A request to investigate the case involving the Dutch state development bank FMO has been submitted to the Netherlands for its involvement in the genocide in Honduras.

FMO, an acronym for the Netherlands Development Finance Company, was involved in financing the construction of the Agua Zarca dams in northwestern Honduras from 2014 to 2017. , including the 2016 killing of Indigenous water protector Berta Cáceres.

Cáceres led the opposition to the dam, which many villagers said would take them away from the Gualcarque River, which is considered sacred. He was later assassinated by a militia whose members were affiliated with the Honduran military and DESA, a dam construction company that received loans from FMO.

David Castillo, former head of DESA, was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison on June 20 for his involvement in the murder.

Cáceres’ daughter Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, who on June 28 filed a 138-page lawsuit in a Dutch court together with the legal organization Amsterdam Global Justice Association, says the FMO neglected to ignore warning signs that their money was being stolen at great cost. level, allowing the money to go to violence. They say doing so could violate Dutch anti-money laundering laws.

One of the FMO loan payments, they argue, is closely related to the WhatsApp conversations taken by the Honduran public prosecutor where Castillo, the CEO of the dam company, and the head of the murder team discussed the lack of money to kill Cáceres in a few days. later.

“For the Lenca people this new law is an opportunity to expose the criminal activities funded by Agua Zarca,” Zúñiga Cáceres told Al Jazeera. This is also a way, he said, “to know that my mother was not wrong in recognizing that these businesses and these banks are criminals”.

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

“As we understand from several news reports, charges have been filed by the FMO and the Cáceres family,” the statement read. “This is a new development related to the cases that have been going on since 2018. As we have said several times before, we are deeply saddened by the death of Berta Cáceres. Her death is a black page in our history. However, we distance ourselves from the accusations that – as we understand – has been filed against the FMO. If it leads to an investigation, the FMO will fully cooperate.”

Offshore accounts, shell companies

New Dutch and US legal documents published by The Intercept last month revealed that the FMO also found documents showing Honduran borrowers apparently embezzling millions of dollars – soliciting money from companies that did not participate in the Agua Zarca project at the same time. time to transfer them to an unrelated concrete company that, based on the Honduran company registry, appears to be inactive.

Most of these payments, sent through an offshore account with Deutsche Bank NYC, were signed by an FMO representative even though there was a discrepancy between the recipient and the bank account to which the money was sent.

One of these payments, a transfer of $1.7m signed by a representative of the FMO, is closely related to an exchange of text messages between Castillo and the head of the murder squad in which they discussed the need to fund the killing of Cáceres, according to his daughter and the Global Justice Association.

Following the assassination attempt in February, the group’s chief said they needed money for “logistics”. In the early hours of March 1, 2016, Castillo sent a text message to the head of the group saying that he could pay him that morning because “the loan he requested may be available”. Cáceres was killed the next day.

Demonstrators hold placards with a picture of Berta Caceres and signs against human rights violations.
Berta Cáceres led the resistance to the dam, which many villagers said would remove them from the sacred Gualcarque river.[File: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images]

FMO prides itself on investing in “dangerous” countries where corruption and fraud would deter other investors. Since the 2009 terrorist attack that some say was overseen by the US State Department, Honduras has consistently been one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of a war zone. And it has also been deadly for environmentalists, with more than 120 people killed since the attack, according to Global Witness – many of them refusing to work on dams, mines or commercial projects.

Cáceres warned the FMO not to fund Agua Zarca for these reasons. But it did not stop them from signing the loan agreement in February 2014.

‘Violence against people’

The FMO criminal investigation would not be the first time the international lending institution has come under fire for its involvement in the genocide in Honduras.

In 2017, a United States court brought a lawsuit against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the independent lending agency of the World Bank, for supporting Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company that was involved in deadly land wars on the Caribbean coast. The lawsuit, which is still ongoing, alleges that the IFC loaned Dinant millions while the company “hired (and continues to hire) gangs of assassins and assassins” accused of mass murder. Dinant has denied any responsibility for the attacks.

A new request to investigate the charges against the FMO “will hold [the bank] it’s a presumptive crime,” according to attorney Ron Rosenhart Rodríguez, associate of the Global Justice Association. “It’s an important and unique part of a long-standing tradition that will once again highlight the brutality that people are subjected to. [affected by Agua Zarca] and the assassination of Berta Cáceres.

Powerful players were playing behind the Agua Zarca project. One of the biggest contributors was the Atala Zablah family, a banking family that holds political power in Honduras and invests 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 together with the FMO. His son, Mr. Daniel Atala Midence, CFO of DESA, applied for many loans from FMO where the recipient does not match the account number specified. The family has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.

“Agua Zarca has shown that development banks can provide the protection of human rights for commercial gain,” Rosenhart Rodríguez told Al Jazeera. “There are several other examples of development finance that show contempt for human rights. In our opinion, there is a certain psychological problem within these banks.”

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