Prosecutors in Honduras charged the vice president of the nation’s Congress with fraud, falsification of documents and crimes against public health in a widening corruption investigation on Thursday.
The investigation into the fraudulent sales of medicines to the government has brought thousands of Hondurans onto the streets in protest in the past two weeks.
Congress Vice President Lena Gutierrez, a member of the governing National Party, has been a federal legislator since 2009. From 2010 to last year, she was No. 2 under congressional leader Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is now Honduran president.
Together with her father and two siblings, Gutierrez owns Astropharma, a company that she said is a wholesaler of medicines made by pharmaceutical companies. She told local television she was surprised by the charges and would prove her innocence.
The charges came a day after the army took over Honduras’ public hospitals and medicine stockpiles. The president announced that soldiers would perform an inventory to guarantee medicines get to those who need them and to discover if there are shortages of any medicines.
The public health system scandal involves alleged embezzlement that cost the Social Security Institute as much as US$120 million. At least some of the money went to finance governing party political campaigns, including Hernandez’s.
The scheme involved selling overpriced and in some cases defective medicines to the government. Eleven cases have been identified in which it appears women died after taking defective drugs.
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