Forget Honduras talks, crime claims aim to keep Zelaya out

TEGUCIGALPA -- While ousted President Manuel Zelaya carries out a raucous public battle to return and finish the last six months of his term, the Honduran attorney general is quietly collecting evidence that might put Zelaya behind bars -- or keep him at bay -- for years.

Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti traveled to Costa Rica on Thursday to begin negotiating a way out of the political crisis in which both claim the presidency. But congress and other branches of government have suggested that some things are not on the table -- namely, dropping charges so Zelaya can return.

Deputy Attorney General Roy David Urtecho, who was appointed under the Zelaya administration, said his office would vehemently resist any pressure for leniency.

''Only congress can extend amnesty,'' he said. "But we will take every legal action necessary so that no accusations that have been made, or will be made, against a public official are left in impunity.''

Zelaya is facing four charges: abuse of power, treason, usurping his duties and attempts against the form of government. Only treason and attempts against the form of government might be considered ''political'' charges, legal experts said.

Any legal woes for Zelaya stem from a single issue: his aggressive pursuit of a national referendum that he hoped would allow him to rewrite the constitution.

As congress and the courts legally blocked him each step of the way, Zelaya switched tactics, ignored rulings and fired those who got in the way. It came to a crisis point on June 25 when he rallied his supporters to break into a government building and seize the impounded referendum material, which was under guard. That was the last straw.

On June 26, the Supreme Court ordered his arrest, according to documents provided by the attorney general's office. On the morning of June 28 -- the day the referendum was to take place -- masked soldiers escorted Zelaya at gunpoint onto an airplane in his pajamas and flew him to Costa Rica.

In addition, Zelaya's chief of staff, Enrique Flores Lanza, is accused of abuse of power and misuse of public funds for withdrawing about $2.2 million in cash from the Central Bank on June 24.

Urtecho said there may be more charges in the pipeline. ''We have received reports about government contracts that violated the law,'' he said. ``But all the documentation we needed has been in the hands of the government officials who vacated their offices on June 28.''

Since Zelaya's departure, many of his ministers have fled and the entire Cabinet has been replaced.

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