Robert Carmona Borjas, Vice President of Arcadia Foundation, confirmed that he has a report which will prove that high-level government functionaries and businessmen are involved in a multi-million dollar fraud against Hondutel, the Honduras government-owned telephone company.
Tráfico grís (grey traffic) is the name for long-distance calls which through technology are recorded and billed as local calls, reducing the income received by Hondutel. Fraud from grey traffic is estimated to be between 15 and 20 million minutes per month, representing a loss of US$1.5 to 2 million to Hondutel, and the Honduran people, each month.
Note: all links to articles or websites are in Spanish unless otherwise indicated.
On September 8, 2007, a respected Mexican newspaper, El Universal, printed an exposé of the swamp of corruption surrounding Honduras' state-owned telephone company Hondutel. The investigative report was prepared by Arcadia Foundation, a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C.
According to the text of the article, between 2005 and 2006, the first year of President Manuel Zelaya's administration, Hondutel's income decreased 47%. International calls dropped from 306 million minutes in the first quarter of 2005 to 151 million minutes in the same period of 2006, resulting in a decrease in income from U.S.$70 million to U.S.$23 million in the respective years.
"Given that Hondutel is the only organization that can legally receive international calls, there is no logical reason to report the substantial decrease of more than 154 million minutes and U.S.$47 million in income," said Carmona Borjas. The only explanation is that the calls were billed to subcontractors and individuals as local calls by Hondutel through internal corporate fraud, instances of extortion, and political corruption at high levels, he indicated.
During the first quarter of 2007, Hondutel registered another 18% reduction in gross income from US$49 million to US$40. Predictions are that Hondutel will close this fiscal year with the worst results in a decade.
The continual decreases come in spite of the fact that Hondutel and Chimirri personally with the help of heavily armed military units have violently dismantled 65 companies who were allegedly operating in grey traffic (Eng). The companies' equipment, records, computers, money, and cell phones were confiscated without benefit of trial or any indication that any of the companies will ever receive the right to defend themselves in court.
After a series of denuncias (official complaints) spanning years, in March of this year the Congreso Nacional requested that the Fiscalía investigate. Again in August of this year, the five political parties of Honduras petitioned the Superior Tribunal of Accounts (TSC in Spanish) to conduct a complete audit of Hondutel.
In addition to grey traffic, complaints regarding the Hondutel scandal have ranged from irregular contracts, abuse of power, irregularities in the contraction of personnel, excessive numbers of employees, illegal salary increases, abuse in use of cellular phones, and irregular management of state resources. Thousands of citizens have denounced fraudulent bills containing phantom long distance charges for years. TSC announced that they would perform a financial audit and that the technical issue of grey traffic would be turned over to the Fiscalía Contra Corrupción and international organizations. No word of those investigations has been reported.
Details of the Arcadia Report
Allegations were made that there are 340 phone lines being used for grey traffic by CableColor, a telephone and cable TV company. CableColor is owned by the wealthy, well-connected Rosenthal family who includes a former presidential candidate and his son, Yani Rosenthal, the current Ministero de la Presidencia (Secretary of State and right hand man to President Mel Zelaya) who is expected to be a presidential candidate in the 2008 elections. The Rosenthal family also owns the newspaper El Tiempo and television channel 11.
The report also alleged that the managing director of Hondutel, Marcelo Chimirri, (good friend of the President and family of the first lady) through one of his personal businesses, has received U.S.$70,000 in payments from two U.S. companies and that Chimirri's "personal wealth has increased substantially in a very short period without the benefit of a parallel growth in visible and legitimate earnings." The text also assured that Chimirri also has responsibility for fraudulent schemes and that the Fiscalía still considers him a person of interest in the 1998 death of his former girlfriend (Eng.), Yadira Miguel Mejía, as well as for threats and aggression against reporters.
Chimirri has also been accused of sexual harassment of female Hondutel employees in which the women who complained were fired and of pulling his pants down in front of congressmen and women. There is so much scandalous information about this guy that it would take a book to cover it all. In that same interview with La Tribuna, he freely admits to being "mafia" and capable of anything. He thinks it's "very pretty" that he doesn't have to register his trips to the Cayman Islands (The Caymans have secret banking laws.) Since he physically threatens and sues the reporters and newspapers who write about him (Eng.), I'm sure that the worst of it has never been printed.
Fourteen months of inaction
Robert Carmona Borjas says that the original denuncia (complaint) was submitted to Hondutel on July 4, 2006, with a copy going to the U.S. Embassy. The complaint was "investigated" by Hondutel's internal anti-fraud group and was swept under the rug and everyone was assured that there were just a few errors made, probably by some employees or outsiders, and that everything was okay now.
Apparently, the Arcadia Foundation went to Mexico's El Universal because they couldn't get the story published in Honduras. Previous stories have resulted in lawsuits against Honduran newspapers.
Carmona worries that Hondutel officials could now be deleting call registers to benefit wealthy business owners. Arcadia gathered the information for their report by infiltrating Hondutel. It seems obvious that Hondutel and/or other government insiders must have helped with the investigation, as well as possibly bank insiders, to have this level of detail.
Next: What do the actors say?
(Gentle readers, please forgive the delay and all the links but I had to document this article completely for fear of being sued, deported, or worse! Now, hopefully, some real investigators will pick up the story and expose this situation in English for the rest of the world. Are you reading, CNN?)