Former First Lady of Honduras Rosa Elena Bonilla has been arrested for allegedly embezzling approximately US$680,000 in government funds and private donations intended for the poor between 2011 and 2015.
The case, dubbed Lady's Little Cash Box, involves the wife of former President Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014) and at least nine accomplices who, over a period of four years and 70 checks, allegedly siphoned nearly US$700,000 in government funds and donations to Bonilla's private bank accounts.
Some of the funds include donations made by the Chinese-Taiwanese embassy destined for the Organization for Ethical Community Development, an organization which helps Afro-Honduran communities.
Local media reports that authorities first suspected Bonilla of stealing from state funds when in 2015, the national auditing agency Superior Accounts Tribunal found she had used public monies to purchase about US$325,000 in shoes for her social program, 'Shoes for Honduran Kids.'
Bonilla, currently being held in custody, faces charges of misuse of public funds, money laundering and running a money laundering ring. If found guilty on all counts, she could face a combined sentence of up to 60 years in jail, plus fines.
The Cash Box investigation is being led by the Honduran prosecutor's office; the National Council of Anti Corruption in Honduras, and, until a few weeks ago, the Commission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Maccih), an anti-corruption commission put in place by the Organization of American States (OAS).
A law enacted recently effectively sidelined Maccih from pursuing the Bonilla case and other alleged cases of corruption. Its former lead spokesperson, Juan Jimenez Mayor, stepped down shortly after the legislation was passed.
Late last year, Bonilla denied the corruption allegations after voluntarily testifying before prosecutors in the case. Her lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.