Civic groups attack Honduras ruling weakening anti-graft mission

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Anti-corruption groups in Honduras on Friday condemned a decision by the country’s highest court to strike down a government arm created to work with the Organization of American States’ (OAS) anti-graft mission.

The civil society groups were reacting to the Honduran Supreme Court’s ruling, published on Thursday, to invalidate the Fiscal Unit Against Impunity and Corruption (UFECIC) on the grounds that the body’s establishment was unconstitutional.

The UFECIC has worked with the OAS-backed Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), which was launched in 2016. The court ruling is a blow to the MACCIH, which has faced stiff opposition from local politicians.

The ruling derived from a complaint brought against the UFECIC by three NGO workers accused by prosecutors and the MACCIH of embezzling money with five members of Congress.

Several anti-graft groups protested the decision, including the National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA).

“Suppressing the UFECIC weakens the MACCIH,” Odir Fernandez, the CNA’s head of investigations, told reporters. “The message this sends is that what matters is not stopping corruption, but ... protecting corrupt politicians at work in our country.”

The establishment of the MACCIH followed the rise of a U.N.-backed body in neighboring Guatemala that has aggressively pursued corruption, clashing with its government and bringing down President Otto Perez and his vice president in 2015.

The MACCIH investigation involves Mauricio Oliva, the head of Congress and an ally of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Suman Naishadham; Editing by Leslie Adler