An alleged drug trafficker suspected of ties to numerous corrupt officials in Honduras is reportedly preparing to turn himself in, but just where he would be prosecuted remains an unanswered question.
Citing an unnamed source with close ties to law enforcement, television network HCH reported on October 17, that Wilter Blanco, the alleged leader of the Atlantic Cartel, would turn himself in to authorities "in the next 24 hours."
A spokesperson for the Honduran police, however, dismissed the report.
"We don't see support for that information that came out in the media," the spokesperson told La Prensa. "We are following this case and any information is of utmost importance."
The report from HCH came the same day as a US federal court ordered the unsealing of an indictment charging Blanco with involvement in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy stretching back to at least 1999.
The indictment of Blanco was originally filed on August 5, 2016, but it remained sealed based on prosecutors' belief that keeping it under seal "would assist in arresting the Defendant." However, the prosecution requested that the court unseal the document on October 12, saying, "the Government no longer believes that keeping the Indictment under seal will help with the arrest."
The unsealing of the indictment and the reports of Blanco's impending surrender come just over a week after the US Embassy in Honduras made the extraordinary announcement that Blanco was under investigation for drug trafficking and corruption along with several other suspects, including members of the Honduran armed forces.
In addition, local media outlets have reported that mayors, members of congress, judges, business owners and police officers in Honduras are also being investigated for suspected corruption tied to Blanco's alleged drug trafficking network, though this has not been officially confirmed.
Perhaps most explosively, US authorities appear to suspect that Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernández, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, is also involved in drug trafficking activities. A US embassy official who requested anonymity recently told InSight Crime that Tony Hernández is a "person of interest."
As of this writing, it does not appear that Blanco has handed himself over to authorities, nor has HCH's report been independently confirmed.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Blanco may turn himself in, it is not clear who will prosecute him. Undoubtedly, US authorities would seek his extradition, especially given the amount of information he may have on other suspects, including political and economic elites in Honduras.
But an Attorney General's Office prosecutor told InSight Crime that Blanco is facing money laundering charges in Honduras and according to Honduran law, he would have to finish his case in country prior to being extradited.
Given the pressure Blanco is facing in Honduras, it is possible that he may opt to negotiate his surrender in a third country. There is a precedent for this type of maneuver. Following increased pressure from the United States, the leaders of the Cachiros criminal group surrendered in early 2015 to US law enforcement. Local press reports subsequently suggested that the suspects were seeking benefits for their family members in exchange for providing information to US authorities, as well as a safe landing for themselves; one of their key associates had been murdered just days prior to their surrender.
Within months of the Cachiros' surrender, the United States brought drug trafficking and money laundering charges against members of one of Honduras' wealthiest and most politically powerful families, the Rosenthals, who were linked to the Cachiros' operations.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extradition
Other Honduran suspects in US custody already appear to have provided information related to the Blanco case. According to local media reports, five police officers extradited to the United States in July to face drug and arms trafficking charges have provided such information.