Five of the six Honduran National Police officers indicted by the US government for cocaine trafficking in a scheme involving the son of an ex-president have turned themselves in and been extradited to the United States for trial.
Mario Mejía Vargas, Carlos José Zavala, Juan Manuel Ávila, Víctor Oswaldo López Flores and Jorge Alfredo Cruz voluntarily surrendered at the Palmerola military base in Honduras on July 11 following a request for their extradition last week, reported Reuters. They were swiftly flown to New York on a plane chartered by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
The whereabouts of the sixth officer in the case -- Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero -- are unknown.
The five extradited officers maintain they did not take bribes to facilitate the trafficking of cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia through Honduras on its way to the United States, as alleged in the US indictment of the six officers (pdf), reported La Prensa.
Fabio Porfirio Lobo, the son of former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, is one of the drug traffickers with whom the police allegedly worked. Fabio Lobo pled guilty last month to drug trafficking charges also brought in a US District Court in New York.
InSight Crime Analysis
The indictment and subsequent extradition of the five Honduran police officers comes as a police reform commission in Honduras works on removing corruption from the force -- a task on which substantial progress has been made so far.
But to date, the Honduran Attorney General's Office has failed to prosecute officers accused of serious crimes, and this week’s extradition further demonstrates the willingness of the United States to act against criminal activities that occur in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador when authorities of those nations fail to do so.
For instance, last year the United States brought separate charges against three members of Honduras' influential Rosenthal family, accused of helping launder money for drug traffickers.
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Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are all recipients of aid from the United States -- last year the US Congress included $750 million for the region in its annual budget. That money already came with strict conditions, but recently Nevada Senator Harry Reid said they should be made tighter and more specifically aimed at tackling problems related to organized crime, as well as the flow of Central American migrants north to the United States.
Senator Reid introduced a bill at the end of June recommending 50 percent of financing be withheld unless the nations in question demonstrate they are taking steps to "counter the activities of armed criminal gangs, illicit trafficking networks, and organized crime," as well as to "combat corruption, including investigating and prosecuting government officials, military personnel, and civil police officers credibly alleged to be corrupt."
The United States has proved willing to act in recent years if conditions stipulated for the granting of aid are not met. In 2015, the US Congress withheld some of its anti-drug funding to Mexico after the country failed to comply with certain human rights conditions. A decision on whether 2016 funds might also be held back for the same reason is yet to be made.