Tegucigalpa mayor Nasry “Tito” Asfura -- who has announced he will run for president in Honduras' 2021 elections -- has been named in a government investigation into the embezzlement of more than a million dollars in city funds, making him the second presidential candidate to be accused of financial crimes.
In late October, Honduras’ Attorney General’s Office filed a request with an anti-corruption court in Tegucigalpa for Asfura and another municipal employee to be tried for corruption, misuse of funds and money laundering. The charges stem from an investigation into a complex series of transactions that ended with tax funds shunted to personal accounts, according to court documents.
Javier Santos, the head of Honduras' Specialized Prosecutor's Unit Against Corruption (Unidad Fiscal Especializada contra la Corrupción - UFERCO), said on Twitter that there is overwhelming evidence that 28 million lempiras (about $1.2 million) were diverted from municipal coffers.
According to a report from a non-governmental organization, the Center for Democracy Studies (Centro de Estudio para la Democracia - CESPAD), the mayor's office of Tegucigalpa created a trust in 2011 to receive funds from municipal fees and taxes. On January 28, 2014, three days after Asfura began his term as mayor, the terms of the trust were modified to allow him and several other people access to it.
Between 2017 and 2018, three accounts at a private bank were opened for “political campaign contributions,” "political contributions from own assets” and “accrued salary." About 17.5 million lempiras ($708,000) from the trust were deposited in the accounts via 23 checks, CESPAD reported. UFERCO alleges that the money was then moved to accounts registered to the mayor and others, according to reports by CESPAD and Expediente Público.
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On October 28, the Supreme Court granted a "recurso de amparo" -- a petition to a high-level court claiming a violation of constitutional civil rights -- in effect halting any new investigation into the presidential candidate.
However, the court’s decision does not affect the preliminary trial, which is handled by a lower court, because the evidence has already been collected. “It does not represent any obstacle in the preliminary trial proceedings,” Santos, the head of UFERCO, wrote in a tweet.
In September, Asfura announced his candidacy as the ruling National Party (Partido Nacional - PN)'s presidential candidate through an internal movement called Unity and Hope. According to politicians from the PN, Asfura is the candidate endorsed by the country's current president, Juan Orlando Hernández.
InSight Crime Analysis
Being accused of embezzlement, or even having a conviction for drug money laundering, is clearly no obstacle to running for president in Honduras.
Yani Rosenthal, a powerful Honduran banker who completed a three-year US prison sentence in August after pleading guilty to charges of laundering drug trafficking proceeds, has announced his candidacy for the Liberal Party ticket.
The National and the Liberal parties, Honduras’ two traditional political parties, have traded the Central American country's presidency for four decades.
The accusations of corruption and links with organized crime dogging the two candidates, both of whom stand a good chance of winning the presidency in 2021, add to the seemingly never-ending string of scandals that have ensnared Honduras' political class in recent years.
Honduras’ most powerful drug trafficking organization, Los Cachiros, bribed the country’s former president and opened a line of communication to current President Juan Orlando Hernández.
The president's brother, Tony, is awaiting US sentencing for drug trafficking -- a case in which the president himself was named a co-conspirator and accused of receiving illicit cash. Hernández even assumed the presidency in 2017 amid allegations of fraud that included bribery and vote-buying. Money embezzled from Honduras' Social Security Institute also ended up in his campaign's coffers in his first presidential run in 2013.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, relatives of former Liberal President Manuel Zelaya have too been named in US courts for allegedly receiving money from Los Cachiros.
With such candidates for president, the shadow of corruption and narco-politics hangs over Honduras' next election before the race has even gotten started.