by Felipe Puerta, for Insight Crime
The latest in a series of investigations involving former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo, his family and associates for corruption and drug trafficking pits the Attorney General’s Office directly against Lobo as it investigates him for diverting public funds.
On February 4, the National Anti-Corruption Council (Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción – CNA) submitted accusations against Lobo to the Special Prosecution Unit Against Impunity for Corruption (Unidad Fiscal Especial Contra la Impunidad de la Corruption – UFECIC), which is part of the Attorney General’s Office. The CNA accused Lobo of misappropriating as much as $1 million in government funds.
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According to the CNA, the funding was supposed to be used for implementing social programs managed by the board of directors of the National Children’s Trust (Consejo Directivo del Patronato Nacional de Infancia – CODIPANI). However, the former president and former first lady, Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo — who is currently in pretrial detention — allegedly diverted the money in a series of withdrawals from CODIPANI in June 2013 to pay for presidential security.
In response, Lobo held a press conference during which he said a journalist friend of his had already informed him of the investigation shortly before the CNA went public with it. He added that the accusations came from “pressure from above” and that he “would never take a cent from the poor.”
In an interview with Proceso Digital, Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Yuri Mora stated that the office is in the process of analyzing the evidence that the CNE provided.
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Lobo’s presidency was riddled with criminal investigations and court cases against many members of his inner circle. But if the Attorney General’s Office confirms the CNA’s accusations, it could be the first time a criminal investigation directly targets the former president himself — despite what past speculation may have claimed.
In November 2018, a joint investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH) linked Lobo’s brother and former secretary to another case of alleged misappropriation of public funds. Known as the Brother’s Petty Cash, the scheme was described as “a framework for diverting public money originally destined to defray presidential palace security costs into their own pockets.”
The case has a lot in common with another one the same two entities brought against former first lady Lobo in February 2018, similarly dubbed the First Lady’s Petty Cash. It too alleged that first lady Lobo diverted money intended for social works.
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Lobo’s brother had already been brought before a New York district court due to testimony from Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, leader of drug trafficking group Los Cachiros, alleging that he facilitated ties between the criminal organization and his brother’s government. Rivera Maradiaga also testified that he bribed the former president.
Even Lobo’s son, Fabio Lobo, has had underworld ties, and in this case they landed him in US prison. In November 2017, Fabio Lobo was sentenced to 24 years in prison in the United States following his guilty plea to conspiracy to traffic cocaine.
A US Justice Department press release stated that “ (in order) 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.”
But in recent years, the CNA has presented 80 cases, of which only 13 have been prosecuted. According to InSight Crime sources Honduras, while it is undeniable that impunity runs high in the country, simple corruption may not be the sole explanation for it. The state of impunity of the CNA’s 67 remaining cases may be partly due to the weakness of the evidence presented by the organization. For example, the current case against former President Lobo includes photocopied documents, not originals.
As InSight Crime has reported, varying economic and political powers converge within the CNA, which may have cost some of the organization’s cases their objectivity.