Honduras holds two former civil servants on pandemic-related fraud charges

Tegucigalpa, Honduras (AP) — Only two have been used and two people involved in the purchase after the Honduras government paid $ 47 million to seven mobile hospitals to expand the bed space of the COVID-19 pandemic. Former government officials have been imprisoned for fraud charges.

The purchase of a hospital, a medical shipping container that can be connected and configured to function as a field hospital, has become the largest pandemic-related scandal in Honduras.

Experts have determined that the purchase price has skyrocketed, all costs have been prepaid without a guarantee of delivery, which has been delayed by several months and the government has used unnecessary intermediaries. When they arrived, they did not meet the requirements for safe containment of COIVD-19 patients and were in poor condition, most of which were unusable. And this is a country that is having a hard time getting the dose of COVID-19 vaccine for the people.

It was, at best, an obvious example of wasted spending, and at worst, another example of deep-seated corruption affecting almost every aspect of Honduras’ life. US President Joe Biden’s administration has prioritized addressing the root causes of migration from the so-called Northern Triangle.

Corruption “is something we have to deal with and we will deal with it,” said Ricardo Zniga, a special envoy for the region in Biden, on Friday.

A judge in Honduras ordered former secretary-general and former administrative managers Marco Antonio Bográn and Alex Alberto Moraes of the government’s development project body, Invest-H, to be imprisoned on Friday. The preliminary hearing was scheduled to continue on Saturday. The man said he had been threatened with murder and asked him to be detained at a military base. They denied cheating.

They were removed from their position last year.

The Attorney General’s office called both men to make a statement on Thursday. Before they were over, the prosecutor in charge of the case asked them to withhold the indictment formally filed on Friday. They have been accused of fraud and breach of public service. The judge decided on Friday that they pose a risk of flight.

Authorities are also seeking Axel Gamaliel Lopez, a Guatemalan citizen who was an intermediary in the purchase of hospitals from Turkey. Prosecutors say he has pocketed more than $ 20 million in transactions and has been ordered to arrest internationally.

Invest-H “purchased seven mobile hospitals directly and fraudulently,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement. The prosecution said that former officials said, “The provider does not have the necessary technical and financial capabilities, does not provide for the implementation of corresponding guarantees to protect the state’s economic interests, and does not require prior approval of the board of directors. I paid 100% of the price in advance. ” Invest-H. “

The National Anti-Corruption Council, a non-government auditor, provided prosecutors with 14 reports of irregularities in hospital purchases.

Gabriella Castellanos, director of the organization, said the true value of the hospital is close to $ 15 million.

“The investment didn’t bring anything because they weren’t working,” she said. She praised the accusations against the two former civil servants, but believes that the responsibility lies with them.

“Currently, the accused is heavily responsible for the purchase of these hospitals, but the Attorney General’s office is investigating to reach other authorities of the administration we believe may be involved. There is a constitutional obligation to continue, “she said.