The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH), backed by the Organization of American States (OAS), is accusing the Honduran Congress of obstructing its investigation into the major "Delegates Network" embezzlement ring.
"This is very serious," Juan Jimenez Mayor, a Peruvian member of MACCIH, told a press conference Wednesday in the capital, Tegucigalpa.
The investigative team, formed in 2015, says a budgetary law passed January 18 diverts the authority to audit and investigate public functionaries and funds away from the MACCIH and the Honduran Public Prosecutor's office, and instead gives it to the Superior Accounts Tribunal (TSC) – a governing body with no legal authority to indict.
The new regulations also allow the TSC to take anything up to three years to carry out their audits, and is retroactive to cases from 2006.
"We don't understand how it's possible a law has been passed that seeks to maintain impunity and handicap the battle against corruption," said Jimenez, noting that the newly passed legislation will affect "current and future" investigations.
MACCIH and the Honduran prosecutor's office have been pursuing a case against several high-level elected officials in office between 2011 and 2015 who formed an embezzlement ring known as the "Delegates Network."
While five politicians – some of them still in office – headed the operation, the investigation involves more than 60 Honduran state officials.
MACCIH suspects the organized network channeled approximately US$55million in state funds into the pockets of the accused.
The Honduran Supreme Court ruled to transfer the "Delegates Network" case to the TSC shortly after Jimenez spoke.
Jimenez says some of the accused are allies with the newly named President of Congress Mauricio Oliva. Oliva is a member of the right-wing National Party, which holds the congressional majority.
Hernandez's former presidential opponent, Salvador Nasralla, denounced the decision. Posting on Twitter, he said: "The Honduran people cannot permit the illegal power of (president elect) Juan Hernandez and the congressional president, Mauricio Oliva, after the MACCIH called out their corruption today."
Nasralla and Manuel Zelaya, secretary general of the Opposition Alliance, are invigorating their week-long protests against Hernandez's election and the right-wing overtake of the country by urging Hondurans to "block all highways" starting Friday at 7pm.
Juan Hernandez, of the National Party, is due to be sworn in January 27.
Last week's budget law also obstructs the investigation of former first lady Rosa Elena de Lobo for suspected embezzlement of US$510,000 in public funds.
"We're here to cooperate with the authorities, civil society and to prevent and combat corruption," Jimenez said. "This is our mandate and it's why we are here... and we aren't going to leave."
Jimenez also confirmed he is communicating with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro regarding the most effective route to take.
Congress said in a statement that Jimenez's comments were "malicious" and that the legislative body was seeking "transparency" by passing the law.
Meanwhile, actors Danny Glover and Cedric the Entertainer took part in a cultural event Wednesday at the Cultural Center of Garinagu, where Glover will tomorrow also attend the swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected mayor of Ceiba.