Honduras is unable to access assets confiscated from criminals

Honduran authorities have been unable to unchain hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods seized from criminals during the last three years, according to a media investigation.

Inquiries by newspaper La Prensa established that operations by anti-narcotics officers, special investigators, police and prosecutors had seized 153 properties, 266 cars and more than $5 million during 2010, 2011 and 2012, with total assets apprehended estimated to be worth more than $500 million.

However, the state is unable to access any of the money, said the newspaper, as asset transfers must be authorized by a judge, and, of the 36 orders filed during this period, all are still pending.

InSight Crime Analysis

The severe obstacles in the asset seizure system and the apparent inefficiency of the seizure agency is another troubling sign of the endemic corruption in Honduras. La Prensa's report does not explain what's behind the backlog, but criminals have deeply penetrated Honduras' judicial system.

The situation has echoes of the scandal that engulfed the now-dismantled Colombian Drug Enforcement Agency (DNE), which was taken over by the Colombian government in 2010. The discovery of irregularities in the DNE's handling of confiscated assets led to accusations of widespread high-level corruption and the investigation of 14 politicians.

In one instance of reported wrongdoing, the DNE valued a ranch at around $11,000 when it was actually worth more than $2.5 million. The ranch was leased out by DNE directors to business owners who used it to raise cattle, El Tiempo reported.

According to statements obtained by radio station Caracol and reported by newspaper El Tiempo, the ex-director of the DNE, Carlos Albornoz, would privately see politicians every Wednesday and created a committee to assign them seized assets.