Slain Honduran activist’s daughter seeks criminal probe | Business and Economy News

A petition for a criminal investigation against the Dutch state development bank FMO has been filed in the Netherlands for alleged complicity in the bloodshed in Honduras.

FMO, short for Dutch Development Finance, was involved in funding the controversial Agua Zarca dam project in northwestern Honduras between 2014 and 2017. The project, scheduled to be built on the indigenous territory of Lenca, which gained international attention after a number of murders surrounding the project, including the 2016 assassination of world-famous indigenous water defender Berta Cáeres.

The Cáeres led resistance to the dam, which many natives say would displace them from the Gualcarque River, which is considered sacred. She is then killed by an assault team whose members have connections to both the Honduran military as well as DESA, the dam construction company that receives loans from the FMO.

David Castillo, former executive director of DESA, has sentenced to 22 and a half years went to prison on June 20 for being a collaborator in the murder.

Cáeres’ daughter, Bertha Zúñiga Cáeres, who on June 28 jointly filed a 138-page lawsuit in a Dutch court with Amsterdam-based law firm Global Justice Association, alleging that the FMO had negligently left the court. through warning signs that their money is being embezzled greatly. scale, allowing that money to go in the direction of violence. They say doing so could violate Dutch anti-money laundering laws.

They allege that one of the FMO’s loan payments closely corresponds to WhatsApp chats extracted by Honduras’ prosecutors in which Castillo, the dam company’s CEO and head The assassin squad discussed the need for money to carry out the murder of Cáeres for several days. after.

“For the people of Lenca, this new legal action is an opportunity to reveal the criminal activity inherent in the financial resources of Agua Zarca,” Zúñiga Cáeres told Al Jazeera. It’s also a way, she says, “to know that my mother wasn’t mistaken in assuming these businesses and these banks were criminals.”

In a written response to Al Jazeera, FMO spokeswoman Monica Beek referred to a June 28 statement published on the financier’s website about the allegations.

“As we understand from a number of articles, the Cáeres family has filed charges against the FMO,” statement read. “This is a new development regarding the legal proceedings that have been going on since 2018. As we have said several times before, we deeply regret the death of Berta Cáeres. Her death is a dark page in our history. However, we completely distance ourselves from the allegations – as we understand them – that have been brought against FMO. Should it arise an investigation, the FMO will of course fully cooperate. “

Foreign accounts, shell companies

New Dutch and US legal documents released published by The Intercept revealed last month that the FMO had repeatedly accessed paperwork that showed its Honduran loan recipients appeared to be embezzling millions of dollars – requesting funding for companies no longer involved in the project. The Agua Zarca project also transferred them to an unrelated concrete company, based out of the Honduran company registry, which appeared to be inactive.

Some of these payments, sent through an offshore account with Deutsche Bank NYC, were personally signed by the FMO representative despite the apparent conflict between the alleged recipient and the bank account. goods to which the money was actually sent.

One of these payments, a $1.7 million wire transfer signed by an FMO representative, closely corresponds to text exchanges between Castillo and the head of the hit squad in which they discussed the need for money to kill Cáeres, according to her daughter and the Universal Justice Association.

After a plot to kill her in February, the team leader said he needed “logistics” money. Early in the morning of March 1, 2016, Castillo texted the head of the group that he could pay him that morning because “the requested loan may be available”. Cáeres was murdered the next day.

Protesters hold placards with photos of Berta Caceres and banners denouncing human rights abuses.
Berta Cáeres led resistance against the dam that many natives believed would displace them from the sacred Gualcarque river.[File: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images]

FMO prides itself on investing in “high-risk” countries where corruption and investors discourage other investors. Since a coup in 2009, a number of allegations has been given the green light by the US Department of StateHonduras is consistently one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of a war zone. It is also one of the deadliest acts for environmentalists, with more than 120 were murdered since the coup, according to Global Witness – with many of them against dam-building projects, mining or agribusiness.

Cáeres warned the FMO against funding Agua Zarca for these reasons. But that didn’t stop them from signing a loan agreement in February 2014.

‘Violence against people’

The potential criminal investigation into the FMO would not be the first time an international lender has come under fire for alleged complicity in the bloodshed in Honduras.

In 2017, a civil suit was filed in a US court against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank, for funding Dinant, a private equity firm. Honduran palm oil company involved in bloody land wars on the country’s Caribbean coast. The lawsuit, which is ongoing, alleges IFC lent millions to Dinant while the company “hire (and continues to hire) teams of paramilitary and hired assassins” that have been accused of multiple murders. Dinant has denied any responsibility for the violence.

New petition for a criminal investigation against FMO will “hold [the bank] must be held accountable for the suspected criminal conduct,” said jurist Ron Rosenhart Rodríguez, affiliated with the Global Justice Association. “It’s an important and relatively unique step in an already iconic case that will hopefully shed more light on violence against people. [affected by Agua Zarca] and the killing of Berta Cáeres. “

Powerful actors participated in the Agua Zarca project. One of the main supporters is Atala Zablah’s family, a banking family that has great political power in Honduras and invests in construction, finance and sports. José Eduardo Atala Zablah was formerly part of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), which funded Agua Zarca together with the FMO. His son, Daniel Atala Midence, DESA’s Chief Financial Officer, ask for much loans from FMO where the stated recipient does not match the account number listed. The family has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.

“Agua Zarca has shown that development banks are capable of sacrificing human rights protection for commercial gain,” Rosenhart Rodríguez told Al Jazeera. “There are several other examples of development finance that reflect a similar disregard for community rights. In our view, there is indeed a more structural psychological problem in these banks. “

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