By MARLON GONZÁLEZ
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Just weeks before Honduras holds presidential elections, an independent candidate who was one of the first to publicly accuse President Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother of ties to drug trafficking was arrested Thursday on money laundering charges.
Santos Rodríguez Orellana, a former army captain, was arrested at the Toncontín airport in Tegucigalpa as he returned from a visit to the Bay Islands. His wife and mother-in-law were also arrested.
Rodríguez Orellana is the presidential candidate of the Dignity and Hope Movement in the November 28 election. He was not considered a leading contender.
He received a dishonorable discharge from the army in 2016 after denouncing Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández. At the time, the military confirmed the discharge in a statement, but only spoke generally of dishonorable acts that could lead to such an action.
The president’s brother was later convicted of drug trafficking charges in the United States and sentenced to life in prison.
Yuri Mora, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said that the investigation of Rodríguez Orellana began in 2014.
Prosecutors allege that Rodríguez Orellana, while in the military, seized cash from drug traffickers and kept a portion for himself. They also said that witnesses say he was involved in murders, including of a confidential informant of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The money allegedly was then laundered through businesses owned by Rodríguez Orellana’s wife and mother-in-law.
“It was confirmed that the millions that the Capt. Orellana, as well as his family, moved in the national banking system were not consistent with his income,” Mora said. He said Orellana and his relatives were not able to justify the funds in interviews with investigators.
Authorities also seized properties, businesses, and vehicles related to the family.
Salomón Amador, Rodríguez Orellana’s lawyer, told local media outlets that his client was scheduled to appear before a judge Thursday and would deny the accusations.
He said that Rodríguez Orellana’s mother-in-law is an important businesswoman and director of the capital’s largest market, allowing her to amass significant resources. Amador said they had requested a copy of the money movements in question from authorities, but they were never shared.
The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said in a statement that Rodríguez Orellana was also under investigation in the United States for alleged ties to drug trafficking.