Translation from El País online, October 14, 2015. 

The ‘Rosenthal case’ combines politics and crime in Honduras

In a new installment of the saga —after last week’s drama, when the United States accused the powerful Rosenthal clan, one of the most influential families in Honduras, of drug trafficking and money laundering—yesterday, a Miami judge ordered Yanken Rosenthal, who, among other business interests, is the president of Marathon —the country’s most famous football club—and who was arrested at Miami airport on October 6th, to be transferred to New York to answer charges brought against him and two other members of his family by that city’s public prosecutor.

According to the news agency Reuters, it took judge Edwin Torres barely two minutes to communicate the decision to Rosenthal, former investment minister until last June. Rosenthal appeared in court shackled and handcuffed, in the khaki uniform of a convict. He attempted to negotiate bail, but his attorney, Norman Moskowitz, explained that no date has as yet been set for a new hearing.

Rosenthal is facing a sentence of up to twenty years in prison, in a case which has political and economic repercussions in Honduras and in which his uncle, 79-year-old Jaime Rosenthal, patriarch, ex vice-president and banker; his son, former minister, Yani Rosenthal Hidalgo, 50; and his attorney, Andrés Acosta García, are also implicated. The three latter men, who have denied the charges, are at liberty in Honduras.

According to the US treasury department, the three members of the Rosenthal family “provided a decade of money laundering and other services in support of international drug trafficking activities by Central American drug traffickers and criminal organizations.” These accusations implicate seven key corporations within the Rosenthal empire, above all Banco Continental Ltd., which, on October 7th, became the first financial institution to join the US list of individuals and corporations which form part of the financial scaffolding for the “laundering” of drug trafficking profits. In an unprecedented measure, the company was closed down by the Honduras government on Sunday.

Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández assured the public that, following the closure of the bank, carried out by the state’s National Banking and Insurance Commission (Comisión Nacional de Banca y Seguros, CNBS for short) he could guarantee that employees and savers would be paid. He went on to declare that the financial system “was stable” and explained that this was “an issue between Banco Continental and the US justice system.”

Scenes of panic have ensued in the past few days, as numerous Hondurans form long lines at the bank’s branches, in order to demand their money. “We aren’t drug traffickers, give us our savings!,” shouted hundreds of people gathered in front of the bank’s head office in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

The bank, which has around 200,000 clients, is expected to reopen today. Evasio Asencio, the organization’s liquidator, has appealed for calm, vouching for the fact that the funds are “secured,” and has announced that the bank’s clients will be attended to. The CNBS specified that the “orderly return” of deposits will begin with a payout of up to $9000 US dollars per client and that they will then continue to make “proportionate” payments of the other moneys owing. “There are sufficient funds for everyone,” he emphasized.

A historic family

For years, the US has been deploying an arsenal of anti-narcotics agents, public prosecutors, financial analysts, customs and borders officials, and concealed operatives to investigate the intricacies of the powerful Rosenthal family empire. Rosenthal is one of the most admired and most hated surnames in Honduras. The result of all this has been that, for the first time in the history of Central America, Washington has managed to snare one of the family clans which enjoy major political and economic influence, and uncover their illicit activities between 2004 and September 2015. Although numerous Central American drug trafficking ringleaders have been captured and extradited to the United States in the past few years, most of these have been local drug lords who, without actually being potentates, were professional drug traffickers, accumulated goods and fortunes, financed political parties, and bought influence. But not one of them came from the top stratum of power, from the 10% who receive the highest incomes and monopolize 45% of national income. “They struck one of the largest, most important and most conservative gangs. And they will probably strike others, because there are many others,” argues Eugenio Sosa, professor of social sciences at the public Autonomous University of Honduras. “But Honduras was incapable of acting, which just confirms the country’s complete inefficacy, uselessness, and lack of institutions.”

From El País online, October 14, 2015.