November 14, 2007

Chimirri: Rising from the swamp to the sunlight

Marcelo Chimirri, photo:

Update on article: Chimirri resigns, Hondutel raided

Marcelo Chimirri's future is looking brighter. The head of the state-owned telephone company disappeared after his home and office were raided by government officials last Friday morning. Calling in to a Honduran radio show that same day, he expressed his outrage and indicated that he would resign from his government position. Chimirri also stated to the media that if he had been at home, he would have used gunfire against the authorities to defend his family.

He most recently has been accused of abuse of authority and telephonic espionage. The wiretapping charges relate to 12 taped telephone conversations between President Mel Zelaya, other high level functionaries of the Honduran government, and Chimirri, which have since been posted on YouTube by user JuanaPueblo.

Prior accusations have included involvement with grey traffic, unwarranted raids of businesses and illegal confiscation of their equipment, acceptance of bribes, sexual abuse of Hondutel employees, and threats and assault of news reporters. He reportedly
still is considered a person of interest in the 1998 death of his former girlfriend, Yadira Miguel Mejía. The Arcadia report charged 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."

In addition to threatening and physically attacking members of the media, Chimirri also has filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against several reporters and newspapers in an effort to intimidate the Honduran media. President Zelaya has had a longstanding bad relationship with the media. An outspoken radio journalist was recently murdered and other members of the media have left the country in fear of their lives.

Authorities attempted to take him into custody in La Ceiba on Friday, where he was visiting on business, but he couldn't be found. They searched for him for days and speculation was variously that he and his bodyguards had left the country, had taken refuge in the Honduran Presidential Palace, or that he had taken asylum in the Italian Embassy, since he is also an Italian citizen. Word from his attorney was that he would turn himself in on Monday − it never happened and neither did his resignation.

In the course of the hunt for Chimirri, authorities searched a luxury La Ceiba hotel and detained various bodyguards and four attractive young Colombian ladies wearing short shorts, ages 19-24, who claimed to be Chimirri's security team. Illegal arms were confiscated from these people, his home, and the hotel room where he and/or his "security team" were staying.

Things began to look brighter for him (and sadder for the country of Honduras) when President Mel Zelaya returned from Chile. In press conferences, President Zelaya says that he will not comment on the case until he gets the report from the Fiscalía (District Attorney) AND hears Chimirri's side of the story.

But in the meantime, Mel Zelaya has expressed his outrage at not being informed in advance of the planned raid on his "close friend" and "political campaign supporter", accusing the Minister of Security of wasting the time of 200 officers with this when he should be tracking down drug traffickers. Ironically, Zelaya personally filed the denuncia (official complaint) regarding the taped conversations and was reported to say that he wanted the persons responsible prosecuted and jailed.

President Zelaya qualified the raid as a brutal assault, even though officials stated that all procedures were performed in accordance with the law and that there were only 15 officers involved in the raid of Chimirri's house. Zelaya suggested that authorities merely needed to have sent Chimirri a note and he would have presented himself − a little disingenuous since Chimirri was missing in action for five days, knowing full well that the authorities were searching for him.

Today, after five days as a fugitive, he has turned himself in. He stated that he had not responded to the judges because he had other matters to attend to. In regard to the illegal weapons charge, he stated that they were the property of Hondutel, not his. After meeting with the judges today, he has been released with the provision that he report to the court every Tuesday and not leave the country.

Meanwhile, the other two Hondutel executives charged also have been released by the judges under substitute measures. While they are forbidden to return to work at Hondutel during the judicial process, apparently Marcelo Chimirri will be under no such restriction.

The judge threw out the charge of violation and revelation of secrets, saying it was a private, not public matter. The initial hearings on the charges of abuse of authority and illegal weapons are scheduled to begin on December 5. Hondutel employees abandoned their work today to protest in support of Chimirri to pressure the judges to release him. Liberal political party members are saying "To attack Chimirri is to attack the Liberal party."

After a few days of excitement, it's back to business as usual in Honduras, where the poor go to jail while the rich and powerful sit back and laugh at the judicial system.

More information on Chimirri and the Honduras grey traffic scandal and other escapades of Chimirri can be found here. The articles include links to several newspaper articles.

Photos: La Prensa, El Heraldo, La Tribuna, links included above.

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