Honduras Police Purge Turns to Lawyers Who Wiped Records

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Authorities in Honduras are investigating legal officials who allegedly accepted bribes to wipe clean the records of officers removed from their posts in a police purge, exposing a new layer of corruption in Honduran institutions.

On November 2, investigators raided the offices of the Honduran Security Ministry (Secretaría de Seguridad) and seized files they believe may prove corruption accusations against seven lawyers from the Human Resources and Legal Advice department, reported La Prensa.

The raid followed the collection of witness testimonies that described how the officials charged between 5,000 and 50,000 lempiras (approximately $215 to $2,150) to alter or disappear the records of police officers, according to a separate report from La Prensa.

The lawyers offered the service to officers who had lost their jobs as part of an ongoing police purge and who wanted a clean slate so they could more easily find other work. Some even reportedly returned to the force after having been separated.

Investigators are also looking into allegations the lawyers took bribes to aid police officers in compensation claims against the ministry, as well as suspected contracting irregularities and improper use of government vehicles, La Prensa reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

Honduras has carried out several attempts to purge its police force of corrupt elements in recent years. For the most part, these programs have been criticized as ineffective and bottom heavy, with low ranking officers losing their jobs while the higher ranks escape attention.

However, the most recent anti-corruption drive, which is now just over halfway through its 12-month mandate, has shown positive signs of expanding investigations beyond the superficiality that characterized previous programs. Within its first two months, the body evaluated the 272 highest-ranking members of the police, of which 40 percent were dismissed, suspended or offered their voluntary resignation.

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Nevertheless, the apparent existence of a network of crooked officials giving clean slates to purged police officers is a stark illustration of the many layers of corruption plaguing Honduran security institutions. Other prominent examples include the 2009 murder of the country’s drug czar and the 2011 murder of his deputy, both of which were apparently carried out by corrupt police acting on orders from a drug trafficker. Despite convincing evidence implicating top officers in the killings, neither case has yet been brought to court.

It is an encouraging sign that Honduran authorities are continuing attempts to dismantle these multi-layered structures. But at the same time, the details revealed by such investigations point to deeply-rooted corruption that will likely prove extremely difficult to completely root out.

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