An internationally backed anti-corruption body in Honduras is reportedly assisting local authorities with gathering evidence in an investigation targeting a powerful former president, suggesting the anti-graft commission's efforts have helped judicial officials withstand attempts to interfere with such high-profile cases.
The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH) is in possession of evidence that former President Porfirio Lobo and members of the governing National Party to which he belongs were involved in dealings that saw the Cachiros drug trafficking group obtain state contracts for hydroelectric power projects, El País reported on February 5.
The Spanish newspaper, citing unnamed sources “close to the investigation,” reported that at least some of the evidence pertains to the hydroelectric dam project over which environmental activist Berta Cáceres was infamously murdered.
The source told El País that the investigation “has made a large part of the political class very nervous,” suggesting the scandal could touch others in the National Party.
Neither the MACCIH nor the Honduran Attorney General’s Office have yet officially confirmed El País’ reporting. But press reports have circulated since March of last year indicating the existence of an investigation of former President Lobo related to the state contracts.
Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, a Cachiros leader who turned himself in to US authorities in 2015, testified in US court last year that his organization had corrupt ties to the Lobo administration, including Former President Lobo's son, Fabio Lobo, who pleaded guilty in 2016 to charges that he had helped the Cachiros to traffic drugs.
Rivera Maradiaga served as a witness in the US case against Fabio Lobo, and also implicated ex-President Porfirio Lobo’s brother Ramón “Moncho” Lobo in bribery and influence peddling schemes.
Another close relative of the former president is also facing judicial scrutiny. Former first lady Rosa Elena de Lobo is currently under investigation for the alleged embezzlement of 12 million lempiras (around $500,000) just days before her husband’s presidential term came to an end in 2014.
This is not the first time that the Cachiros have been linked to public works projects in Honduras. A previous report had already revealed how the drug trafficking group had laundered part of their criminal proceeds via state contracts during the Lobo administration. No independent confirmation of the involvement of the former head of state had been raised, however.
InSight Crime Analysis
If officially confirmed, the latest allegations against Lobo would illustrate how the MACCIH’s support -- and that of the international community -- has empowered the Attorney General’s Office to go after Honduras’ most powerful elites even in the face of strong resistance to anti-corruption efforts.
As InSight Crime recently reported, the anti-graft drive has sparked a battle between the judiciary and the National Party-led congress, after the legislature passed a bill denounced by critics as an "impunity pact" aimed at derailing corruption cases.
Nevertheless, the Attorney General's Office has brought a legal challenge against the reform, and appears to be widening the scope of its probes with support from the MACCIH.
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As El País' source noted, the increasing assertiveness of judicial authorities could be worrying for many elites, including current President Juan Orlando Hernández, the political protege of ex-President Lobo whom Rivera Maradiaga also accused of having ties to the Cachiros.
While the forceful pushback against the efforts of the MACCIH and the Attorney General's Office give credence to the notion that anti-corruption efforts are starting to hit their mark, their future success hinges on a number of complex factors, lending uncertainty to the long-term outlook for these initiatives.