A Honduran judge ruled to release all but one of the Pandora’s Box defendants accused of collectively funneling nearly US$12 million in public funds to the coffers of the ruling National Party 2013 electoral campaigns.
After a two-day hearing, Judge Lidia Alvarez ordered free 27 of the 28 defendants who appeared in court last week over the far-reaching Honduran government corruption case.
The judge ruled that state prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence against most of the accused to keep all 28 in preventative detention where they have been for the past two weeks. Defendants will be set free but can defend themselves from outside of jail.
Alvarez also concluded that, because the alleged crimes of fraud, embezzlement, and abuse of power took place between 2011 and 2013, prosecutors couldn’t use a 2015 money laundering law retroactively to convict the 38 past and present government authorities and elected officials in the Pandora’s Box case, so some charges were dropped or lessened.
The case involves the embezzlement of over US$11.7 million in public funds earmarked for agricultural and horticultural projects, allegedly laundered through the NGO ‘We Are All Honduras’ and channeled to National Party 2013 electoral campaigns, including current President Juan Orlando Hernandez's first presidential run.
The money was allegedly also used to pay off members of the opposition Liberal Party.
The case was brought forth in June by the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Attorney General's office (Ufecic) and the Organization of American States (OAS) anti-corruption commission, Maccih.
Among those released were national legislators, Lenin Rigoberto Rodas and Franklin Erick Toruño, as well as the Deputy Minister of Environment, Carlos Pineda Fasquelle, and the former director of the National Agrarian Institute, Ramon Lara Bueso.
Government officials Norma Kaffy and Velkys Hernandez, Laura Arita are still being charged with fraud, falsifying government documents, and abuse of power but were released from prison Saturday morning. They could each face up to three to 18 years in prison if convicted.
The only alleged criminal who will remain in preventative detention is the former Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Jacobo Regalado, accused of abuse of authority, fraud, and embezzlement of public flows. His charges carry a combined sentence of approximately 25 years in jail.
Among the ten accused still on the loose are current president Juan Orlando Hernandez’s brother in law. Local media have reported that the case could involve over 120 accomplices in total.