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Honduras is not an important regional or offshore financial center and is not considered to have a significant black market for smuggled goods, although there have been recent high-profile smuggling cases involving gasoline and other consumer goods. Money laundering, however, does take place, primarily through the banking sector but also through currency exchange houses and front companies. The vulnerabilities of Honduras to money laundering stem primarily from significant trafficking of narcotics, particularly cocaine, throughout the region. An estimated $2 billion in remittances and smuggling of contraband may also generate funds that are laundered through the banking system. Money laundering in Honduras derives both from domestic and foreign criminal activity, and the proceeds are controlled by local drug trafficking organizations and organized crime syndicates. Honduras is not experiencing an increase in financial crimes such as bank fraud. It is not a matter of government policy to encourage, facilitate or engage in laundering the proceeds from illegal drug transactions, terrorist financing or other serious crimes. However, corruption remains a serious problem, particularly within the judiciary and law enforcement sectors.

There is no indication Honduran free trade zone companies are being used in trade-based money laundering schemes or by financiers of terrorism. Under Honduran legislation, companies may register for "free trade zone" status, and benefit from the associated tax benefits, regardless of their location in the country. Companies that wish to receive free trade zone status must register within the Office of Productive Sectors within the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The majority of companies with free trade zone status operate mostly in the textile and apparel industry.

Money laundering has been a criminal offense in Honduras since 1998, when the passage of Law No. 27-98 criminalized the laundering of narcotics-related proceeds and introduced various record keeping and reporting requirements for financial institutions. However, weaknesses in the law, including a narrow definition of money laundering, made it virtually impossible to successfully prosecute the crime.

In 2002, Honduras passed Decree No. 45-2002, which strengthened its legal framework and available investigative and prosecutorial tools to fight money laundering. Under the new legislation, the definition of money laundering was expanded to include the transfer of assets that proceed directly or indirectly from trafficking of drugs, arms, human organs or persons; auto theft; kidnapping; bank and other forms of financial fraud; and terrorism, as well as any sale or movement of assets that lacks economic justification. The penalty for money laundering is a prison sentence of 15-20 years. The law also requires all persons entering or leaving Honduras to declare-and, if asked, present-cash and convertible securities (titulos valores de convertibilidad inmediata) that they are carrying if the amount exceeds $10,000 or its equivalent.

Decree No. 45-2002 created the financial intelligence unit (FIU), the Unidad de Informacion Financiera (UIF), within the National Banking and Securities Commission. Banks and other financial institutions are required to report to the UIF currency transactions over $10,000 in dollar denominated accounts or the equivalent in local currency accounts, as well as all suspicious transactions. The law requires the UIF and reporting institutions to keep a registry of reported transactions for five years. Banks are required to know the identity of all their clients and depositors, regardless of the amount of a client's deposits, and to keep adequate records of the information. The law also includes banker negligence provisions that make individual bankers subject to two- to five-year prison terms if, by carelessness, negligence, inexperience or non-observance of the law, they permit money to be laundered through their institutions. Anti-money laundering requirements apply to all financial institutions that are regulated by the National Banking and Securities Commission, including state and private banks, savings and loan associations, bonded warehouses, stock markets, currency exchange houses, securities dealers, insurance companies, credit associations, and casinos.

Decree No. 45-2002 requires that a public prosecutor be assigned to the UIF. In practice, two prosecutors are assigned to the UIF, each on a part-time basis, with responsibility for specific cases divided among them depending upon their expertise. The prosecutors, under urgent conditions and with special authorization, may subpoena data and information directly from financial institutions. Public prosecutors and police investigators are permitted to use electronic surveillance techniques to investigate money laundering.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, officials responsible for filing reports on behalf of obligated entities are protected by law with respect to their cooperation with law enforcement authorities. However, some have alleged that their personal security is put at risk if the information they report leads to the prosecution of money launderers. This has not been an issue throughout 2006, however, as only cases originating from the police and prosecutors have been presented in court.

There had been some ambiguity in Honduran law concerning the responsibility of banks to report information to the supervisory authorities, and the duty of these institutions to keep customer information confidential. A new law passed in September 2004, the Financial Systems Law (Decree No. 129-2004), clarifies this ambiguity, explicitly stating that the provision of information requested by regulatory, judicial, or other legal authorities shall not be regarded as an improper divulgence of confidential information.

In December 2004, Decree No. 24-2004 created the Interagency Commission for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (CIPLAFT). The group was tasked as the coordinating entity responsible for ensuring that all anti-money laundering and anti-financing of terrorism systems operate efficiently and consistently with all relevant laws, regulations, resolutions, and directives. However, the size of the group and overly political environment stifled effective discussions and marginalized any positive developments that came out of the meetings. In early 2006, the new head of the banking commission effectively terminated the CIPLAFT.

At roughly the same time as the termination of the CIPLAFT, a new agreement among the Public Ministry, the banking commission, and the UIF was drafted with the intent to more effectively prioritize money laundering cases and determine which cases to pursue. Previously, an average of 20 nonpriority cases were sent to prosecutors for review each month. This has been streamlined to a more manageable five cases, each of which has been determined to be promising for potential prosecution, and many older cases have been officially closed. The result is fewer active cases, allowing the overloaded prosecutors and under-funded police units to focus on the strongest and most important cases.

Prior to 2004, there had been no successful prosecutions of money laundering crimes in Honduras. In 2004, however, Honduran authorities arrested 16 persons for money laundering crimes, issued six additional outstanding arrest warrants, and secured five convictions. Through November of 2006, another six convictions have been obtained.

The Honduran Congress first enacted an asset seizure law in 1993. Decree No. 45-2002 strengthens the asset seizure provisions of the law, and established an Office of Seized Assets (OABI) under the Public Ministry. Decree 45-2002 authorizes the OABI to guard and administer all goods, products or instruments of a crime, and states that money seized or money raised from the auctioning of seized goods should be transferred to the public entities that participated in the investigation and prosecution of the crime. Under the Criminal Procedure Code, when goods or money are seized in any criminal investigation, a criminal charge must be submitted against the suspect within 60 days of the seizure; if one is not submitted, the suspect has the right to demand the release of the seized assets.

Decree No. 45-2002 is not entirely clear on the issue of whether a legitimate business can be seized if used to launder money derived from criminal activities. The chief prosecutor for organized crime maintains that the authorities do have this power, because once a "legitimate" business is used to launder criminal assets, it ceases to be "legitimate" and is subject to seizure proceedings. However, this authority is not explicitly granted in the law, and there has been no test case to date which would set an interpretation. There are currently no new laws being considered regarding seizure or forfeiture of assets of criminal activity.

As of December 2006, the total value of assets seized since the 2002 law came into effect is estimated at $5.7 million, including $4.6 million in tangible assets such as cars, houses and boats. To date in 2006, two new cases have added approximately $20,000 to the total assets seized. Most of these seized assets are alleged to have derived from crimes related to drug trafficking; none is suspected of being connected to terrorist activity. The law allows for both civil and criminal forfeiture, and there are no significant legal loopholes that allow criminals to shield their assets.

In addition to undergoing the financial audit verifying the bank accounts, OABI has moved to distribute funds to various law enforcement units and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The funds, which constituted the first systematic distribution under the new guidelines, went to the Supreme Court, federal prosecutors, OABI, and two civil society groups. Momentum is now gaining for OABI to more quickly liquidate all assets once confiscated, in an effort to avoid parking lots full of deteriorating assets or high protection and maintenance fees. With new management and guidelines in place, OABI is set to expand its role significantly when a witness protection law passes that will allow the unit to hold all seized assets, not just assets seized under the money laundering law.

The GOH has been supportive of counterterrorism efforts. Decree No. 45-2002 states that an asset transfer related to terrorism is a crime; however, terrorist financing has not been identified as a crime itself. This law does not explicitly grant the GOH the authority to freeze or seize terrorist assets; however, under separate authority, the National Banking and Insurance Commission has issued freeze orders promptly for the organizations and individuals named by the United Nations 1267 Sanctions Committee and those organizations and individuals on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists designated by the United States pursuant to Executive Order 13224. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for instructing the Commission to issue freeze orders. The Commission directs Honduran financial institutions to search for, hold and report on terrorist-linked accounts and transactions, which, if found, would be frozen. The Commission has reported that, to date, no accounts linked to the entities or individuals on the lists have been found in the Honduran financial system.

While Honduras is a major recipient of flows of remittances (estimated at $2 billion in 2006), there has been no evidence to date linking these remittances to the financing of terrorism. Remittances primarily flow from Hondurans living in the United States to their relatives in Honduras. Most remittances are sent through wire transfer or bank services, with some cash probably being transported physically from the United States to Honduras. There is no significant indigenous alternative remittance system operating in Honduras, nor is there any evidence that charitable or nonprofit entities in Honduras have been used as conduits for the financing of terrorism.

Honduras cooperates with U.S. investigations and requests for information pursuant to the 1988 United Nations Drug Convention. No specific written agreement exists between the United States and Honduras to establish a mechanism for exchanging adequate records in connection with investigations and proceedings relating to narcotics, terrorism, terrorist financing, and other crime investigations. However, Honduras has cooperated, when requested, with appropriate law enforcement agencies of the U.S. Government and other governments investigating financial crimes. The UIF has signed memoranda of understanding to exchange information on money laundering investigations with Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Honduras is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the UN International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the UN Convention against Corruption, and the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism. Honduras strives to comply with the Basel Committee's "Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision," and the new Financial System Law, Decree No. 129-2004, is designed to improve compliance with these international standards. At the regional level, Honduras is a member of the Central American Council of Bank Superintendents, which meets periodically to exchange information. Honduras is a member of the Organization of American States Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (OAS/CICAD) Group of Experts to Control Money Laundering, and the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF). In 2005, the UIF became a member of the Egmont Group.

Four years after passing a new law against money laundering, the Government of Honduras (GOH) continued to make considerable progress in implementing the law, establishing and training the entities responsible for the investigation of financial crimes, and improving cooperation among these entities. In 2006, the Government of Honduras continues its positive steps to implement Decree No. 45-2002. The number of good cases identified for investigation has helped focus the poorly funded prosecutors and police force, while the number of cases closed continues to climb. The asset seizure organization, OABI, continues to improve, and seized assets could soon become a significant funding source for the Public Ministry and police forces. The GOH should continue to support the developing law enforcement and regulatory entities responsible for combating money laundering and other financial crimes, and ensure that resources are available to strengthen its anti-money laundering regime. Sustained progress will depend upon increased commitment from the government to aggressively prosecute financial crimes. Honduras should draft and pass legislation specifically criminalizing the financing of terrorism to comport with international standards.
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Title Annotation:Country Reports
Publication:International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Geographic Code:2HOND
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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