HomeNewsHow Honduras' Former Top Cop May Seal Fate of Embattled Ex-President 
NEWS

How Honduras' Former Top Cop May Seal Fate of Embattled Ex-President 

ELITES AND CRIME / 10 MAR 2022 BY ALEX PAPADOVASSILAKIS EN

The arrest and possible extradition of a former Honduras police chief suspected of drug trafficking could provide explosive evidence in the case against recently-detained former president Juan Orlando Hernández – accused of drug crimes by the US government.

Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, the former director of Honduras police better known as “El Tigre,” was arrested at a toll booth outside the capital city, Tegucigalpa, on March 9. He faces extradition to the United States, where prosecutors accuse him of participating in a state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy implicating top Honduras officials, including Hernández. It comes just weeks after Honduras police arrested the former president, also wanted for extradition on drug trafficking charges.

US prosecutors first charged Bonilla with drug trafficking and related arms offenses in April 2020. The Justice Department accuses the former police chief of abusing his position within Honduras law enforcement to protect cocaine shipments on behalf of the former president and his brother, Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernández Alvarado – a convicted drug trafficker now serving a life sentence in the US.

SEE ALSO: Former Honduras President Accused of Drug Conspiracy That Moved 500 Tons of Cocaine

US prosecutors later submitted an extradition request for Bonilla in May 2021. But the former top cop was already in hiding, according to Univision.

The former police chief has previously denied the accusations made by US attorneys.

Hours after his arrest, Honduras police paraded Bonilla before press handcuffed at the wrist and ankles, emulating scenes from just weeks earlier when authorities detained Hernández in shackles outside his home in Tegucigalpa. Bonilla will remain in detention while he awaits an extradition hearing March 10, according to Honduras police.

Bonilla served as director of Honduras police between 2012 and 2013 but his tenure was mired in controversy amid allegations he was involved in death squads.

InSight Crime Analysis

Bonilla’s arrest significantly raises the stakes for former president Hernández, who stands to lose the most if his former ally is extradited and decides to cooperate with US authorities.

The charges against Bonilla are intricately linked to former president Hernández, who prosecutors accuse of using security forces to protect drug shipments. His testimony could provide a trove of evidence backing up those allegations.

“If [Bonilla] was extradited to the United States and decided to cooperate, it would be the final nail in the coffin of Hernández,” Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) former chief of international operations, told Vice News following the extradition request targeting Bonilla last year.

SEE ALSO: Latin America's History of Dirty Cops, Ministers and Generals

US prosecutors depict Bonilla as a “highly trusted” lynchpin who operated on the orders of Hernández and his brother to shield drug shipments and conduct “special assignments, including murder,” according to Justice Department press release and the criminal complaint outlining the charges against the former police chief.

This included the murder of a rival drug trafficker who had prevented Tony Hernández from moving drugs in western Honduras and the use of violence to protect politically-connected drug traffickers, including Hernández and his brother, according to US prosecutors and witness testimony cited in the criminal complaint.

Bonilla also featured in the 2019 trial of Tony Hernández, with a former drug trafficker turned witness describing the veteran officer as a close confidant of then-president Juan Orlando Hernández who helped to shield drug shipments.

Allegations of state-sponsored drug trafficking have plagued Honduras for years, implicating an array of top politicians, the military and police – many linked to the former president’s alleged criminal activity.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ELITES AND CRIME / 25 FEB 2021

As alleged Maduro financier Alex Saab awaits potential extradition to the United States, the Venezuelan government decided that a concert…

GUATEMALA / 8 DEC 2021

A transnational labor trafficking network brought dozens of individuals from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico to the United States under the…

EL SALVADOR / 5 JUL 2021

The United States has released a highly-anticipated report on corrupt actors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but the lack…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…