The controversy over deposed President Manuel Zelaya took a bizarre turn overnight, at least here in the US. The Washington Times viewed security tapes from the Central Bank of Honduras showing officials from Zelaya’s staff withdrawing almost $3 million, which got driven to the house of Zelaya’s chief of staff. Did Zelaya intend the money to fund his illegal referendum to keep himself in office past the constitutional term limits — or did he have something more personal in mind?
Honduran officials are investigating allegations that President Manuel Zelaya and his chief of staff stole millions of dollars from the central bank before the military ousted Mr. Zelaya last month, according to a senior Honduran official, government documents and other evidence.
A security video from the Central Bank of Honduras made available to The Washington Times shows officials entering the bank June 24 and withdrawing large amounts of Honduran currency. The money was driven to the office of Mr. Zelaya’s chief of staff, Enrique Flores Lanza, according to depositions by three witnesses to Honduran prosecutors.
Government documents and testimony by the three say that about $2.2 million was taken. …
Two Honduran political opponents of Mr. Zelaya with knowledge of the transactions said Mr. Zelaya planned to use the money in connection with a referendum that if successful would have permitted him to serve a second term as president. The Honduran Supreme Court and Congress ruled the referendum illegal because the constitution limits presidents to a single term.
Of course, the interim government has plenty of incentive to find crimes to allege against Zelaya in order to undermine his claim to power, and to distance Zelaya from the US and other nations in the region. Embezzlement on that scale, and with that carelessness, would cause anyone to reconsider their position. It’s easy to scoff at documents provided in the wake of Zelaya’s removal as propaganda.
However, Times reporter Sara Carter reviewed the actual security tapes as well as the bank records, and reports that they corroborate each other. One would have to question why members of Zelaya’s staff would need to withdraw so much money in cash, rather than just write checks that would get normal accounting in the legitimate process. Grabbing cash in any amount strongly suggests that the intent was neither legitimate nor legal, and the large amounts point to something significantly illegitimate.
Zelaya never got the chance to hold his illegal referendum, which leaves us with the question of where the money went. The video shows the money walking out the door in the hands of Zelaya’s staff, and three witnesses say that Lanza had the cash last. Assuming they have told the truth, someone has the money. Is it Zelaya, his chief of staff, or somewhere else?