A Honduran appellate court is returning 13 lots of real estate to the former first lady, Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, lawfully seized by the state in late February when Bonilla was arrested on charges of running an embezzlement ring while her husband, Porfirio Lobo Sosa (2010-2014) was in office.
Bonilla was already exonerated late last month from two major charges - misappropriation of public funds and money laundering - for which she was placed in preventative detention nearly three months ago. Only charges of fraud and embezzlement remain.
In late February the accused was arrested for allegedly running an embezzlement ring involving nine others, siphoning approximately US$600,000 in government funds and private donations intended for Honduran social programs to Bonilla’s private accounts.
It was later revealed that nearly US$127,000 of the illicit funds went to a Honduran-based drug cartel - Los Cachiros.
When Bonilla was arrested back in February Honduran law allowed the court to seize property from those accused of government corruption. A hurriedly reformed law passed by Congress in late March now only allows the state to seize property for those accused of drug trafficking.
Her lawyers are now trying to use a law reform to send De Lobo’s case to the Superior Accounts Tribunal (SAT) - a government entity with no penal power - to investigate her case. The process could take up to three years - setting Bonilla free during that time - before it returns to the state prosecutor’s office.
"These are resolutions of impunity that benefit the ex-first lady," said the director of the Honduran Anti Corruption Council, Odir Fernandez when the reform was enacted.
Bonilla’s real estate, which includes 10 parcels of land that measure over 3,200 acres in total and three luxury condominiums, will be returned to her but the court is not allowing Bonilla to sell them.