SAN MANUEL CORTES, Honduras – A U.S. investigation into alleged money laundering for drug traffickers by one of Honduras' most powerful families has resulted in some unusual victims: thousands of hungry crocodiles.
At least 7,500 crocodiles on a private farm in northern Honduras have been poorly fed in recent weeks because of a lack of resources, authorities and employees at the property said. The bank accounts of the farm's owner, the Rosenthal family, were seized during a probe into accusations they were operating a money laundering network linked to drug trafficking.
Farm employees told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the animals went without food for more than a month, but were finally fed over the weekend thanks to donations. Worker Antonio Mejia said that at least 200 small crocodiles had died, but Pablo Dubon, northern regional director of Honduras' Forest Conservation Institute, said he doubted that claim.
Mejia said the crocodiles were being raised for their skins.
"Since it started in 1989 ... (the farm) has been for commercial ends, the exportation of skin and meat," he said.
The workers said that there were about 9,000 crocodiles at the farm, but authorities said the number probably was closer to 7,500.
"There have been difficulties in feeding (the crocodiles)," Dubon told The Associated Press by telephone.
He said he asked private companies to donate money to buy food for the crocodiles and on Sunday it obtained about 23,000 pounds of food, most of it chicken.
Among the animals at the farm that went hungry were 12 mammals, including lions and monkeys.
Calls seeking comment from the company that manages the farm rang unanswered.
The U.S. Justice Department announced on Oct. 7 it had indicted former Honduran vice president Jaime Roland Rosenthal, his son Yani Benjamin Rosenthal and nephew Yankel Rosenthal under the Kingpin act. Yankel Rosenthal was arrested in the United States.
It said that the Rosenthals "provide money laundering and other services that support the international narcotics trafficking activities of multiple Central American drug traffickers and their criminal organizations."
The Rosenthals have denied the accusations.
The Honduran government responded by seizing the property of the companies held by Grupo Continental, owned by the Rosenthal family.
The Forest Conservation Institute says that although the farm where the crocodiles live was not seized, it was affected because the Rosenthal family's bank accounts were frozen.