Dozens of individuals with claimed ties to organized crime have been released a year after Honduras changed its money laundering law, and there is a growing belief that this is an effort to shield those in authority.

According to a report by Insight Crime, at least 45 people with connections to organized crime have been released in the past year after their cases were dismissed as a result of a controversial reform to Honduras' Special Law Against Asset Laundering.

The Honduran government published legal changes to the law in its official gazette last year after congress approved the reform.

These changes meant that proving someone had unexplained wealth was no longer enough to charge them with money laundering. Prosecutors must instead prove a link between the suspect's assets and another crime, like the distribution of drugs or the sale of weapons. Additionally, unless with a judge's prior approval, investigators are no longer permitted to access a suspect's or a company's financial records.

A year on, the media published a list of 45 individuals who have recovered their freedom thanks to the reform despite accusations of being frontmen for drug cartels. Among the most noteworthy are former congressman Seth Paisano Wood and his brother Roberto.

According to the media, the pair were suspected of running a drug trafficking network and were arrested in 2019. However, they were never formally charged with doing so. When prosecutors discovered that the Paisano Wood brothers' fortune lacked any legitimate economic or legal basis, they were found guilty of money laundering. But after two years in prison, the pair were released after the reform passed.

The decision to make it harder to prosecute money launderers seems suspicious in a nation where a previous president was extradited to the US on drug trafficking charges.

The motives of the lawmakers who passed the reforms are also in doubt considering that some public figures have had their accusations against them dismissed as a result of it.

At the beginning of the year, the Attorney General's Office stated that the reform should be deemed unconstitutional as the Supreme Court was not consulted on its legality. 

In 2019 the Honduran congress passed a controversial law that was criticized for protecting politicians from being investigated for embezzlement of public funds. 

Lilian de la Concha accused of Money Laundering Image Getty Images