One of Honduras' most powerful and politically-connected business tycoons, Yani Rosenthal, has pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge in the United States, suggesting the possibility that he could provide information on other Honduran elites involved in criminal activities.
Rosenthal pleaded guilty July 26 in a US federal court to one charge of engaging in "monetary transactions in property derived from drug trafficking offenses" between 2004 and 2015, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to a US Justice Department press release.
Prosecutors in a federal court in New York indicted Yani Rosenthal, along with his father Jaime, his cousin Yankel and Andres Acosta Garcia, a lawyer for the family's economic conglomerate, Grupo Continental, in September 2015 on money laundering charges.
However, Yani Rosenthal pleaded guilty to just one money laundering charge, as the other charges were dropped as a condition of his plea. Rosenthal also agreed to forfeit $500,000 and pay a $2.5 million fine. (The other three defendants have not pleaded guilty or been convicted.)
In 2015, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the three Rosenthals as "Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers," and added several of the family's businesses to the "Specially Designated Nationals" list.
US Attorney Joon H. Kim said that Yani Rosenthal "moonlighted as a money launderer for a ruthlessly violent drug trafficking organization known as the Cachiros," one of Honduras' largest crime groups.
Rosenthal is scheduled to be sentenced October 13, 2017, according to the DOJ press release.
InSight Crime Analysis
Yani Rosenthal grew up in the world of elites, especially the political and business elites of his home town of San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second-largest city and a key corridor for international drug trafficking. And past experience strongly suggests that he is cooperating with authorities in connection with his plea, raising the question of whom he might implicate in criminal activities.
Rosenthal served in several high-level government positions during the time when his money laundering activities were ongoing. He worked in the cabinet of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya between 2006 and 2007 and as a congressman between 2010 and 2014, even mounting two unsuccessful presidential campaigns during that time period.
SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime
US authorities have tied Manuel Zelaya to organized crime in the past. And his brother was implicated in drug trafficking activities earlier this year. Other backers of the Liberal Party, to which both Zelaya and Yani Rosenthal have belonged, have also been suspected of involvement in organized crime. In 2015, Honduran cattle rancher and reported Zelaya supporter Ulises Sarmiento was arrested and later released in Nicaragua after seeking political asylum there, claiming to be a victim of political persecution for his involvement and support of Honduras' leftist political parties. Sarmiento's home state of Olancho is known to be a drug trafficking hub where the Cachiros operate.
In May 2016, Fabio Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, pleaded guilty to federal drug charges in the United States and was linked to the Cachiros network. During his trial a year later, testimony from former Cachiros leader Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga stated that he paid bribes of between $250,000 and $300,000 to the former president himself. He also implicated congressman Antonio "Tony" Hernández, the brother of current President Juan Orlando Hernández, in the Cachiros criminal enterprise, something the president's brother has adamantly denied.
This succession of cases points to a pattern of US authorities wringing cooperation agreements out of defendants that require them to provide assistance on other investigations. This tactic has also been used in other international organized crime cases, one prominent example being the case of Vicente Jesus Zambada-Niebla, alias "Mayito," who is the son of Mexican Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada-Garcia.
It remains unclear whether Yani Rosenthal has entered into a plea agreement with such a provision, but given the likelihood of this possibility, further revelations of high-level corruption and ties to organized crime may continue to surface in the US justice system in the future.