TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — One of Honduras' most powerful businessmen and two of his family members have been indicted in the United States for allegedly laundering money for drug traffickers.
The U.S. Justice Department released a statement Wednesday saying that Jaime Rolando Rosenthal Oliva, his son Yani Benjamin Rosenthal and nephew Yankel Rosenthal, as well as seven businesses were labeled "specially designated narcotics traffickers" under the Kingpin Act.
The men "provide money laundering and other services that support the international narcotics trafficking activities of multiple Central American drug traffickers and their criminal organizations," the statement said.
Yankel Rosenthal was arrested Tuesday at Miami's airport. A call to his attorney in Miami was not immediately returned.
Later Wednesday, Jaime and Yani Rosenthal released a statement denying the accusations against them.
"We have never been involved in illegal acts, much less in drug trafficking or money laundering activities," said the two men, who are apparently still free and in Honduras.
Jaime Rosenthal heads Grupo Continental, a sprawling collection of businesses ranging from a bank to a meatpacker and is a four-time presidential candidate. A senior U.S Treasury Department official, who requested anonymity to speak about the case, said that it was the first time the Kingpin Act had been used against a foreign bank.
The official called it "one of the most significant money laundering networks in Central America."
"The Rosenthals have in the past used their immense and ill-gotten wealth to obtain political influence and to provide services to a number of Central American drug traffickers and their criminal organizations," the official said. All of their assets in the U.S. have been blocked so that no U.S. citizens may do business with them or their companies anywhere in the world.
Aggressive interdiction efforts in the Caribbean pushed cocaine trafficking into Central America, overwhelming small countries with histories of political instability and without the resources to combat it. A long-standing criticism of the U.S. war on drugs has been that it was less aggressive in going after the elite business and political figures who launder the drug-trafficking organizations' profits than those who move the drugs.
The indictment, which came from the Southern District of New York, also names Andres Acosta Garcia, a lawyer with Grupo Continental. Each man is charged with one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. The indictment alleges the money laundering took place from about 2004 to September 2015.
A Justice Department official declined to comment on the possibility of extradition, but said U.S. authorities are interested in prosecuting the others named in the indictment and would be working with their counterparts in Honduras.
Yankel Rosenthal heads the Marathon soccer club, which plays in the city of San Pedro Sula. It won its most recent championship in the 2009-2010 season. The soccer club released a statement late Tuesday through its official Twitter account telling fans that it had no information other than what the Honduran government released in a statement Tuesday night confirming his arrest.
He is also is a former minister in the government of President Juan Orlando Hernandez for investment promotion. He was appointed after Hernandez took office in January 2014 and left that position in June without an explanation.
Freddy Cuevas reported from Tegucigalpa. Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico City and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.