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MIAMI/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The president of a top Honduras soccer club and two family members were charged by U.S. authorities on Wednesday with engineering a decade-long scheme to launder drug trafficking and foreign bribery proceeds through U.S. accounts.
The Rosenthal family, one of Honduras' wealthiest and most politically connected families, was accused of using their Grupo Continental conglomerate to run what a senior U.S. Department of the Treasury official called one of Central America's most significant money laundering networks.
Yankel Rosenthal, 46, president of Club Deportivo Marathon and until June a minister of investment in Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez's government, was arrested in Miami on Tuesday, and appeared in federal court there on Wednesday.
Also charged were his uncle Jaime Rosenthal, 79, who unsuccessfully tried to be a presidential candidate for Honduras' center-right Liberal party; Yani Rosenthal, 50, a former cabinet member and Jaime's son; and Andres Acosta Garcia, 40, a Grupo Continental lawyer.
In a statement issued by Grupo Continental, the accused family members rejected the allegations.
"We have never been involved in illegal acts, much less in drug-running or money-laundering activities," it read.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, whose office announced the criminal charges on Wednesday, said the alleged scheme ran from 2004 until last month.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control classified the Rosenthals and seven businesses, including Grupo Continental and its Banco Continental unit, as "specially designated narcotics traffickers," allowing the freezing of assets under U.S. control.
Grupo Continental also includes a cement factory, real estate, a telecommunications company and El Tiempo, a major Honduras newspaper. Jaime Rosenthal is its president, and Yani Rosenthal is a vice president.
Wednesday's actions "make clear that impunity will not stand," James Nealon, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, said on Twitter.
Shackled and wearing a beige jumpsuit, Yankel Rosenthal said little in a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley in Miami.
His lawyer Norman Moscowitz declined to comment afterward. Rosenthal's case may move to New York, where the indictment was unsealed, after another hearing on Friday.
The other defendants remain at large. A lawyer for Jaime and Yani Rosenthal was not immediately available for comment. It is unclear whether Garcia has hired a lawyer.
Honduras' financial regulator, the National Commission of Banks and Insurance, said it opened a probe into Banco Continental, its board members and shareholders.
Club Deportivo Marathón said on Twitter it had no additional information. The team is based in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, and plays in a stadium commissioned by and named for Yankel Rosenthal.
Each defendant was charged with one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term.
The case is U.S. v. Rosenthal Oliva et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-cr-00413.
Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York,; Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Sarah N. Lynch in Washington, David Adams in Miami and Gabriel Stargardter in Mexico City; Editing by Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker