Ex-Honduran national police chief wanted in US arrested

A former head of Honduras’ national police who was sought by United States prosecutors on drug and weapons charge has been arrested

Honduras Corruption
Honduras Corruption

A former head of Honduras’ national police who was sought by U.S. prosecutors on drug and weapons charges was arrested Wednesday, according to the government.

Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares served as the country’s top police official in 2012 and 2013. Better known as “El Tigre, ” or “The Tiger,” Bonilla faced allegations of human rights abuses during his time in command.

Security Minister Ramón Sabillón confirmed Bonilla's arrest Wednesday afternoon at a toll plaza on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa.

A high-ranking police official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest, said Bonilla had been under surveillance by a police intelligence unit. The official said the arrest came in response to a U.S. extradition request.

The United States requested Bonilla’s arrest and extradition in May of last year on drug and weapons charges. Prosecutors labeled him a co-conspirator of former President Juan Orlando Hernández and the president’s brother Tony Hernández. The case has developed over years in the Southern District of New York.

Former President Hernández is currently awaiting a determination of a Honduras judge on a U.S. extradition request also from the Southern District of New York on drug trafficking and weapons charges.

U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan announced charges against Bonilla in April 2020, alleging that he used his law enforcement clout to protect U.S.-bound shipments of cocaine. Bonilla denied at the time being a drug trafficker.

He said then he would go wherever necessary to prove the accusations untrue and suggested drug traffickers were behind the accusations. He held up his long cooperation with the U.S. State Department as proof he was someone the U.S. government trusted.

Then Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said at the time that Bonilla played a key role in a violent international drug conspiracy, working on behalf of former Honduran Congressman Tony Hernández Alvarado and his brother, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández.

“Bonilla Valladares oversaw the transshipment of multi-ton loads of cocaine bound for the U.S., used machine guns and other weaponry to accomplish that, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker,” Berman said in a statement in 2020.

Bonilla was named head of Honduras’ National Police in May 2012 by President Porfirio Lobo, through December 2013. He was removed when Hernández took over as president.

Prosecutors have said Bonilla let drug shipments pass through police checkpoints without inspection and gave drug organizations information about police aerial and maritime interdiction operations so they could evade them.

An internal police report in Honduras once accused Bonilla of leading death squads and participating in three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002. He was prosecuted for one murder but was acquitted in 2004.

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Sherman reported from Mexico City.

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