By MARLON GONZÁLEZ, Associated Press
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — An anti-corruption team from Honduras’ Attorney General’s Office visited presidential offices a week after President Juan Orlando Hernández stepped down and found paper shredders and none of the financial documents they were looking for, the chief of the investigators said Thursday.
Hernández has been in custody since mid-February waiting on a judge to rule whether he will be extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. Now it appears members of his administration are targets of obstruction of justice probes at home for allegedly destroying evidence of wrongdoing.
“A week after the swearing-in of new President Xiomara Castro (on January 27) we went to (the presidential offices) and they showed us that all documentation —when I say all, it’s everything— disappeared or was destroyed,” Javier Santos, head of the special unit against corruption networks, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
A year earlier, Santos’ office had taken to court an investigation dubbed “Hermes” concerning the alleged diversion of about $4.9 million from presidential offices through a front company. The money was allegedly spread among a number of people, including journalists. There were 11 people implicated, including one of Hernández’s sisters.
“To complement that investigation and other lines of investigation in other ongoing cases, we asked the president’s office for all supporting documentation,” Santos said. “They rejected us. They told us all information from the president’s office was covered by secrecy because it involved state security.”
So Santos waited for the change of government, hoping for an opportunity under Castro. But Hernández’s office appeared determined to leave nothing to chance, he said.
“Those people, according to the law, had a legal responsibility to preserve that documentation and turn it over to those taking charge,” Santos said.
He acknowledged the investigation would be more difficult without it, but not impossible because a financial trail still exists.
The anti-corruption unit had multiple investigations underway into Hernández’s administration, among them sizeable monthly bonuses to officials supposedly for gasoline and security.
“It’s millions that we’re talking about in all of these investigations,” Santos said—in cases ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $12 million in diverted public funds.
Hernández administration officials argued that documents were protected under a law covering security and national defense, known as the “Secrets Law.” But the new congress repealed the law, allowing investigators, government auditors and the public to access documents previously classified as secret.
Santos expressed support for Castro’s pledge to bring a United Nations-supported anti-corruption mission to Honduras.
In Hernández’s extradition case, a hearing to present the presiding judge with evidence supporting the U.S. charges is scheduled for March 16. U.S. federal prosecutors have alleged that Hernández’s political rise was funded in part by drug trafficking proceeds and that his administration in exchange allowed some drug traffickers to operate without interference or gave them information to help avoid law enforcement.
Hernández has denied any wrongdoing.