Former President Stopped at Airport With $18,000 in Luggage

Manuel Zelaya, the former president of Honduras, was stopped at an airport in the country's capital on Friday after $18,000 was found in his luggage. He has denied any knowledge of how the money got there.

Zelaya claimed he was "unjustly" detained at Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa as he was trying to make his way to Mexico via a stopover in Houston, Texas. He is due at a conference in the country on Saturday.

Honduran law prevents people taking more than $10,000 in cash out of the country. The rule is designed to control money laundering and trafficking. The money must also be declared to the authorities.

"I don't know the origin of that money. Obviously someone must have put it in my belongings," the former president told Honduran media.

"I have traveled 400 times and I know that you cannot travel with that amount of money. It is necessary to investigate who put that money in my belongings."

On Twitter, he explained why he had been detained: "The reason, a bag of money with $18,000, which is not mine. Now in the presence of the prosecutor."

Yuri Mora, a spokesperson for the Honduras public prosecutor's office, told Reuters that Zelaya had not been detained.

"What is happening is what the law says, which means documenting [what happened] and once that is complete and signed by former president Zelaya, where he states the money is not his, he can easily go," Mora said.

Zelaya, the son of a wealthy businessman, was president of Honduras from 2006 to 2009. Though initially elected as a liberal, he moved further to the left during his time in office and was close to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and former president of Cuba, Raúl Castro.

During his time in office, Zelaya said the country's media failed to properly cover his presidency, saying: "No one publishes anything about me" and "[w]hat prevails here is censorship of my government by the mass media."

But Zelaya himself was accused of censoring journalists and mandated ten two-hour government broadcasts on all TV and radio stations. The move was scaled back after strong criticism.

In 2009, Zelaya launched an attempt to amend the Honduran constitution. This was fiercely opposed amid accusations that he would use constitutional changes to extend his rule. He was removed from office in a military coup in June 2009 and forced into exile.

However, today Zelaya is still active in his country's politics. He is leader of the leftwing Partido Libertad y Refundacion and his wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, ran for president in 2013.

Manuel Zelaya Speaks to the Press
Manuel Zelaya, former President of Honduras, speaks to the media after been held and later released by authorities at Toncontin International Airport on November 27, 2020 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Zelaya said he was detained after $18,000 was found in his luggage. Milo Espinoza/Getty Images