Francisco Reyes Pacheco is facing his share of legal problems, being embroiled in a drug trafficking scandal in the United States and having been forbidden from leaving Honduras while awaiting trial for a landmark state corruption case.
Last month, his luck seemed like it was about to turn. The Honduran government asked a judge to allow him to leave the country, ostensibly on a humanitarian mission. This was granted but was then reversed in late April on appeal, anti-corruption prosecutors told InSight Crime.
Prior to March 27, Reyes Pacheco could not leave Honduran soil due to his alleged involvement in the so-called Pandora Case, a corruption scheme in which a network of politicians reportedly diverted over $11 million in public funds to election campaigns for the ruling National Party.
In June 2018, the Attorney General’s Office accused Reyes Pacheco and others of helping launder part of the embezzled funds, corroborating the findings of investigations conducted between 2017 and 2019 by the now-defunct Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras - MACCIH).
In August 2017, Aviación Tecnológica S.A. (Aviatsa) signed a controversial agreement with the Ministry of Tourism under the administration of President Juan Orlando Hernández. The company received about $113,000 from the government to promote tourism on the Bay Islands off of Honduras’ Caribbean coast.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
The investigation also found that Reyes Pacheco had received suspicious transfers of money from Fundación Todos Somos Honduras, a charity associated with the National Party of President Hernández. These funds were linked to the Pandora money laundering case and prosecutors broadened their search to companies linked to Reyes Pacheco.
Between August and September 2018, a Honduran court seized Reyes Pacheco's assets, which included holdings in Aviatsa. He was also placed under conditional liberty, which includes measures such as regularly checking in with authorities, surrendering his passport and not being able to leave the country.
But according to a source at the Attorney General’s Office consulted by InSight Crime, the order to freeze Reyes Pacheco's holdings in Aviatsa was only partially carried out. The source explained that investigators struggled to access all the company's financial records.
An Attempt to Free Him
Despite his legal troubles, Reyes Pacheco's attorneys presented a letter written on March 26 (number 49-DSM-2020) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the court overseeing the Pandora Case. In this letter, Honduras' Secretary of State for Foreign Relations, Lisandro Rosales Banegas, stated that the government wished to hire Aviatsa to repatriate 50 Honduran doctors from Cuba, all of them trained in "infectious diseases, epidemiology and microbiology" to help support the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the letter, the Hernández government didn't have the "airplanes necessary to transfer this number [of doctors].” While the letter did not mention Reyes Pacheco by name, it appears to have been used as justification for the court to allow him to leave Honduras.
One day later, the court agreed.
The Special Prosecutor’s Unit Against Corruption (Unidad Fiscal Especializada contra la Corrupción - UFERCO) expressed its disapproval of the court’s decision, describing it as “strange” and made “without a hearing and unilaterally.”
On April 29, a UFERCO source told InSight Crime that the institution had successfully appealed the move and the court reversed its decision. Reyes Pacheco will not be able to go fetch his compatriots in Cuba after all.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Honduran government interceded directly on behalf of a man accused of participating in the country's largest corruption case and of helping the president's drug trafficking brother hide illegal funds.
Although this was reversed on appeal, the fact that the measures against Reyes Pacheco were lifted before the criminal case against him had been resolved is yet more evidence of the corruption linking Honduran politics and the judiciary.
Should he have used this opportunity to flee the country, whether to Cuba or elsewhere, the consequences would have extended beyond Honduras. Reyes Pacheco's name was included in a petition filed by the US Justice Department to Honduras on April 10, 2019, as part of investigations into Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, the brother of Honduras’ president. Hernández was convicted on drug trafficking charges in New York in October 2019.
“This could mean that the Honduran judiciary continues to manipulate justice at will," said Claudia Mendoza, an analyst from the Center for the Study of Democracy in Honduras (Centro de Estudio para la Democracia de Honduras -- CESPAD).
A direct appeal by anti-corruption prosecutors has halted the government's attempt to benefit one of its allies, for now.