Corruption cases in Honduras rarely target high-level officials or result in prison sentences, indicating an ineffective and overly bureaucratic system that allows corrupt officials to act with relative impunity, a new report shows.
The report released June 28 by the Association for a More Just Society (Asociación para Una Sociedad Más Justa - ASJ) says that the Honduran Attorney General's Office received 3,471 corruption complaints between 2008 and 2015, but only 283 were presented to the court.
ASJ analyzed 110 of those cases and found only one conviction that entailed a jail term; a police officer sentenced to seven years and six months for bribery.
The report says 56 percent of cases resulted in alternative sentencing that entailed no jail time, little to no restitution, and allowed the offender to return to public service without any criminal record. Another 27 percent of the cases resulted in what ASJ described as "impunity," meaning they were unresolved after more than three years. A guilty verdict was handed down in only 17 percent of the study cases, or 9 in total.
The report noted that few of the defendants were high-level officials and that prosecutions focused on petty corruption rather than more serious cases.
Jan-Michael Simon, chief advisor of the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras - MACCIH), said at the report's unveiling that he was surprised that the most serious cases -- those involving embezzlement of public funds, falsification of documents, illegal enrichment and bribery -- have been resolved through conciliation.
"These circumstances are unacceptable in a state of law," Simon said. "There is a perverse logic at work here. The logic here is not to have a speedy process that is cost effective and focused on the big corruption cases, but rather one of procedural resolutions with no payment for the damage that has been done."
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The ASJ report said Honduras' system for dealing with corruption was hampered by a lack of coordination between the responsible government institutions, with each operating under distinct legal frameworks, objectives and leadership prerogatives. The institutions most often involved in corruption cases were national entities that handle extensive resources and provide basic public services, including the Ministry of Security and the country's tax agency.
InSight Crime Analysis
ASJ has revealed a criminal justice system which lacks a cohesive plan to combat corruption and where bureaucratic inefficiency is systemic. These failings allow high-level corruption to occur with relative impunity, while low-level offenders are paraded through the court system to create the appearance of justice being served.
The report highlights bureaucratic barriers, allocation of limited resources, limited capacity and a lack of shared vision among leaders; in other words, a lack of political will. Observers, and the OAS-backed support mission itself, hope that MACCIH can help Honduras overcome this inertia and implement the comprehensive reform and targeted investment needed to to stop high-level corruption.