Three members of the ruling elite in Honduras were charged by US authorities with money-laundering this week. Yankel Rosenthal, a former minister of investment and president of the popular Club Deportivo Marathon soccer team, was arrested Oct. 6 upon landing at the Miami airport. His cousin Yani Rosenthal and uncle Jaime Rolando Rosenthal, a four-time presidential candidate and owner of El Tiempo newspaper, were also detained. Grupo Continental, owned by the Rosenthal family, is a pillar of the Honduran economy, with holdings in real estate, tourism, industry and telecommunications. US officials now say these businesses helped launder narco-profits, transfering dirty money from New York to Honduras over a period of more than 10 years. The three men provided "money laundering and other services that support the international narcotics trafficking activities of multiple Central American drug traffickers and their criminal organizations," said the US Treasury Department in a statement. Seven of their businesses were labelled under the US Kingpin Act as "specially designated narcotics traffickers." Yankel Rosenthal, who served in President Juan Orlando Hernandez's cabinet until stepping down unexpectedly in June, has won popularity in Honduras through his largesse. Among other public works, he built a new stadium in the city of San Pedro Sula, which was named after him. (El Heraldo, Oct. 8; BBC News, Oct. 7)
In an interview with El Heraldo newspaper, Yani Rosenthal denied the charges. He asserted that any information provided to US authorities by extradited drug traffickers about the Rosenthals' supposed criminal activities was false, and that those individuals were looking to "save themselves." Yani did not mention any specific names, but in June, his father Jaime told InSight Crime website that the Rosenthals had done business for years with one of Honduras' biggest drug trafficking clans, the Cachiros. The top bosses of the Cachiros turned themselves in to US authorities in January. (InSight Crime, Oct. 9)
Grupo Continental also issued a statement calling on "the Honduran people and authorities" to defend the company. "The Honduran people know perfectly well that the accusations that have been presented against us are false," said the statement, which was published prominently in El Tiempo.