A commission in charge of cleaning up Honduras’ police is fighting to clear its name after an explosive report revealed an alleged relationship between a high-profile drug trafficker and the highest echelons of the police hierarchy.
In an article published on January 26, the Associated Press reported that Police Director José David Aguilar Morán and one of his subordinates were bribed into working with Wilter Blanco Ruíz, the leader of the Atlantic Cartel who pleaded guilty in the United States last year to drug trafficking charges.
The AP based its article on an intelligence report released by the Inspector General of Honduras’ Security Ministry. The report states that in 2013, Aguilar Morán allegedly impeded the seizure of 780 kilograms of cocaine belonging to Blanco Ruíz.
The AP article came just a week after the Honduran Congress extended the mandate of a special police purge commission created 21 months ago to rid the Honduran police of corrupt officials associated with gangs and other criminal groups.
Since the commission began, more than 4,000 corrupt polices officers have been fired and the homicide rate in Honduras has fallen to 42.8 per 100,000 people.
However, the AP article puts the commission in a very difficult predicament.
In its defense, the commission has questioned the veracity of the inspector general’s report.
A member of the police commission, Omar Rivera, told InSight Crime that “firstly, we will determine the accuracy of the report, since, from an initial glance, it appears to be false.”
“We have been able to verify that the report that the AP was given is apparently false. The number doesn’t coincide with the document that is in the police archives,” Rivera added.
SEE ALSO: Atlantic Cartel Profile
The AP has yet to publish the report in full and says it is evaluating whether or not to publish it.
Meanwhile, the AP offered to provide the report to the commission if they were to send a formal request. Since then, the commission has sent an official notification to the AP office in New York to request the document.
The commission stated that they will repeat the vetting process for the three officials that make up the commission’s board of directors, including Aguilar.
“We are going to update the information about these officials with the corresponding state judicial institutions. We will re-submit police officers to polygraph tests to see if they are involved in criminal activities and carry out toxicology exams and asset verification to determine if they have engaged in illicit enrichment,” Rivera said.
Furthermore, InSight Crime learned that members of the police commission met last week with officials from the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa to request information from agencies in charge of combating crime and drug trafficking, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
InSight Crime Analysis
The recently published AP report puts the entire legitimacy of the special police commission into question.
“The way in which the police commission will be perceived moving forward is dependent on how this case is resolved. I am sure that strong decisions will be made if the AP report proves to be accurate,” said Eric Olson, Deputy Director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center.
Commission officials seem to agree. For that reason, they have begun an exhaustive process to review the background of police agents in an effort to accurately determine whether or not they are suitable for their assigned positions.
“We have initiated another investigation with the Attorney General's Office and the various state intelligence offices to re-vet these people. We have also requested the collaboration of various anti-narcotic agencies that work with the country to verify if there is more information about these individuals that we do not have access to,” said Carlos Hernández, an advisor to the police commision.
The future of the special police commission depends on the results of this new investigation. In addition, commission members agreed that Aguilar Morán would be removed and submitted to justice if evidence suggests that he has committed a crime.
SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime
However, the commission stated that, at the moment, they will not advise president Juan Orlando Hernández to suspend the officials from their duties.
“We need to be careful of groups that seek to weaken the police. And this is very risky, because the reform process has been very traumatic and the context of post-electoral polarization could be favorable for criminal groups to gain strengh,” Hernández said.
Furthermore, the commission suspects that criminal organizations affected by the police reform are behind the leaking of the report.
“There are also many political groups that have been affected by the work we have carried out. Many terminated police officers are now opposition political activists. Before the elections, many of these groups tried to delegitimize the work of the police purge,” Hernández stated.