Authorities in the United States have charged a Honduran congressman with drug trafficking and gun crimes, making him the highest-ranking Honduran politician targeted by US law enforcement in recent years, and adding to the list of political elites in the Central American country tainted by accusations of criminality.
On January 18, US authorities unveiled an indictment against Honduran congressman Fredy Renan Najera Montoya, charging him with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, in addition to weapons charges.
According to the indictment, Najera Montoya “participated in and supported” the drug trafficking activities of “large-scale” Honduran drug traffickers and “high-ranking” members of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. The congressman allegedly provided security for drug flights carrying cocaine that landed in Honduras before the drugs were then sold to the Sinaloa Cartel and later imported into the United States.
In addition, the indictment alleges that Najera Montoya participated in a “maritime cocaine-trafficking venture that involved a $50,000 bribe paid to Fabio Porfirio Lobo,” the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. The younger Lobo pleaded guilty to US drug charges in 2016 and was later sentenced to 24 years in US prison.
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According to a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) press release, the charges brought against Montoya are the result of an international, DEA-led investigation.
The United States is seeking Najera Montoya’s extradition from Honduras, according to the press release.
However, like many elected officials in Honduras, congressmen are immune to regular court proceedings. While this doesn't mean that Najera Montoya can't be extradited, it would require a special procedure to do so.
InSight Crime Analysis
With the recent charges brought against the Honduran congressman, Najera Montoya joins a growing list of Honduran political elites with suspected links to organized crime, suggesting US efforts to prosecute corrupt elites in the Central American country are starting to bear fruit.
The current president of Honduras and his predecessor have both been accused of having links to drug trafficking. In testimony given in the drug trafficking case against Fabio Lobo, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, one of the leaders of the Honduran drug trafficking network known as the Cachiros, claimed that he repeatedly bribed former President Porfirio Lobo. Rivera Maradiaga also turned over a recording that included unconfirmed claims implicating current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in accepting bribes from another drug trafficker.
SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime
After Fabio Lobo pleaded guilty to drug charges in the United States, questions surfaced regarding what information he might provide to US authorities. Given that Najera Montoya had previously been mentioned in a US Justice Department press release as being involved in a “maritime drug trafficking venture” with Fabio Lobo, it seems likely that Fabio Lobo provided information about Najera Montoya, possibly giving authorities enough evidence to charge the congressman.
Agreements between prosecutors and suspects in organized crime cases in the United States are often criticized on the grounds that they may reduce the deterrent effect of criminal prosecutions by offering leniency to defendants in exchange for information. But proponents of plea deals counter that they can help lead to the dismantling of the larger networks in which defendants operate.
The new charges against Najera Montoya might be a sign that deals with figures like Fabio Lobo and Rivera Maradiaga have provided US authorities with information that they will use to bring similar charges against other Honduran elites in the future.