Honduran judge jails politicians ahead of corruption trial

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A Honduran judge jailed three members of Congress, a deputy government minister and more than a dozen others while they await trial on allegations they funneled $12 million of public money into political campaigns, a judiciary spokesman said on Monday.

The funds were allegedly used for the campaign of President Juan Orlando Hernandez in 2013, to pay debts of the opposition Liberal Party and to finance other campaigns, according to an investigation by the anticorruption mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) and public prosecutors.

A judge issued an arrest warrant on Saturday for 37 people linked to the case, known as “Pandora”, related to the embezzlement of public funds from agriculture projects in 2013 to campaigns.

Among the 19 people put in pre-trial detention were three representatives of the Honduran National Congress from the governing National Party, and an undersecretary of the current government.

President Hernandez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A defense lawyer for one of the accused said that the charges were “inconsistent”.

The funds were allegedly moved through a foundation and a nonprofit to accounts of candidates for Congress, mayorships and leaders from both the ruling National Party and opposition Liberal Party, according to the public prosecutors and the OAS’s Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).

Hernandez, a conservative, was reelected last year in a controversial vote that led to deadly protests where at least 20 people were killed.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Christine Murray; Editing Christian Schmollinger