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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Former Honduran police chief captured, wanted for drug trafficking in the U.S.

Former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla, wanted for extradition by the United States, was captured on Wednesday, accused of being the one who “supervised” drug trafficking operations on behalf of former president Juan Orlando Hernandez, arrested in February.

“El ‘Tigre’ Bonilla” was captured. Elements of the police special forces carried out the capture at the Zambrano toll,” police spokeswoman Rebeca Martínez told AFP.

Bonilla was presented to journalists guarded by a squad of agents, handcuffed and with chains on his hands and feet. He was wearing a mouth mask and a sports suit and cap.

After the presentation, the former police director was transferred to the headquarters of the special police forces known as Los Cobras, where former president Hernández is also being held.

Security Minister Ramón Sabillón announced that Bonilla will be presented on Thursday before the judge in the first hearing and that the police have in their possession other arrest warrants linked to the case, but refused to give more details. 

He abused his position

Last week the Foreign Ministry reported in a tweet to have sent to the Supreme Court of Justice “the official request of the United States of America, of the provisional arrest for the extradition of four Honduran citizens”, but did not provide the names “for security reasons”.

Bonilla, director of the Police between 2012 and 2013, had been mentioned as a drug trafficking “co-conspirator” of former Congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, in a trial in which the brother of former President Hernández was sentenced in March 2021 to life imprisonment in the Southern District Court of New York.

It had been reported since May 2021 that the United States had requested Bonilla’s extradition due to the mentions in the New York proceedings. Through local media, Bonilla denied at that time the charges attributed to him by Manhattan prosecutor Geoffrey Berman.

“Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, former chief of the Honduran National Police, allegedly abused his positions in the Honduran police to circumvent the law and play a key role in a violent international drug trafficking conspiracy,” the U.S. Attorney said on April 30, 2020.

Minister Sabillón added that Bonilla is also accused of using firearms to transport drugs.

He supervised shipments

“As alleged, on behalf of former Honduran Congressman Tony Hernández and his brother, the president, Bonilla Valladares supervised the transshipment of multi-ton shipments of cocaine destined for the United States,” Berman said at the time.

Former President Hernández was also requested for extradition by the United States on February 14. The former president’s home was immediately surrounded by police and he was arrested a day later.

Hernández was handcuffed and taken to police headquarters, from where he was transported to a court hearing where he was ordered to remain in prison pending a decision on his extradition. He is due to appear for a second hearing on March 16.

In an “open letter”, Hernandez reiterated his rejection of the charges by criticizing that the decision was made based on “media reports and also statements of drug traffickers and confessed murderers” who were extradited by his government.

“During my administration, drug transit through Honduras was reduced by 83%, going from 87% before I took office in 2013 to only 4% in 2020,” he asserted.

However, in the New York trials Honduras was described as a “narco-state” because of the participation of high-level government officials, politicians and businessmen in the crime.

Fabio Lobo, son of former Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo (2010-2014) — of the National Party, to which the Hernandezes belong — was sentenced to 24 years in prison in New York in 2017 for helping to traffic 1.4 tons of cocaine to the United States.

President Xiomara Castro, who took office on January 27 to replace Hernández, promised to fight corruption and drug trafficking, for which she has received the backing of the United States. Vice President Kamala Harris attended the inauguration. 

by Noe LEIVA

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