A new law passed in Honduras has been criticized by anti-corruption campaigners for potentially shielding politicians accused of graft.
Gabriela Castellanos, director of the Honduran National Council of Anti-Corruption (CNA), says the congressional reform to the Seizure of Assets Law shields political corruption: "This act gives more strength to impunity."
"There is a ferociously strong, tangible and exaggerated effort on part of the Legislative Department – the National Congress – to strengthen corruption, evidently to cover the number of corrupt that the (CNA) has been pointing toward for the last four years," said Castellanos.
Seventeen of the law's articles were reformed and approved late Tuesday night to prohibit the lawyers from going after the property and assets of anyone in custody for allegedly embezzling state funds if the assets "constitute the family home and household goods."
The reform, which was brought to Congress by President Juan Orlando Hernandez's ruling National Party, was approved with 70 congressional votes. Members of former President Manuel Zelaya's party Libertad y Refundacion (LIBRE) and the Unity and Innovation Party (PINU) voted against the measure and some yelled insults at opposing party members as it was passed.
There were rumors that, if passed, the reform would be retroactive – potentially protecting, among other high-level officials, former first lady Rosa Elena de Lobo, whose home was seized after she was arrested on suspicion of stealing more than US$600,000 in state funds between 2011 and 2015.
"The law will only be applied to cases from here forward," said Mario Perez of the National Party. Perez says the new law the homes of those under investigation where "a family lives with kids, women and father... the family will be able to continue living in the home."
The legislation as it is could protect officials at the National Registry of Persons (RNP) who are under investigation, though not yet detained, for allegedly hiring 25 Honduran soccer players to work at the institute part-time and to compete in the national Promotion League, a league to which RNP Assistant Director Gerardo Martinez Lozano seems to be closely aligned.