Department of Justice Seeks Recovery of Approximately $1,528,000 in Bribes Paid to a Honduran Official
The Department of Justice filed today a civil forfeiture complaint seeking the forfeiture of nine properties worth approximately $1,528,000 that were allegedly purchased with funds traceable to a $2 million bribe paid by a Honduran information-technology company to the former Executive Director of the Honduran Institute of Social Security.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite, Jr. of the Eastern District of Louisiana and Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) made the announcement.
“Mario Zelaya was the director of Honduras’s social security agency, but instead of building a social safety net for his country’s citizens, he allegedly used his position of public trust to steal public money for himself,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Our action today highlights how the Criminal Division’s Kleptocracy Initiative, with our network of law enforcement partners around the globe, will trace and recover the ill-gotten gains of corrupt officials. Criminals should make no mistake: the United States is not a safe haven for the proceeds of your crimes. If you hide or invest your stolen money here, we will use all the legal tools we have to find it and seize it.”
“The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana is committed to working with our law enforcement partners, both domestically and internationally, to ensure that this district is not used to launder corruptly obtained funds, no matter the source of the corruption,” said U.S. Attorney Polite.
“ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations will continue to work in cooperation with our international law enforcement partners to ensure that our country is not used as a safe haven for corrupt foreign officials to hide their assets,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Edge.
From 2010 to 2014, Dr. Mario Roberto Zelaya Rojas, 46, of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, served as the Executive Director of the Honduran Institute of Social Security (HISS), a Honduran Government agency that provides social security services, including workers’ compensation, retirement, maternity, and death benefits. According to allegations in the forfeiture complaint, Zelaya solicited and accepted $2.08 million in bribes from Compania De Servicios Multiples, S. de R. L. (COSEM) in exchange for prioritizing and expediting payments owed to COSEM under a $19 million contract with HISS. Zelaya also allegedly instructed COSEM to make bribe payments to two members of the Board of Directors of HISS charged with overseeing the COSEM contract. To conceal the illicit payments, COSEM allegedly sent the bribes through its affiliate company, CA Technologies.
As further alleged in the complaint, the bribe proceeds were then laundered into the United States and used by Zelaya and his brother, Carlos Alberto Zelaya Rojas, to acquire real estate in the New Orleans area. Certain properties were titled in the name of companies nominally controlled by Zelaya’s brother in an effort to conceal the illicit source of the funds as well as the beneficial owner. The current action seeks forfeiture of nine properties acquired with the proceeds of Zelaya’s alleged bribery scheme.
The investigation was conducted by HSI’s New Orleans and Miami Field Offices. The case is being handled by Trial Attorneys Stephen A. Gibbons and Marybeth Grunstra of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Friel of the Eastern District of Louisiana. Substantial assistance was provided by the Public Ministry of the Republic of Honduras and the HSI Attaché Tegucigalpa. The Criminal Division’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training Resident Legal Advisor in Tegucigalpa also provided valuable assistance.
This case was brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Under that initiative, dedicated prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section work in partnership with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and federal law enforcement agencies to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where possible and appropriate, put forfeited corruption proceeds to use for the benefit of the people of the country harmed by the abuse of public office. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the United States should contact federal law enforcement or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.