Honduras has convicted a major drug trafficker wanted for extradition by the United States in a second case against him, illustrating the country's resolve to improve the capacity of its judiciary.
José Miguel Handal Pérez, alias "Chepe Handal," and his wife were found guilty of money laundering on August 21, the Attorney General's Office announced in a press release. Proceedings against José Miguel's father, José Miguel Handal Larach, also known by the alias "Chepe," were closed as the suspect passed away earlier this month.
The investigation began in 2015 with a probe into suspicious transactions in US and Honduran bank accounts held by the family. Authorities uncovered more than 52 million lempiras (around $2.2 million) of unjustified deposits. In March of this year, the younger Chepe Handal was condemned to 10 years in prison after having been found guilty of trafficking 1.6 metric tons of cocaine.
Chepe Handal was once a major figure in the international drug chain, playing the role of middleman between Colombian groups supplying cocaine and the Mexican Sinaloa and Zetas cartels that handled distribution to the United States, according to US authorities. Operating out of Honduras, he would ensure the smooth transit of drugs through the Central American corridor. In 2013, he became the first high profile Honduran national to be added to the US Treasury Department's "Kingpin List."
According to La Prensa, Chepe Handal has asked his lawyer to speed up his case for extradition to the United States, which is currently being reviewed by Honduras' Supreme Court. The objective of this move is unclear, however, as his potential extradition would only be carried out after he completed his prison sentence in Honduras.
InSight Crime Analysis
In addition to being the first high profile Honduran added to the Kingpin List, Chepe Handal is representative of the deep links between elites and organized crime in the country. Indeed, the former congressional candidate was long thought to have enjoyed powerful political protection.
SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime
The case is also important with regard to Honduras' efforts to build up its judicial institutions. The country has succeeded in delivering serious blows to organized crime in terms of arresting top suspects and seizing assets linked to criminal activities. But Honduran officials have often outsourced prosecutions of these defendants to their US counterparts, reflecting concerns about the weakness of the judicial system. Nevertheless, the successful prosecutions of Chepe Handal shows that the country is making strides toward improving its prosecutorial capacities.