Mario Zelaya, former IHSS director accused of multimillion dollar embezzlement

An internationally supported anti-corruption body in Honduras is reportedly assisting authorities there with investigations of high-level officials linked to one of the country's most prominent corruption cases -- a massive embezzlement scandal involving the social security system.

The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH), which is backed by the Organization of American States (OAS), is helping Honduran judicial authorities to investigate 40 leads associated with the corruption scandal, MACCIH leader Juan Jiménez Mayor recently told La Prensa.

Soon thereafter, the news outlet reported that the inquiries include new lines of investigation that implicate high-level current and former officials in the scandal. However, La Prensa's sources declined to provide further details citing the sensitive nature of the cases.

Honduran authorities began investigating reports of corruption in the country's social security institute, known as IHSS, in late 2013. A report released in early 2014 by a special commission set up to investigate the allegations found "institutionalized corruption" within the agency, and detailed how employees and contractors took advantage of the institute for their own personal enrichment.

After more than seven months as a fugitive, former IHSS Director Mario Zelaya Rojas was captured in September 2014. Zelaya's trial is ongoing; he stands accused of embezzling an estimated $330 million from the social security institute. So far, only about $436,000 of the embezzled funds has been returned to the agency.

The scandal widened last summer when Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández publicly admitted that companies tied to the corruption at IHSS had contributed nearly $150,000 to his 2013 presidential campaign. Although the president claimed he had been unaware of the source of these funds, the revelations fueled protests across the country that helped build pressure for the establishment of MACCIH.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although it remains unclear which specific officials are being investigated in connection with the social security scandal, anti-corruption advocates would likely welcome charges against high-ranking functionaries. A June 2016 report from the Association for a More Just Society (Asociación para Una Sociedad Más Justa - ASJ) pointed out that only a small fraction of corruption complaints in Honduras result in convictions, and that high-level officials often avoid facing justice in graft cases. 

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

MACCIH's handling of the IHSS case will likely be seen as a bellwether for future investigations carried out with the anti-corruption body's support, given that MACCIH head Jiménez has said that the emblematic case is one of his organization's priorities. MACCIH has previously signaled that it intends to pursue charges of illicit enrichment against officials accused of corruption, particularly in cases where more serious charges could be difficult to prosecute. The manner in which MACCIH pursues investigations of suspects in the IHSS case could provide further clues about the organization's strategy going forward.

Investigations

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