How Elites and Narcos Do Business, Politics in Honduras

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As Honduras remains riveted on the trial of Tony Hernández, a document from the case file reveals details of another drug trafficking connection involving one of Central America’s wealthiest and most politically connected families. 

Exhibit G from US v. Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández — the landmark trial in New York against the brother of sitting Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández — is a straightforward legal request by the US prosecutor to a judge for access to “non-content information” from emails stored on various private servers. 

As a justification for its request, the exhibit details numerous connections between one of Honduras’ foremost drug trafficking clans, popularly known as the Cachiros, and one of the country’s most powerful families, the Rosenthal clan.  

A Weighty List of Targets

The document, dated July 2, 2015, lists the targets of the investigation, which include Jaime Rosenthal, the recently deceased patriarch and former Honduran vice president; Jaime’s son, Yani, who ran for president once and may do so again; and Jaime’s nephew, Yankel, then the president of Marathon, one of Honduras’ premier soccer clubs, which was owned by the family.

In October 2015, US prosecutors charged Jaime, Yani, Yankel, as well as a company lawyer, Andres Acosta, with drug trafficking and money laundering, among other crimes. But as opposed to the Tony Hernández case, the Rosenthal case did not go to trial. Yani, Yankel, and Acosta pleaded guilty and were sentenced independently. Presumably because of their cooperation in theirs and other cases, US authorities did not press Honduras to extradite Jaime, who died in Honduras in January 2019.

SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

What’s more, many of the only details of the relationship between the Cachiros and the Rosenthal family came from InSight Crime’s interview with Jaime Rosenthal and his daughter Patricia in June 2015, in which Jaime described how the Rivera Maradiaga family — then a group of cattle rustlers — began selling their cows to the Rosenthal-owned meat-packing plant. 

“They were good clients for us,” Patricia Rosenthal told InSight Crime, before handing over a copy of a check written by the head of the Cachiros, Javier Rivera Maradiaga. 

Exhibit G fills in some of the rest of that story. 

Cut-rate Cattle and Machinery from Malaysia

As the Rosenthals told InSight Crime, it all began with cattle. But the Rosenthals omitted a key detail: that cattle was “purchased,” as the prosecutor says, with proceeds from drug trafficking. The Rosenthals’ defense was that they didn’t have the resources to verify their clients were above board. Jaime showed InSight Crime a letter he’d sent to the embassy requesting assistance in vetting the clients.

But then the relationship deepened much more than Jaime had explained in the interview. In 2009, the prosecutor says, Jaime transferred a parcel of land to CW-1 (Confidential Witness One.) CW-1 was presumably either the oldest brother, Javier, the middle brother, Devis, or their younger brother, Santos Isidro. The three made up the core of the Cachiros. By then, all three had turned themselves in to US authorities and had become cooperating witnesses in numerous cases, including the one against the Rosenthals. 

In return for the land, Jaime expected to get “below-market rate” prices for the cows the Rivera Maradiaga family were selling to them, the US prosecutor says in the exhibit. This was not a small deal — the Rosenthal family were one of the largest meat and dairy providers in Honduras during this time period.

The land was also for the Rivera Maradiaga family’s new business, Palbasa, an African palm plantation business. As part of this new business, CW-1 channeled “$2 or $3 million in cash … which constituted narcotics proceeds” through Jaime Rosenthal to a Malaysian firm for equipment to sow and harvest the palm. 

The plantations, Honduran authorities told InSight Crime when it investigated the Cachiros, were also used to receive airplanes hauling cocaine from South America. 

Soccer Teams and Third-Party Ownership

Sometime in 2008, the prosecutor says in the exhibit, Yankel met CW-2, confidential witness two, who is presumably a Rivera Maradiaga family member or associate. The prosecutor says CW-2 subsequently told Yankel that he was a drug trafficker and in “2010 or 2011” invested $400,000 in Yankel’s soccer team. 

The relationship between the Rosenthal family and the Cachiros via soccer went beyond this investment. As InSight Crime wrote in 2014, Banco Continental advertised with the Cachiros-owned team in Tocoa, Colon, the drug gang’s center of operations. 

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

“This is the first time that somebody has mentioned the possibility that football can be used to laundry [sic] money,” Jaime Rosenthal wrote in an email to InSight Crime following the publication of that article.

The relationship between Yankel and CW-2 deepened after his investment in the soccer team. The prosecutor says that in 2011, CW-2 changed the ownership of a property worth $1.6 million to one of Yankel’s “associates” in order to shield it from authorities.

And in “2011 or 2012,” the prosecutor says CW-2 sent $800,000 to one of Yankel’s attorneys, so Yankel could purchase property for him. 

Funding for a Presidential Campaign

In “2012 or 2013,” the prosecutor says CW-2 and CW-3, confidential witness three — one of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers — met Yani and Yankel. During the meeting, Yani asked for them to contribute to his presidential bid and to work as the go-between to obtain contributions from other drug traffickers so Yani “would not have to have direct contact with them.” 

The prosecutor does not indicate if the Cachiros provided any funding or served as interlocutors for other donations. Yani lost in the Liberal Party primary. And despite his guilty plea in the United States, he was rumored to be preparing another bid for the presidency.

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