comes just six weeks before Honduras will hold general elections in which Hernández will face off against Salvador Nasralla of the Libre party, founded by Zelaya, as well as Luis Orlando Zelaya (no relation) of the Liberal Party. The accusations about political ties to drug trafficking will undoubtedly play a key role in the run-up to the late November vote. The allegations surrounding President Hernández could also have repercussions in Washington, where the leader has become a crucial player in conversations about US aid programs for Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. In 2015, as part of the so-called “Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle,” the US Senate conditioned part of a $750 million aid package on the implementation of anti-corruption efforts by the region’s governments. In addition, it established a verification mechanism that included a semi-annual report to the State Department on that subject. In order for aid disbursements to go forward under the 2018 fiscal year budget, approved by the Senate this summer, the State Department still must certify Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador according to those provisions. In the case of the first two countries, two sources in Washington who requested anonymity said recent accusations of corruption against elite politicians have generated “concern” in this regard. That corruption exists in Central America is not exactly news. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated in a 2013 study of organized crime in the Northern Triangle that successive governments in the region had protected in one way or another the principal drug trafficking groups that operate there. The New York prosecutors in the case against the Cachiros’ Rivera Maradiaga have no doubt about this. They say, according to the drug trafficker’s testimony, that Honduras is a place where “drug trafficking is sponsored by the state.”

Honduran President Decries Drug Traffickers’ Bribery Allegations

0

President Juan Orlando Hernández has denounced unofficial accusations that he took bribes from a drug trafficker, weeks before Honduras is due to go to the polls to elect a new president. 

On October 7, the Honduran presidency released a statement discrediting accusations from Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the former leader of the Cachiros drug trafficking group, that Hernández took bribes from a drug trafficker in 2013, the year in which he won the presidential elections.

The statement came in direct response to a New York Times article published on October 6 about how Rivera Maradiaga became an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2013. Among the information that the Honduran capo shared with US authorities was a 2013 audio recording of a drug trafficker telling Rivera Maradiaga that he “made a $250,000 payment intended for Juan Orlando Hernández,” according to the New York Times. The newspaper article noted, however, that the DEA document that revealed this audio did not confirm the veracity of the allegation.

The response from the Honduran presidency described the allegation as a backlash from criminal elements suffering from a crackdown under President Hernández, and argued that “they now resort to false insinuations that seek to involve and discredit their main enemy, President Hernández, without providing any evidence of the accusations, simply because they are false.”

The official statement underlined the successes against organized crime during Hernández’ presidency, which saw the dismantling of major Honduran trafficking groups; the extradition of 14 suspected drug traffickers to the United States; and an ongoing campaign to purge corrupt elements from the police. The document also noted that the allegations surfaced 50 days before the country’s presidential ballot, in which Hernández is running for re-election.

InSight Crime Analysis

The accusations against Hernández remain unofficial at this stage, and the president is not yet facing any public investigations either at home or abroad. Still, the reported audio recording could further tarnish Hernández’ image. In March, Rivera Maradiaga testified in a US court to having personally met and attempted to bribe the current president’s brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, who is a person of interest in a US investigation.

SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime

If the accusations are true, the case would be the latest example of organized crime’s capacity to buy political protection through financing electoral campaigns or paying off politicians. Rivera Maradiaga previously testified that he bribed Hernández’ predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, whose son was recently sentenced to 24 years in a US prison for cocaine trafficking.

Corruption in Honduras was recently described as the “operating system” by a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report. However, the criminal infiltration of democratic systems is a pattern seen throughout the region, and undermines governance and the rule of law, opening doors wider for organized crime and their activities.

Honduras Seizes Millions More in Assets Linked to Cachiros

0

Authorities in Honduras have reportedly seized millions of dollars worth of property linked to the Cachiros drug trafficking network, in the latest blow to the debilitated criminal structure.

Law enforcement carried out nearly a dozen raids, seizing 131 properties and 11 businesses, the Honduran Attorney General’s Office announced in a September 25 press release. According to La Tribuna, the total value of the seized assets surpassed 100 million lempiras ($4.2 million).

In addition, the Attorney General’s Office identified several individuals tied to suspicious business and real estate transactions with Marlene Isabel Cruz Quintanilla, the wife of Cachiros leader Javier Rivera Maradiaga, who is currently jailed in the United States.

One of these figures was Jessica María Paz Castellanos, who reportedly grew close with Rivera Maradiaga and his wife after meeting them in 2012.

La Prensa described Paz Castellanos as the “brain” of the Cachiros’ finanacial operations. She is suspected of creating a number of front companies to help launder the group’s drug earnings.

The Attorney General’s Office also said that investigations had uncovered suspicious transactions linked to businessman Juan Ángel Maradiaga López and current congressional representative Midence Oquely Martínez, who is running for re-election in the Cachiros’ former stronghold of the department of Colón.

InSight Crime Analysis

The latest asset seizures represent only a drop in the bucket of the more than $800 million in property that Honduran authorities claim to have seized in recent years from the Cachiros, which became essentially defunct as a criminal organization after its leaders — brothers Javier and Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga — turned themselves over to US authorities in 2015.

SEE ALSO: Cachiros News and Profiles

However, the confiscations are a sign that investigations into the Cachiros’ network are continuing, and the naming of prominent business and political figures could be a sign that criminal charges could be brought against new suspects in the future. Indeed, testimony provided by Javier Rivera Maradiaga in connection with his pleading guilty to US drug charges has implicated a number of Honduran elites in colluding with the criminal organization he ran.

Honduras Ex-President’s Son Sentenced to 24 Years in US Prison

0

Following a case that shook up the Honduras elite, the son of the country’s former president was sentenced on September 5 to 24 years in a United States penitentiary for drug trafficking.

Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo, had pleaded guilty on May 16, 2016, to conspiring to import cocaine. 

“By his own admission, Fabio Lobo conspired to import huge quantities of cocaine into the US,” Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a statement. “To assist traffickers and enrich himself, Lobo used his father’s position and his own connections to bring drug traffickers together with corrupt police and government officials. Now, Fabio Lobo has been sentenced to the substantial prison term his crimes merit.” 

Lobo, the statement adds, “used his and his father’s reputation and political network to broker corrupt connections between large-scale Honduran drug traffickers and individuals within the Honduran government, including high-level officials such as sitting Honduran congressmen as well as customs, military, and law enforcement personnel.”

SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

The incredible case culminated with incredible testimony during Lobo’s sentencing hearings by Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, a member of the Cachiros criminal organization. Rivera Maradiaga detailed the way he and Lobo worked together to move cocaine and the relationship the Cachiros cultivated with the Lobo presidency, including the then-president himself.

Fabio Lobo fancied himself as a fixer, but what he did not foresee was that the Cachiros were ready to negotiate their own deals with the US government. After turning themselves in to US authorities, the Cachiros became cooperating witnesses. Lobo was lured to Haiti for what he thought was a drug deal. Instead, he was captured, deported to face trial, convicted, and now, sentenced to jail. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

Lobo is just the tip of the iceberg. As detailed in Rivera Maradiaga’s testimony, the reach of criminal organizations like the Cachiros touched the presidency. 

In addition to his contact with the Cachiros, President Lobo was also in contact with José Natividad “Chepe” Luna, a Salvadoran drug trafficker based in Honduras. Luna was later assassinated.

Lobo has denied any connections to drug traffickers, and his lawyer reiterated those assertions this week following the sentencing of his son.*

“There is no proof,” attorney Brian H. Bieber told La Prensa.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

Other elites have also faced scrutiny and charges, most notably members of the Rosenthal clan. The business behemoth and political juggernaut Jaime Rosenthal Oliva, his son Yani Rosenthal, his nephew Yankel Rosenthal, and one of their family lawyers were accused by US prosecutors of money laundering, presumably also for the Cachiros, among other criminal groups. Yani and Yankel have both pleaded guilty to the charges.

*This story was updated September 7, with a comment from the lawyer of Porfirio Lobo. 

Crisis in the Prisons: Five Guidelines When Reforming the Penal System

0
The high and growing rate of imprisonment in the region is not leading to lower rates of violence and crime. In other words, we know that prisons are not the solution. But if this is the default policy, then we should at least do it in the most humane way possible. As more and more research is done on prisons, we know better than ever what works in rehabilitating and reintegrating prisoners. Authorities are starting to favor innovative models for prison management that are less punitive and that focus more on adhering to human rights standards and resocializing inmates.

This article originally appeared on the Inter-American Development Bank’s blog Sin Miedos and has been translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See Spanish original here.

I am sharing five lessons that we have learned from international evidence drawn from various studies done in countries across Latin America and from our own experience. 1. The first lesson is that prison infrastructure should be geared towards inmate rehabilitation. If we are going to build more prisons, we should be sure that they are the best prisons possible. The photo above shows recent installations in one of the new prisons that we have helped build in Costa Rica. With these units we were looking to make the prison more dignified. The installations adhere to human rights regulations while incorporating modern standards of security, and facilitating recreational activity and training for inmates once they have completed their sentences. 2. The second lesson is, rather than focusing on building new prisons, we should be looking at the model for intervention. In our project in Pacora in Panama, where 28 percent of the country’s young prisoners are serving their sentences, they have prioritized personal development of youth. There are over 12 different programs that inmates are assigned to according to an evaluation of their level of risk and their needs. The idea is that the young people spend the majority of their time doing activities that are productive, recreational and educational. When I had the opportunity to visit the project in Pacora, what struck me most — apart from the great work that the young people were doing — was the sense of hope present in those workshops. One of the young men told us that before, if he had been given the choice between a paintbrush and a gun, he would have chosen the gun. But now he would choose the paint brush; his dream is to become a famous artist. 3. Another important lesson we have learned is that apart from equipping the inmates with technical skills, the key is to encourage the development of soft skills and changes in behavior. Oftentimes the barriers to reintegration in society have more to do with lack of appropriate behavior in professional environments than a lack of technical skills. This also applies to vulnerable young people outside of the prison system who very often end up turning to crime because they are unable to function in a formal professional environment. 4. A key aspect that should not be ignored is that of prison management. Too often, corruption among the prison guards and officials allows inmates to continue committing crimes. But I have visited many prisons in the region in which the guards live and work in practically the same conditions as the inmates. They come from the same neighborhoods. We need to improve the working conditions for the guards and create a more dignified working environment, so they can contribute to the rehabilitation of the inmates. In fact, at our project in Pacora, we trained prison staff so they could effectively manage the various rehabilitation workshops. Another obstacle to prison management is the lack of information and data. In many cases, those in charge of the prisoners do not know how many people are in the prison, let alone who they are or what their needs might be. By improving the databases, we can build better-organized rehabilitation centers. Although technology can help, it’s important to remember that technology is the means, not the solution in itself. 5. Finally, one crucial factor to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners is to forge links between their families and the private sector. A key aspect in our prison projects has been to involve the families in the psychosocial support given to inmates. Furthermore, we need to involve the private sector. First, the private sector should provide work opportunities for inmates while they are in prison. Second, it should provide job opportunities in the formal jobs market, which would help inmates develop skills essential to their reintegration. And finally, it should campaign to help businesses and people in civil society understand that prison inmates are perfectly capable of working. We are increasingly aware of what works and what doesn’t work in the prison system, and we should put that into practice before attempting to reinvent the wheel. Although the ideal scenario would be that people don’t go to prison at all, at the moment in Latin America we have a prison population of hundreds of thousands of people whose needs must be acknowledged. Only by doing this, can we ensure that our prisons are not places where people are forgotten, but are places where people are rehabilitated and given a second chance. *Written by Nathalie Alvarado, the coordinator for the citizen security and justice program at the Inter-American Development Bank. This article is based on two posts she wrote following the first International Congress of Penitentiary and Prison Policies (Congreso Internacional de Política Penitenciaria y Carcelaria), which took place in Bogotá, Colombia, June 2, 2017. 

Former Honduras Investment Minister Admits to Laundering Drug Money

0

A former minister and member of one of the richest families in Honduras has pleaded guilty in a US court to laundering money for the once-powerful Cachiros drug trafficking group.

Yankel Rosenthal admitted to having helped drug traffickers launder money “through the purchase of US real estate, political contributions in Honduras, and even investment in a professional soccer team,” according to an August 29 US Justice Department press release. The Rosenthal family lawyer Andres Acosta Garcia previously pleaded guilty to similar crimes, the press release states.

Yankel Rosenthal served as Honduras’ investment minister under current President Juan Orlando Hernández until June 2015 before taking over management of the Marathon soccer club owned by the Rosenthal family. He was arrested by US authorities in October 2015 and charged with money laundering.

In addition to laundering over $1 million in Florida real estate and several hundred thousand dollars via the soccer club, the former Honduran minister also funneled bribes from drug traffickers to the unsuccessful presidential campaign of his cousin, Yani Rosenthal, the press release states.

Yani Rosenthal admitted last month to having laundered drug proceeds while he was active in politics between 2004 and 2015, serving as a member of former President Mel Zelaya’s cabinet and later as a congressman.

US authorities also stated that they have obtained evidence of a meeting between Yankel Rosenthal and various drug traffickers, including a leader of the now dismantled Cachiros drug trafficking group, during which these bribes were negotiated.

The family patriarch, Jaime Rosenthal — father to Yani and uncle to Yankel — has also been charged with money laundering in a US federal court. However, the former vice president of Honduras and business tycoon, who proclaimed his innocence during a 2015 interview with InSight Crime, remains at large in Honduras despite a pending US extradition request against him.

InSight Crime Analysis

The US prosecutions of members of the Rosenthal clan — one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Honduras — are part of a broader trend of joint US-Honduran law enforcement efforts combining indictments, asset seizures, arrests and other operations that have brought down important networks operating in the Honduran underworld, including elites who long offered them protection.

SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime

The question now is what information Yankel Rosenthal may offer US authorities as part of his agreement to plead guilty. Future US indictments against Honduran soccer officials, for instance, appear to be a possibility, given Rosenthal’s involvement with the sports sector that is deeply infiltrated by organized crime.

In addition, it is possible that the former member of President Hernández’s cabinet could have information about other corrupt actors in the current administration. A former top member of the Cachiros organization recently testified in US court that the president’s brother, Tony Hernández, a congressman in Honduras who has been named a “person of interest” in a US investigation, had solicited a bribe from the drug trafficker. It may be that Yankel Rosenthal will find himself in a position to provide further details about such allegations.

Honduras Tycoon Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering in US

0

One of Honduras’ most powerful and politically-connected business tycoons, Yani Rosenthal, has pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge in the United States, suggesting the possibility that he could provide information on other Honduran elites involved in criminal activities. 

Rosenthal pleaded guilty July 26 in a US federal court to one charge of engaging in “monetary transactions in property derived from drug trafficking offenses” between 2004 and 2015, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to a US Justice Department press release

Prosecutors in a federal court in New York indicted Yani Rosenthal, along with his father Jaime, his cousin Yankel and Andres Acosta Garcia, a lawyer for the family’s economic conglomerate, Grupo Continental, in September 2015 on money laundering charges.

However, Yani Rosenthal pleaded guilty to just one money laundering charge, as the other charges were dropped as a condition of his plea. Rosenthal also agreed to forfeit $500,000 and pay a $2.5 million fine. (The other three defendants have not pleaded guilty or been convicted.)

In 2015, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the three Rosenthals as “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers,” and added several of the family’s businesses to the “Specially Designated Nationals” list. 

US Attorney Joon H. Kim said that Yani Rosenthal “moonlighted as a money launderer for a ruthlessly violent drug trafficking organization known as the Cachiros,” one of Honduras’ largest crime groups. 

Rosenthal is scheduled to be sentenced October 13, 2017, according to the DOJ press release.

InSight Crime Analysis 

Yani Rosenthal grew up in the world of elites, especially the political and business elites of his home town of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city and a key corridor for international drug trafficking. And past experience strongly suggests that he is cooperating with authorities in connection with his plea, raising the question of whom he might implicate in criminal activities.

Rosenthal served in several high-level government positions during the time when his money laundering activities were ongoing. He worked in the cabinet of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya between 2006 and 2007 and as a congressman between 2010 and 2014, even mounting two unsuccessful presidential campaigns during that time period.

SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime

US authorities have tied Manuel Zelaya to organized crime in the past. And his brother was implicated in drug trafficking activities earlier this year. Other backers of the Liberal Party, to which both Zelaya and Yani Rosenthal have belonged, have also been suspected of involvement in organized crime. In 2015, Honduran cattle rancher and reported Zelaya supporter Ulises Sarmiento was arrested and later released in Nicaragua after seeking political asylum there, claiming to be a victim of political persecution for his involvement and support of Honduras’ leftist political parties. Sarmiento’s home state of Olancho is known to be a drug trafficking hub where the Cachiros operate.

In May 2016, Fabio Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, pleaded guilty to federal drug charges in the United States and was linked to the Cachiros network. During his trial a year later, testimony from former Cachiros leader Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga stated that he paid bribes of between $250,000 and $300,000 to the former president himself. He also implicated congressman Antonio “Tony” Hernández, the brother of current President Juan Orlando Hernández, in the Cachiros criminal enterprise, something the president’s brother has adamantly denied.

This succession of cases points to a pattern of US authorities wringing cooperation agreements out of defendants that require them to provide assistance on other investigations. This tactic has also been used in other international organized crime cases, one prominent example being the case of Vicente Jesus Zambada-Niebla, alias “Mayito,” who is the son of Mexican Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada-Garcia.

It remains unclear whether Yani Rosenthal has entered into a plea agreement with such a provision, but given the likelihood of this possibility, further revelations of high-level corruption and ties to organized crime may continue to surface in the US justice system in the future.