Twenty-eight of the 38 defendants in the Honduran 'Pandora's Box' embezzlement scandal headed to court on Thursday at 3:00 p.m. for a hearing called by Judge Lidia Alvarez.
The hearing was postponed from Wednesday because three fugitives in the case were expected to be delivered to authorities on Thursday.
On the first day of the initial court appearance, Judge Alvarez dismissed evidence presented by the lawyers of four defendants with the hopes of getting them dismissed from the case. Alvarez said that all 28 will remain for the hearing, which could take up to three more days.
An arrest warrant was put out last Saturday for 38 current and former government and elected officials accused of being involved in the Pandora’s Box case.
The case involves the embezzlement of over US$11.7 million in public funds earmarked for agricultural and horticultural projects, allegedly laundered through the NGO ‘We Are All Honduras’ and channeled to National Party 2013 electoral campaigns, including current President Juan Orlando Hernandez's first presidential run.
The money was allegedly also used to pay off members of the opposition Liberal Party.
The Anti-Corruption Unit of the Attorney General's office (Ufecic) is formally accusing the 38 officials of "abuse of authority, fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, falsification and use of public documents to the detriment of public administration, public faith and the economy of the State of Honduras."
Judge Alvarez will decide by the end of the hearing whether the 28 already in preventive detention should remain there, or if they should be temporarily or permanently acquitted.
Among the accused is the former presidential candidate Elvin Santos of the Liberal Party; current congress members Rodolfo Irias Navas and Lenin Rigoberto Rodas Velazquez, and former congressional president Jose Celin Discua.
The former agriculture minister, Jacobo Regalado, and congressional deputy Miguel Edgardo Martinez from the ruling National Party are also among those expected to appear in court.
This is the second major government corruption network being investigated by Honduran prosecutors. The other, the 'Delegates Network,' involves over 60 Honduran state officials – some still in office – who, between 2011 and 2015, channeled approximately US$55million in state funds into the pockets of the accused.