The United States has brought drug trafficking charges against six members of the Honduran National Police in connection with a case involving the son of an ex-president, a sign of deepening US involvement in anti-crime and corruption efforts in Honduras.
The US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York announced on June 29 that six Honduran National Police officers -- Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero, Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas, Juan Manuel Avila Meza, Carlos Jose Zavala Velasquez, Victor Oswaldo Lopez Flores, and Jorge Alfredo Cruz Chavez -- had been charged with "participating in a massive drug trafficking conspiracy that allegedly flooded the United States with cocaine."
According to a federal indictment (pdf), as far back as 2004 the police officers began taking large bribes in exchange for helping drug traffickers move hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia through Honduras and on to the United States.
"As alleged, through bribes to public officials and leaked information about ongoing investigations and law enforcement checkpoints, these defendants agreed to ensure the safe passage of tons of cocaine through the jungles of Honduras on their way to American cities," said US Attorney Preet Bahrara in a statement.
Fabio Porfirio Lobo, the son of former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, was one of the drug traffickers with whom the police allegedly worked. Fabio Lobo pleaded guilty last month to drug trafficking charges also brought in the Southern District of New York.
Prosecutors allege that Lobo met in early 2014 with undercover DEA sources posing as Mexican drug traffickers. Later, Lobo introduced the informants to the accused Honduran police officers at a videotaped meeting, during which the officers agreed to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and used a map to explain how they would facilitate the cocaine shipment.
The indictment states that Lobo believed his stake in the trafficking operation would be worth $1 million of the eventual profits from the sale of the drugs. However, when Lobo agreed to travel to Haiti in 2015 to accept payment for the cocaine deal, he was arrested in a sting operation and subsequently transferred to the United States.
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El Heraldo reports that a special police reform commission established by the Honduran government in April has separated one of the accused officers from the force and it has suspended another. The other four are currently being evaluated. The commission can remove officers from the force, but it does not have the power to level legal charges against police accused of crimes.
According to the US Attorney's Office, the accused police officers "remain at large." A spokesperson for the office declined to comment in response to InSight Crime's inquiry as to whether or not the United States had requested the officers' extradition.
InSight Crime Analysis
The indictment of the police serves as another example of the United States bringing charges against Hondurans suspected of ties to organized crime when Honduran authorities seem reluctant to act. Separate charges brought last year against members of the powerful Rosenthal family, accused of helping launder money for drug traffickers, represent another prominent example of this dynamic.
The police reform commission in Honduras has made substantial progress in terms of removing officers accused of corruption from the force. But so far the Honduran Attorney General's office has not moved to prosecute those accused of some of the most serious crimes, like the high-ranking officers accused of participating in a 2009 plot to murder the head of Honduras' anti-drug agency.
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It is possible that the leveling of charges against the six officers in the United States could foreshadow similar moves against other suspects in the future.