November 12, 2010

Odds are good for criminals in Honduras

"Sueño profundo" (deep sleep)
Cartoon by Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

As mentioned in the Avionetazo article, the Honduran Ministerio Publico (MP - similar to district attorney) is famous for dragging out cases until the accused are nowhere to be found and the witnesses have forgotten, can't be found, or have been bribed or intimidated into not responding. Just how bad is their record?

(Note: all of the following links are to Spanish-language articles unless otherwise noted.)

In 2009, the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime recorded 866 cases, of these only 74% were sent to DNIC for investigation. Of that, only 19% were returned with an investigation file that could be taken to court. Of those 166 investigations, 10 were thrown out by the MP as lacking sufficient proof and only 75 arrest warrants were issued. So, best case, 8.6% of these 866 cases might result in arrest, prosecution, and punishment. (hat tip to Liz)

The reality is that frequently no arrests are ever made resulting from these warrants because the accused are long gone before the months or years that it takes the MP to develop a case and if they do go to trial, which requires more months and years, often the judges dismiss the case — 37 cases were thrown out by the judges last year, reducing the remaining faint possibility of eventual punishment to about 4% of the original number of cases!

The MP blames the police for lack of investigation, the police (and the president) blame the judges for releasing criminals, and the judges blame the MP for presenting inadequate cases. Regardless of whose fault it is — and I won't even get into the accusations of corruption in the police, the MP, and the courts — crime pays in Honduras. If you are disposed to committing crime, the odds are well within your favor — which is obviously the risk that those involved in the
Avionetazo case decided to take.

Planes, boats, automobiles, and more

This plane is just one of many other assets seized by the government. OABI, the MP organization responsible for the administration of confiscated organized crime property, has tens of millions of dollars of properties and cash under its control.

In March 2009, OABI announced that they had not received judicial orders to dispose of the planes, saying that a team of lawyers had solicited the MP for return of six of the planes to their owners. In this article, the confiscated property was reported as 178 vehicles, 36 boats, 25 real estate properties, and cash of 52 million lempiras and US $4.1 million in cash. An additional US $14 million in narco cash has been confiscated in 2010 alone.

In November 2009, El Heraldo wrote of the narco fleet maintained by the military pending final disposition. The government incurs expensive costs in the repair and continued maintenance of the airplanes. OABI announced that the planes would be auctioned in six months. Obviously that did not happen.

On February 11, 2010, El Heraldo again reported that dozens of planes under the control of the military, some with a value of up to US $4 million, had still not been auctioned or assigned to any institution. They also reported a helicopter confiscated in 2000 was deteriorated from lack of maintenance.

On February 16, 2010, Juan Orlando Hernández, President of the Congress, said it was important to use or auction the 152 confiscated properties, which include vehicles, 7 planes, boats, 54 properties including homes, two ranches complete with 575 "narco cattle", and vacant properties. The "narco cattle" were auctioned in December 2009 due to the difficulty for the government to maintain them. Some of the vehicles are being used by Fiscales and others by municipalities. Some of the properties are being maintained as evidence for trials that have not yet occurred and some have just not been dealt with due to the government's inability/incompetence/negligence to finalize the paperwork and legal process. In one case I wrote about in 2008, a narco boat previously confiscated from narcotraffickers was rented by OABI to another narcotrafficker [English] and confiscated a second time in another drug raid.

El Heraldo reported that as of September 30, 2010, OABI managed 169 confiscated assets, including 18 planes, 56 real estate properties, 78 million lempiras and 7 million US dollars in cash. OABI still reports that they are waiting for judicial orders for the assets' disposition. President of the Supreme Court Jorge Rivera Avilés announced today that he will be sending a draft law to congress to provide for the immediate use of confiscated organized crime assets.

What should be done?

An independent, immediate, and thorough audit is in order to ensure that this long list of property still exists under government control. Immediate action should be taken finalize any legalities and to auction the properties and distribute the cash as required by law. Minister of Security Oscar Álvarez has recently solicited the disbursement of confiscated narco funds for use in combating narcotrafficking and organized crime.

How shameful that these assets are deteriorating while various government organizations are haggling over who gets the "goods" or who didn't process their paperwork, instead of properly putting them to use for crime fighting as required by law. In a country where the police constantly tell citizens that they have no money for gasoline or have no vehicle to attend to crime victims, it is extremely doubtful that any arm of the government could afford to maintain and put to good use an airplane. Sell them and buy vehicles and gas for the police!

Don't wait another year or two or three and then tell us that the assets can't be found!
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