Monday 1 March 2021

Former first lady of Honduras sentenced to 58 years in jail

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – The former first lady of Honduras Rosa Elena Bonilla, wife of ex-president Porfirio Lobo, was sentenced on Wednesday to 58 years in jail on charges of fraud and undue appropriation of funds, a spokesman for the nation’s highest court said.

Former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo arrives at a court hearing after being convicted on graft charges, in Tegucigalpa. Reuters/JORGE CABRERA 

Bonilla, 52, has been in custody since February 2018.

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Her defense attorney said Bonilla was innocent and an appeal would be filed with the Central American nation’s Supreme Court. That would be Bonilla’s last chance to avoid serving out the sentence.

“The former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla was sentenced to 58 years in jail for the crimes of undue appropriation of funds and fraud,” said Supreme Court spokesman Carlos Silva.

Bonilla was accused of misusing the equivalent of $779,000 in funds between 2010 and 2014 that came from international donations and public funds, and which were meant to be used for social programs, according to an investigation carried out by attorney general’s office and a unit of the Organization of American States.

Bonilla used the money to pay for medical bills, jewelry, tuition for her children and construction work, according to the attorney general’s office.

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The court also sentenced Bonilla’s close associate, Saul Escobar, to a 48-year jail sentence for embezzlement of public funds and fraud, said Silva.

Even if Bonilla and Escobar do not manage to overturn or reduce their jail sentences, they will only serve a maximum of 30 years, which is the maximum allowed by Honduran law, court sources said.

Lobo, who governed Honduras between 2010 and 2014, has also been linked to the Cachiros criminal organization in trials in the United States and has rejected these accusations.

One of Lobo’s sons pleaded guilty in 2017 before a U.S. court to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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