Authorities in Honduras have confiscated 17 properties belonging to the family of convicted drug trafficker and ex-CIA contact Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros -- one of several recent actions suggesting the authorities are finally making moves against previously untouchable criminals.
On July 31, Honduran authorities confiscated businesses, houses, and land belonging to the children of Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, reported La Prensa. Authorities believe Matta Ballesteros acquired the properties using profits from illegal activities, and that they were inherited by his children while they were still minors, reported El Heraldo.
Matta Ballesteros' son, Juan Ramon Matta Waldurraga, denied the accusations and stated that the family had inherited the properties from their grandmother. He also accused the Honduran government of retroactively applying a law passed two years ago on the confiscation of properties, which he said was illegal under Honduras' constitution.
InSight Crime Analysis
Matta Ballesteros was Honduras' first known major international drug trafficker. He served as an intermediary between Colombia's Medellin Cartel and Mexico's Guadalajara Cartel. According to La Tribuna, he amassed a fortune of more than $2 billion and at one point offered to pay off Honduras' external debt.
Matta Ballesteros allegedly had ties to high-level officials in Honduras and it is rumored he even financed a military coup in 1978. He also had dealings with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which used his airline company to transport weapons, food and other supplies to the Nicaraguan rebels known as the Contras, who were fighting a proxywar against the Sandinista government.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
Things took a turn for Matta Ballesteros in 1985, when he was implicated in the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique Camarena. He was arrested in Honduras by US Marshals in 1988. Even though Honduras did not have an extradition treaty with the United States at the time, he was transported to the US and sentenced to life in prison. Hondurans protested, burning the embassy. Several people died in the clashes.
There has been talk of Matta Ballesteros' children being involved in drug trafficking since their father's extradition, but no charges have been filed against them, and there have been no known investigations into the family's activities. However, authorities did also seize some of Matta Ballesteros' properties in 2004.
The recent seizures come amid other government actions targeting powerful criminal groups, which together could indicate the protection provided to powerful Honduran criminals by corrupt state contacts may be starting to crack. In March, Honduran authorities arrested drug trafficker Carlos "El Negro" Lobo, who became the first Honduran extradited to the US under 2012 legislation. Last year they went after the Cachiros, a major drug transport organization, seizing numerous properties and businesses.
Still, there are no formal charges against the Cachiros, and other more powerful criminal groups continue to operate with relative impunity.