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HONDURAS
Ruling party involved in million dollar corruption network
Latinamerica Press
6/17/2015
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Ghost corporations embezzled the Honduran Institute of Social Security since 2010.

President Juan Orlando Hernández admitted on June 3 that his political organization, the National Party (PN), has been involved in financial fraud of US$147,783, part of the million dollar embezzlement of the Honduran Institute of Social Security (IHSS) during the government of former president Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014), also a member of the PN.

Hernández justified the reception of the funds commenting that “the checks were contributed to the National Party by certain businessmen who are responsible for the situation, [ but] they had nothing to do with the Social Security case” and were received in the time Ricardo Álvarez, the current vice president of the country, was president of the party.

However, an investigation by the Public Ministry revealed that a network led by Mario Zelaya Rojas, director of the IHSS during Lobo’s administration, diverted funds fraudulently for approximately $200 million. The funds had been allocated to the purchase of medicines, medical supplies and payments of old age and disability pensions. Part of that money went to the PN, according to the Public Ministry.

More than ten people have been arrested for this case, including Zelaya and various former officials of the IHSS. Also warrants have been issued for the arrest of the businessmen involved in the embezzlement.

The scandal erupted on May 8 following a denounce shown by journalist David Romero Ellner, director of  Globo TV, who revealed that more than $300 million was diverted by high officials of the IHSS, of which $90 million went to the PN to finance the electoral campaign of Hernández in 2013.

The embezzlement was done through ghost corporations created by the relatives of the IHSS officials who signed contracts to provide services for the purchase of medicines and medical equipment. These corporations transferred the money to the PN.

According to Romero Ellner, all the leaders of the PN knew about the fraud, including Lobo, Hernández and Álvarez. Also, the reporter contended that the authorities of the Public Ministry had hidden the evidence and shelved investigations about the embezzlement, ensuring the impunity of those involved.

“March of the torches”
Protests were not long in happening. On June 5, for the second time in a week, thousands of people took to the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, in the so-called “March of the Torches”, protesting corruption and demanding the resignation of Hernández . Messages such as “No more acts of corruption,” “Prison for the corrupt,” and “We demand that Juan Orlando Hernández and his cabinet leave power,” could be read in the banners.

Emmanuel Cruz, a 35-year old demonstrator who participated in recent marches, said that “it is intolerable, not only corruption but cynicism of the Honduran politicians and those who govern.”

The Honduran analyst Raúl Pineda Alvarado, in statements to the press, affirmed that “the political class must change.”

“The politicians must act quickly or society will sweep them under and use them to mop the floor,” he said, also commenting that the protests are going to continue because the people want a change.

President Hernández responded to the protests declaring that “the people have the right to take to the streets and demonstrate and ask that whoever committed acts of corruption be condemned,” but he rejected the possibility of resigning his position.

“I won’t go away,” said Hernández, without ruling out the possibility of running for reelection in 2017.
—Latinamerica Press.


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