By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo is being investigated on suspicion of involvement in laundering illegal drug money as part of a wider probe into his 2010-14 administration, an international anti-corruption mission said on Friday.
The anti-graft unit of the Organization of American States (OAS) said the probe into Lobo began after Devis Leonel Rivera, a leader of the “Los Cachiros” drug cartel, testified in a U.S. court that he had given money to Lobo’s 2010 election campaign.
Rivera said Lobo “suggested to him that in exchange for donations to his political campaign, they would create companies that would be given contracts once he had won the presidential election,” Luiz Guimaraes, spokesman for the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), told reporters.
Lobo told a news conference at his house in Tegucigalpa that he had never had any dealings with “these criminals.”
“I’ve never received money from criminals nor had any private meetings with them,” Lobo said.
The accusation surfaced as MACCIH said it was investigating 12 people, including a former cabinet minister, Lobo’s son Fabio and Rivera on suspicion of laundering drug money in a case that has been nicknamed “Narcopolitica” by the mission.
Lobo was not among the 12, but was being investigated as part of the wider probe, said Guimaraes, a Brazilian.
Prosecutors believe the money laundered in the case went through 21 public works contracts for companies set up by Los Cachiros with the ministry for public works worth an estimated 68.3 million lempiras (£2.2 million), according to the indictment.
Most of the works were never carried out, Guimaraes noted.
The investigators believe that Fabio Lobo, who in 2017 was sentenced to 24 years in prison by a New York federal court for drug trafficking, made sure Los Cachiros won the contracts.
Lobo’s former public works minister Miguel Pastor, as well as two other officials accused by the MACCIH, turned themselves in to prosecutors on Thursday night in Tegucigalpa.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, editing by G Crosse and Grant McCool)