Daughter of murdered Honduran activist calls for criminal investigation | Business and Economy News

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

FMO, the acronym for the Netherlands Development Finance Corporation, had been involved in financing the controversial Agua Zarca dam project in northwestern Honduras from 2014 to 2017. The project, which is scheduled to be built on the Lenca indigenous territory, has come to international attention after several murders surrounding the project. , including the 2016 assassination of world-renowned indigenous water advocate Berta Cáceres.

Cáceres had led the resistance to the dam, which many natives believed would displace them from the Gualcarque River, considered sacred. She was later killed by a team of hitmen whose members had ties to the Honduran military as well as DESA, the dam construction company receiving a loan from FMO.

David Castillo, the former director general of DESA, was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison on June 20 for collaborating in the murder.

Cáceres’ daughter, Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, who on June 28 filed the 138-page petition jointly in a Dutch court with the Amsterdam-based law firm Global Justice Association, alleged that the FMO had shown negligence by ignoring the warning signs that their money was being embezzled on a huge scale, allowing that money to flow into violence. They say it could violate Dutch anti-money laundering laws.

According to them, one of the payments of the FMO loan money closely matches the WhatsApp conversations extracted by the public prosecutor of Honduras in which Castillo, the CEO of the dam company, and the leader of the assassination team discussed the need for money to carry out the murder of Cáceres several days later.

“For the Lenca people, this new legal action is an opportunity to reveal the criminal activity inherent in the financing of the Agua Zarca,” Zúñiga Cáceres told Al Jazeera. It is also a way, she says, “to know that my mother was not mistaken in establishing that these businesses and these banks are criminals”.

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

“As we understand from several press reports, charges have been brought against FMO by the Cáceres family,” said the statement read. “This is a new development linked to ongoing legal proceedings since 2018. As we have said on several occasions, we deeply regret the death of Berta Cáceres. His death is a dark page in our history. However, we strongly distance ourselves from the accusations which – as we understand – have been leveled against FMO. Should this lead to an investigation, FMO will of course cooperate fully. »

Offshore accounts, front companies

Recently released Dutch and US legal documents published by The Intercept last month revealed that FMO had repeatedly had access to documents showing that their Honduran loan recipients appeared to be embezzling millions of dollars – requesting funds for companies no longer involved in the Agua Zarca project while channeling them to an independent concrete company that, based outside the Honduran corporate registry, appeared to be inactive.

Several of these payments, sent via an offshore account with Deutsche Bank NYC, were personally signed off by an FMO representative despite apparent inconsistencies between the supposed recipient and the bank account the money was actually being sent to.

One of those payments, a transfer of $1.7 million signed by an FMO representative, closely matched text exchanges between Castillo and the leader of the assassination squad in which they discussed the need for funds. for the murder of Cáceres, according to his daughter and the Global Justice Association.

Following a failed attempt to kill her in February, the squad leader said he needed money for “logistics”. Early on March 1, 2016, Castillo texted the band leader that he could pay him later that morning because “the requested loan may be available”. Cáceres was assassinated the following day.

Berta Cáceres had led the resistance to the dam, which 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 would deter other investors. Since the 2009 coup, some claim received the green light from the US State Department, Honduras has always been one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of a war zone. It has also been one of the deadliest for environmental activists, with more than 120 murdered since the coup, according to Global Witness, many of them resisting dam, mining or agribusiness projects.

Cáceres had warned FMO not to fund Agua Zarca for these reasons. But that didn’t stop them from signing a loan deal in February 2014.

“Violence against the people”

FMO’s potential criminal investigation would not be the first time an international credit institution has come under fire for its alleged complicity in the bloodshed in Honduras.

In 2017, a civil suit was filed in US court against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank, for financing Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company embroiled in land wars. bloody on the country’s Caribbean coast. The lawsuit, which is ongoing, alleged that the IFC loaned Dinant millions as the company ‘hired (and continues to hire) paramilitary death squads and hitmen’ who have been accused of numerous murders . Dinant denied any responsibility for the violence.

The new petition for a criminal investigation against FMO “will hold [the bank] responsible for alleged criminal conduct,” according to legal scholar Ron Rosenhart Rodríguez, associate at the Global Justice Association. “This is an important and relatively unique step in an already iconic case which will hopefully shed light on the violence against the people [affected by Agua Zarca] and the murder of Berta Cáceres.

Powerful actors were at play behind the Agua Zarca project. One of the major funders was the Atala Zablah Family, a banking family with immense political power in Honduras and investments in construction, finance and sports. José Eduardo Atala Zablah was previously part of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), which financed Agua Zarca alongside the FMO. His son, Daniel Atala Midence, financial director of DESA, asked many FMO loans for which the declared beneficiary did not correspond to the account number indicated. 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 gains,” Rosenhart Rodríguez told Al Jazeera. “There are several other examples of development funding that reflect this same disregard for community rights. In our view, there is indeed a more structural problem of mentality within these banks.

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