An internationally supported anti-corruption body in Honduras has just completed its first month of official activities, providing some early signs that it intends to take a follow-the-money approach to pursuing corrupt officials.
The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH), which is backed by the Organization of American States (OAS), released a statement (pdf) on May 19 summing up its first 30 days and signaling how it intends to proceed with its work.
"We will work with very modern investigative techniques to determine the financial flows of the corrupt, how they are laundering the stolen money, how their accounting operates and how they are related to organized crime," the statement says.
MACCIH's cooperation with the recently formed Special Police Purification Commission (Comisión Especial de Depuración Policial) provides an example of how this might work in practice.
MACCIH has joined the commission in publicly requesting the results of financial audits of more than two dozen police officers suspected of illicit enrichment from the Superior Tribunal of Accounts (Tribunal Superior de Cuentas - TSC), the entity responsible for overseeing the management of state resources.
"Together with the Commission, the MACCIH reiterates to the TSC that it should present and complete these audits because they are very important for the [police] purification process," said MACCIH leader Juan Jiménez Mayor, according to a report from La Prensa.
"This crime is unfortunately recurrent in the country, where public functionaries and police officials have external signs of wealth, an imbalance in their assets with respect to their income, and this is a fact that we have to investigate," Jiménez added.
A separate article by La Prensa cited an unnamed source close to the police purification commission who claimed that the results of the audits are ready, but that the TSC does not want to release them for reasons that remain unclear.
La Tribuna, on the other hand, reports that only five of the audits have been fully completed -- one of which concerns the former director of the National Police, Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, who has also been implicated in the 2009 assassination of Honduras' top anti-drugs official, Julián Arístides González.
InSight Crime Analysis
MACCIH's apparent decision to focus on the financial aspects of corruption is in some ways analogous to the approach US officials took in bringing down the infamous Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone. Rather than prosecuting Capone on difficult-to-prove charges related to his leadership of a criminal structure, US authorities ultimately jailed the crime boss for tax evasion. Similarly, MACCIH may be attempting to encourage Honduran authorities to pursue illicit enrichment charges against police officials like Ramírez del Cid, who have been linked to far more nefarious activities that have proven difficult to prosecute.
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It is too early to tell whether the strategy will succeed in ending the impunity that has long plagued Honduras. And MACCIH faces significant challenges moving forward, no matter what approach it ultimately decides to take. Civil society groups have pointed out that the OAS-backed body has limited independent authority and must rely on the cooperation of Honduran judicial officials who may be politically disinclined to pursue certain cases.