A group of former elected officials accused of embezzling government funds are trying to investigate the very anti-corruption oversight agency that was investigating them.
The so-called Network of Delegates, a group of five now-former assembly members, allegedly ran a collective embezzlement ring that siphoned approximately US$55million in state funds into the pockets of the accused. In total over 60 government and elected officials, including the newly named congressional president, Mauricio Oliva, may have been involved in the graft scheme that supposedly took place between 2011 and 2015.
Up until last week, the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH) was investigating the “network” that now accuses the international commission created by the Organization of American States (OAS) of “discrediting their reputation and honor.”
Hector Enrique Padilla, Audelia Rodriguez, Augusto Cruz, Dennis Sanchez and Eliasar Juarez - the five main elected officials who make up the alleged network - are taking their case against MACCIH to the Honduran Supreme Court. They want the Supreme Court to review the 2016 presidential decree that created the entity and its role within the Honduran state.
The former authorities say that the mission is “persecuting” them and is “overstepping its jurisdiction” by investigating how they spent public funds while in Congress.
MACCIH, along with the Honduran prosecutor's office, had been investigating the group over the past several months. The anti-corruption agency temporarily suspended the five accused from their congressional duties on Dec. 28, 2017.
Just as the previous Congress was ending its session, on Jan. 18 the right-wing National Party majority passed a budgetary law that diverts the authority investigate public functionaries and their spending away from the MACCIH and the national prosecutor's office to the Superior Accounts Tribunal (TSC) – a governing body with no legal authority to indict.
The law also allows the TSC to take anything up to three years to carry out their audits, and is retroactive to cases from 2006, eliminating the MACCIH ability to investigate the network or any other cases post-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 MACCIH member, Juan Jimenez, of the new law.
Just as Jimenez came out against the new budgetary law, the Supreme Court mandated the immediate hand over of the MACCIH case against the Network of Delegates to the TSC. In accordance with the law, the TSC is now responsible to investigate the public spending of around 750 former government officials.
Supreme Court judge Alma Guzman will hear the network’s accusations.
Jimenez traveled yesterday to Washington to talk directly with the OAS secretary general, Luis Almagro “regarding investigations of corruption in the country.”
In late December Almagro had been calling for fresh presidential elections between the just-sworn-in Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party and Opposition Alliance candidate, Salvador Nasralla to replace the Nov. 26 polls that OAS and EU electoral observers say were fraught with “irregularities.”
Honduras ranks number 125, out of 176, of the most corrupt countries.
The alleged electoral fraud has led to over a month of protests by Hondurans, over 30 of whom have been killed mainly by state forces. The demonstrations and military crackdowns have upended the Central American country. Hernandez, who was sworn in Jan. 27 amidst national protests, and Nasralla have called for internationally mediated dialogue between their two parties.
Local media says that potential mediator candidates are the former president of Guatemala, Vinicio Cerezo and former president of Panama, Martin Torrijos.