The US has reportedly linked a number of candidates for Supreme Court nominations in Honduras to organized crime, another example of the degree of US involvement in aiding the country's security and justice sectors.
According to anonymous sources cited by El Heraldo, 40 of Honduras' 197 Supreme Court candidates have been investigated by a US "independent organization" that works on judicial issues. The investigations have reportedly yielded information connecting these 40 candidates to illicit activities, particularly organized crime and drug trafficking; potentially impeding them from being nominated to one of 15 Supreme Court seats.
Honduras' Supreme Court nominating committee will receive detailed reports from this unnamed US organization on each of the 40 candidates, reported El Heraldo.
The nominating committee has stated no candidate with links to organized crime or drug traffickers will be appointed to the Supreme Court. This committee will eventually select 45 candidates, who must each satisfy a set of 21 requirements.
Honduras' State Directorate for Investigation and Intelligence (DNII) also investigates Supreme Court candidates. For instance, each candidate is subjected to a polygraph test, during which they are asked questions such as if they ever received money from organized crime.
Among the list of candidates is a lawyer who allegedly defended a Honduran citizen extradited in May 2015. Others were supposedly legal advisors to persons linked to organized crime and drug trafficking.
Candidates are required to submit a list of their legal clients during the past five years to the nominating committee.
InSight Crime Analysis
If, as El Heraldo's sources indicate, a US agency is providing background information on Honduras' Supreme Court candidates, it further demonstrates how involved the United States has become in supporting anti-corruption efforts in the country's institutions.
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In years past, US support has especially focused on Honduras' security sector, with US officials assisting in anti-crime and counter-drug efforts. Yet the United States has also taken on a role bolstering Honduras' judicial sector, and this year has seen a number of US indictments and extraditions of powerful Honduran figures suspected of involvement in organized crime.
Moving forward, it will be important for Honduras to maintain momentum and consolidate anti-corruption gains made this year. Selecting clean, independent judges to the Supreme Court will be a key step in this process.
Nonetheless, Honduran officials must be careful not to persecute otherwise qualified Supreme Court candidates for providing legal services to persons linked to organized crime. As one lawyer consulted by El Heraldo pointed out, "This is our job," with Honduras' Constitution guaranteeing the right to a criminal defense.