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Former Honduran Cabinet member accused in US of laundering drug money

By ENRIQUE FLOR | Miami Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 10, 2015

A former Honduras Cabinet member and president of one of the most popular soccer teams in the Central American country appeared before a federal judge in Miami to face accusations of laundering drug money and public corruption.

Yankel Rosenthal Coello, who has headed the first-division Club Deportivo Marathon for more than a decade, made a first appearance in Miami federal court before his transfer to New York, where the indictment was filed.

The business and sports executive has been charged with money laundering from 2004 to 2015, with his uncle and well-known Honduran banker Jaime Rolando Rosenthal Oliva, and the uncle’s son, Yani Rosenthal Hidalgo.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control announced that the three Rosenthals and seven of their companies had been added to the “Kingpin Act” list of foreigners who allegedly “play a significant role in international drug trafficking.”

The federal report said all three Rosenthal family members “provide money laundering and other services in support of international narcotics trafficking by multiple Central American drug traffickers and their criminal organizations.”

The news shook the Honduran community in South Florida.

“I am surprised by what’s happened,” community activist Francisco Portillo said. Rosenthal Coello “is part of a well-known family in Honduras, with a long business and political history in Honduras. … Jaime Rosenthal is a leader of the Liberal Party and owner of the Banco Continental.”

The Office of Foreign Assets Control, a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that works closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors, among other government agencies, said all of the Rosenthals’ assets in the United States have been frozen.

“This action is focused directly on the three members of the Rosenthal family and their properties because of their activities laundering money and trafficking drugs,” Adam J. Szubin, acting Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement. “This step highlights the fact that the U.S. government is totally committed to protecting the U.S. financial system from criminals like the Rosenthals.”

Prosecution documents allege that the money-laundering scheme involves seven Rosenthal companies, including their main enterprise, Inversiones Continental, based in Panama. The Grupo Continental is the parent company of enterprises in Honduras involved in banking, financial services, real estate, agriculture, tourism and communications.

Also singled out as participants in the money laundering scheme were three companies with postal addresses in South Florida: Inversiones Continental U.S.A., with an address in Plantation; Shelimar Real Estate Holdings II, with an address in Miami; and Shelimar Real Estate Holdings III, with an address in Golden Beach.

Three other companies listed are based in the British Virgin Islands: Shelimar Investment, Desland Overseas, and Preyden Investments.

The Honduran companies listed included Empacadora Continental S.A. de C.V., a food-packing enterprise now known as Alimentos Continental; Inversiones Continental S.A.; and Banco Continental, based in the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control reported that it was the first time a bank had been included on the Kingpin list.

“Banco Continental S.A. has served as an integral part of the money laundering operations by the Rosenthals, and facilitated the laundering of profits from narcotics trafficking by multiple Central American drug trafficking organizations,” the report said.

Rosenthal Coello was arrested Tuesday night at Miami International Airport after he landed on a flight from San Pedro Sula. The Honduran news media reported late Tuesday that the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa had notified the Honduran government of the arrest.

Rosenthal Coello was sworn in as minister of investments in the Cabinet of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in February 2014. He resigned in June.

Since June 2000, more than 1,800 individuals, companies and others have been included on the Kingpin list for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

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©2015 Miami Herald
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