Money Laundering Links Honduras, Panama and US

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Two Honduran executives allegedly used a Panamanian business and a US bank to pay $2.5 million in bribes, suggesting that banks based in Panama and the United States may be involved in one of the biggest corruption cases in Honduras.

Óscar Laínez and Jorge Herrera, executives of Compañía de Servicios Múltiples S. de R.L. (Cosem), allegedly used a Panamanian firm called CA Technologies to make transfers of more than $2.5 million to a JP Morgan Chase bank account in the United States belonging to a company called CM Motors, according to an investigation by the National Fiscal Support Unit (Unidad Nacional de Apoyo Fiscal).

Mario Zelaya — former director of the Honduran Social Security Institute (Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social – IHSS) who has been jailed and is facing charges in the IHSS case — and his brother Carlos, are both partners of CM Motors. 

According to La Prensa, the Cosem executives paid these bribes in 2010 in order to “expedite” a $19.7 million contract with the IHSS to digitalize their registration system. The bribes were paid to then-Director Mario Zelaya, then-Vice Minister of Health Javier Pastor, and then-Deputy Secretary of Jobs Carlos Montes. 

Cosem executives Laínez and Herrera are both key witnesses in the money laundering and bribery case against Zelaya, Pastor and Montes. 

Raul Pineda Alvarado, a lawyer and expert in criminal law who spoke to La Prensa, told the media outlet the United States could take legal action against Laínez or Herrera, or place sanctions on JP Morgan. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The announcement of this investigation comes at an awkward time for Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is readying his bid for re-election. In 2015, the Honduran Supreme Court controversially overturned a constitutional ban on re-election, allowing Hernández to run for another term as president.

While Hernández was not in office when Mario Zelaya and several of his colleagues from the IHSS were arrested and charged, the case impacts his National Party and could impact his reelection bid.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles 

Hernández admitted in 2015 that companies linked to corruption cases in the IHSS had contributed nearly $150,000 to his presidential campaign in 2013. As Honduran authorities investigated corruption within IHSS, they discovered “the creation of over 10 ghost companies that allegedly delivered checks and wired monthly installments to the National Party’s central committee.”

As further revelations surface regarding corruption in the IHSS, details could emerge that may prove damaging to Hernández’s re-election bid.

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