A government audit of a property registry office in a city in northern Honduras has found the agency helped criminal groups launder money for years, in the latest blow to be inflicted against organized crime in the country.
The head of the board of directors for the Property Institute (IP) in La Ceiba, Ebal Diaz, announced at a February 24 press conference the government’s audit uncovered 712 irregularities in the property registry, 466 of which were criminal acts of corruption and should be prosecuted.
According to La Tribuna, Diaz faulted the lack of employee coordination, easily manipulated public records, and a climate of disorder created by employees colluding with organized crime groups to facilitate money laundering.
Instead of closing the office outright, officials intend to move the registries and archive material to a secure location to prevent further tampering, and will also re-hire employees after they have passed a confidence test, La Tribuna reported. The results of the audit were given to the Public Ministry for further investigation, but according to Diaz, “The evidence is unequivocal, they are laundering money in that area.”
In one case, the government revealed evidence of a property that was mortgaged 10 times, without any record of a mortgage being made. The ease with which criminal groups manipulated records is not the result of poor management either, according to Diaz, “It is a network on the level of all of the institutions of the state, we are only touching one part that is the property registry.”
InSight Crime Analysis
Much of the attention on corruption in Honduras has focused on the security forces -- a specialized police unit called the “Tigers” was recently implicated in the theft of $1.3 million dollars -- but agencies like the Property Institute are also important given their ability to facilitate money laundering.
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The fact that the government audited and announced the corruption in the Property Institute in La Ceiba is notable, especially in light of recent gains in security and efforts to reduce official corruption. In October 2014, the government signed an agreement with Transparency International and the local organization the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) to increase transparency, and reduce corruption, and improve the watchdog function of non-governmental organizations and the public.