Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: Guardian
Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, widely known as “El Tigre”, in 2012.
The Former police chief of Honduras is accused of trafficking drugs to US. US prosecutors allege ‘El Tigre’ trafficked cocaine on behalf of the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández.
Mr. Bonilla, whose whereabouts is unknown, did not respond to a request for comment. He has not been arrested. If convicted of the charges in the new case, Mr. Bonilla faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
US federal prosecutors have accused the former national police chief of Honduras of trafficking tons of cocaine to the US on behalf of the country’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and his brother, who was convicted of similar charges in October.
Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, widely known as “El Tigre” or The Tiger, was named police chief in 2012 as part of a sweeping campaign to clean up a corrupt department, despite having previously faced murder charges himself.
Federal prosecutors in New York accused Mr. Bonilla of using his position to help powerful politicians involved in drug trafficking — namely, the former congressman Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, widely known as Tony, and his brother, the president, Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado.
The case against the former police chief is another swipe at the president of Honduras, who has not been charged but is referred to in the court records as a co-conspirator. Prosecutors have accused him in court records in other cases of accepting drug money in exchange for protecting a trafficker from criminal charges.
The Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, after his brother was found guilty of drug trafficking. The president’s brother was convicted of drug trafficking in New York last year and is expected to be sentenced in June.
The president is now in a tightening circle of accusations — with the charges against the former police chief as well as the conviction of his brother, and charges last December against another prominent trafficker linked to the president.
In this latest case, the president is accused of helping advance Mr. Bonilla’s career in exchange for protecting drug shipments.
President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado has not been charged in the case, but is referred to in the court records as a co-conspirator.
A spokesman for the Honduran president did not respond to a request for comment on the new case. Shortly after the charges were announced, Mr. Hernández posted tweets about coffee farmers.
Mr. Bonilla, 60, was charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and machine gun charges.
According to informants who pleaded guilty and cooperated in exchange for lighter sentences, Mr. Bonilla was getting paid by the president’s brother to let cocaine shipments past checkpoints.
Among the informants who provided information against Mr. Bonilla was a drug trafficker who pleaded guilty to a variety of charges, including “causing 56 murders,” the federal complaint said.
One of the informants told the authorities that Mr. Bonilla “was very violent,” and that the Hernández brothers entrusted him with “special assignments, including murders.”
According to the complaint, Mr. Bonilla once arranged the murder of a rival drug trafficker at the bidding of the president’s brother. Mr. Bonilla later told the local news media that the killing was a well-planned surprise attack using grenade launchers, M16s and Galil assault rifles.
According to informants, Mr. Bonilla was getting paid by the president’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, to let cocaine shipments past checkpoints.
“As alleged, this was a blatant and horrific violation of the oath taken by Bonilla-Valladares to protect the citizens of Honduras,” said Wendy Woolcock, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, in a statement.
Mr. Bonilla was not charged with murder.
In 2002, the Honduran Police internal affairs unit prepared a report accusing Mr. Bonilla of three killings or forced disappearances in the late 1990s, when he was a regional police chief. The report also tied him to 11 other deaths.
In 2013, he told The Associated Press that he could not be held responsible for everything officers under him did. “I can’t be on top of everything,” he said. “Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human.”
He was tried in one case and acquitted. The other cases went nowhere.
The internal affairs chief who prepared the report went public, saying that after digging into the deaths and disappearances, her bosses took away her investigators and gasoline budget because Mr. Bonilla had so much influence. She started paying for gas herself, and then her bosses took her vehicle away.
If convicted of the charges in the new case, Mr. Bonilla faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
President Hernández was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of his brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, but the US has continued to call him an ally in its “war on drugs”.
According to the complaint filed on Thursday by the Southern District of New York, the former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla “participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy.”
Prosecutors also allege that Bonilla was entrusted with “special assignments, including murder” by President Hernández – who is identified as a co-conspirator – and his brother, Tony.
Bonilla, an imposing figure known as El Tigre (the Tiger), was appointed as national police chief in May 2012 at a time when Honduras had one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
In the role, Bonilla collaborated with US counter-narcotics forces operating in Honduras and helped to create a special unit of the police that works with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), leading to the indictment of numerous high-profile drug traffickers including the president’s brother.
Bonilla, who was also identified as an alleged co-conspirator of Tony Hernández last year, has repeatedly cited his relationship with the DEA as evidence of his innocence.
The US pushed for his removal from the police job in 2013 owing to persistent allegations of violence, including that Bonilla had participated in death squads targeting suspected gang members.
Bonilla was previously the regional police chief of the Copán department on the border with Guatemala, one of the most crucial points on the drug trafficking route.
During that time, prosecutors allege, he orchestrated the murder of a rival drug trafficker who was threatening a route controlled by Tony Hernández and an associate.
Prosecutors accused Tony Hernández of conspiring to murder rival traffickers, including a massacre with a bazooka and machine guns that resulted in four deaths.
President Hernández, who was re-elected in a fraud-marred vote in 2017 after the supreme court lifted a single-term limit, has denied all accusations of links to drug trafficking and maintained his brother’s innocence. “What can you say about a conviction based on the testimonies of confessed murderers?” he said on Twitter after the verdict was announced.
Opposition leaders have called for President Hernández to resign, but fear, division and a dearth of leadership have prevented sporadic protests from coalescing into a mass movement.
Juan Carlos Bonilla has denied all allegations, telling a local news station on Thursday: “I am not a villain. I am a former officer of the national police with the rank of general who served my country and served society.”
It is unclear if the US has formally requested Bonilla’s extradition. If so, the president would be faced with a dilemma of whether to order the capture of a person who could some day testify against him in court.
Experts believe Bonilla is likely to follow the example of others who have been indicted on drug trafficking charges and turn himself in to the DEA.
US prosecutors allege that President Hernández received millions in bribes from drug traffickers including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the notorious former leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.
The president has vigorously denied all allegations of ties to drug traffickers, referring to them as “fairytales”.
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