Legal Brief: US Officials Target Corruption in Latin America

By Laura Cruz, legal editor

Editor’s note: In the 10th installment of our series, the legal team covers U.S. efforts against corruption in Latin America.

In October 2018, the White House released a statement expanding on a related advisory in which the Treasury Department warned banks that senior officials and associates of Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega may seek to route corrupt proceeds into the U.S. financial system.

Vice President Mike Pence discussed U.S. efforts to combat corruption and transnational crime in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador at the first and second annual Conference On Prosperity and Security in Central America in 2017 and 2018.

The State Department has used sanctions enacted as part of an appropriations bill last year against corrupt authorities in Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala and Cuba in the past six months. Officials recently discussed their use of visa restrictions and other measures in the region while highlighting the role of democratic leaders and civil servants in countering abuses of power.

Federal agents and prosecutors have joined the campaign as well.

On Jan. 8, a federal judge in Houston, Texas sentenced a 54-year-old Florida resident to four years in prison for his role in a scheme to secure contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, PDVSA, by paying bribes and engaging in other acts of corruption.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York last month accused Genaro Garcia Luna, the former leader of Mexico’s national police, of accepting millions of dollars from the Sinaloa drug cartel in exchange for his agreement to prevent his agency from interfering with the group’s operations.

In November, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York charged University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley with conspiring to launder more than $2 million tied to a Venezuelan corruption scheme.

Bagley, who has authored a book on corruption, “Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today,” allegedly charged a 10 percent commission to transfer as much as $3 million in suspicious proceeds to the U.S. on behalf of a Colombian national despite knowing that the funds were likely criminal in nature.

U.S. anti-corruption measures involving Latin America are not limited to the administration.

In May 2019, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) pitched legislation to authorize $577 million in U.S. financial assistance to Central America and restore aid to the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras under certain conditions.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives in July, specifically requires the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to prioritize anti-corruption measures and strengthening of democratic institutions in the Northern Triangle, and imposes visa bans and asset freezes against individuals whose graft impacts the three countries.

Engel then issued a statement lauding Honduras and El Salvador’s campaigns against corruption, reserving particular praise for Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s push to create an initiative to combat graft and thus help create conditions for citizens to remain in country.

He also urged an extension of the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, or MAACIH.

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), joined Engel’s call, urging the State Department in a Jan. 9 letter to renew MAACIH in light of its “crucial role” in assisting the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office’s anti-graft efforts.

The office is currently pursuing at least 115 cases supported by MACCIH, according to the letter.

Topics : Corruption/Bribery , Anti-money laundering
Source: U.S.: Congress , U.S.: Courts , U.S.: Department of Justice , U.S.: Department of State , U.S.: Department of Treasury , U.S.: FinCEN , U.S.: Law Enforcement , U.S.: White House/U.S. President
Document Date: January 16, 2020