Drug traffickers in Honduras used a private airstrip owned by the recently-deceased tycoon Miguel Facussé to smuggle drugs by plane from Venezuela, according to a drug trafficker's testimony in US court.
A private airstrip on a property owned by Miguel Facussé was used to smuggle more than one metric ton of cocaine from Venezuela in 2013, according to March 6 testimony given by Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, a former leader of the Cachiros crime group who later became a US government informant.
Facussé -- a wealthy landowner and controversial figure who was one of Honduras' richest men until his death in 2015 -- was once considered one of the most powerful men in the Central American country.
Rivera Maradiaga, the former drug boss turned Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant, is currently testifying in the drug trafficking trial against Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. Rivera's testimony has sent ripples through Honduras' political establishment, raising accusations against some of the country's highest officials and their family members.
According to the transcript of Rivera Maradiaga's testimony, Fabio Lobo asked for Rivera Maradiaga's help in smuggling 1,050 metric tons of cocaine by plane from Venezuela in 2013. Rivera Maradiaga said the shipment landed near the town of Farallones in the department of Colón, on a private airstrip located on Facussé's property.
Rivera Maradiaga stated that the scheme nearly fell through, however, due to the fact that authorities detected the drug flight. Nevertheless, he said, a corrupt military official alerted the drug traffickers of the incoming police operation, which allowed the criminals to unload the shipment in time.
In a letter to InSight Crime, Roger Pineda Pinel, the Corporate and Banking Relations Director of Facussé's Corporación Dinant, said the company was the victim of criminals. (See full letter below)
"Unfortunately, like many others based in rural regions, we have been victims of drug traffickers who have used our property illegally and without our knowledge, cooperation or permission to move their contraband undetected around the country," he wrote.
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Rivera Maradiaga's testimony has already implicated many figures in the highest echelons of Honduran politics, including brothers of two former presidents as well as the brother of the current head of state. But his testimony regarding the airstrip owned by Facussé suggests the former drug boss may also possess damning information about the country's economic elites.
Rivera Maradiaga does not explicitly state that Facussé was involved in the smuggling of drugs, and the former drug trafficker was not present on the airstrip at the time of the 2013 shipment. In his letter to InSight Crime, Pineda Pinel said the company was working with authorities to fight this illicit activity.
"We strongly condemn the use of our property to carry out illegal activities in connection with drug trafficking," he wrote. "We will continue to do everything in our power to assist the Honduran and US authorities in their efforts to combat drug trafficking by reporting immediately any illegal activities that we find to have occurred on our facilities, as we have done in the past."
But this is not the first time that suspicions of criminal conduct have been raised against the late tycoon. According to a March 2004 US embassy cable revealed by Wikileaks, the burned wreckage of a drug plane was found in 2004 on a private airstrip located on one of Facussé's properties in Farallones. The cable's author, former US Ambassador to Honduras Larry Palmer wrote that Facussé told local authorities "that his guards had shot at the plane which then erupted into flames."
However, Palmer also stated that Facussé's "version does not track with other information [the US embassy in Honduras] has developed on this wreckage."
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In a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Facussé denied having any responsibility in the incident, arguing that he himself had warned the authorities of the landing and that: "The narcos are building airports all over the place ... It's a perfect place to land. Nobody is around."
But Palmer also wrote in the cable that "Facusse's property is heavily guarded and the prospect that individuals were able to access the property and, without authorization, use the airstrip is questionable."
The cable also highlighted that the incident was the third time in a fifteen month span that Facussé's property had reportedly been used to unload drugs.
Facussé, who lived to the age of 90, was never formally charged with involvement in drug trafficking or organized crime.
*This article has been updated to include portions of the letter provided by a representative of Dinant, the company of the late Miguel Facussé. See full version of the letter below.