Honduran national police chief accused of money laundering
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Honduran authorities arrested the head of the national police Tuesday, accusing him and his wife of money laundering.
Officials arrested Leonel Luciano Sauceda and his wife, Patricia Sbeltlana Estrada, on money laundering charges. They said in a statement that the couple was arrested at a home in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and that authorities seized two cars and financial documents.
Both were held in preventive custody at a military barracks after appearing before a judge. César Bonilla, their lawyer, expresed confidence that the case would be thrown out at the next court appeance and said evidence will disprove prosecutors’ claims and show his clients’ innocence.
Sauceda began his career with the national police in 1992 and was appointed head of police just two weeks ago.
A special commission established to clean up the country’s police ranks said later Tuesday in a statement that before his appointment, he had been properly vetted.
But according to investigators, there was no accounting for 13 bank accounts and 13.8 million lempiras, or roughly $560,000, that Sauceda had in his name between 2006 and 2017. They say his wife also had 10 bank accounts with roughly 2.7 million lempiras, or $110,000, for which the origin couldn’t be traced. Authorities say they don’t know where the couple got the cash they used for some of the items that were seized.
Top police officials in Honduras have been accused of crimes in the past. Last year, a Honduran court convicted Jorge Alberto Barralaga, the former No. 2 in the police force, of money laundering.
Also, several government officials have faced accusations of being involved in drug trafficking in the U.S. Even President Juan Orlando Hernández has been investigated in the U.S. in connection with alleged drug trafficking and money laundering; he denies any wrongdoing.
Charges weren’t filed against the president, but his brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former congressman, was found guilty in a U.S. court last October of drug conspiracy, weapons charges and lying to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
U.S. prosecutors said the drug conspiracy was protected by the Honduran government. The trial featured testimony that convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán aided the conspiracy by giving $1 million in bribes to Juan Antonio Hernández to pass along to his brother.
Sauceda’s arrest is the first since the end of an anti-corruption mission in Honduras last month led by the Organization of American States, which was commissioned in 2015 to strengthen the country’s justice institutions.
The mission was led by a group of international lawyers and investigators who uncovered nonprofit organizations that worked as fronts to move money to corrupt lawmakers.
The commission helped a Honduran court sentence ex-First Lady Rose Elena Bonillo to 58 years in prison for embezzlement last year. Bonilla was married to ex-president Porfirio Lobo.