Ex-Honduran National Police chief wanted in US arrested

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A former Honduran national police chief wanted by U.S. prosecutors on drug and weapons charges was arrested Wednesday, the government said.

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

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


A senior police official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest, said Bonilla had been watched by a police intelligence unit. The official said the arrest came in response to an extradition request from the United States.

The United States sought Bonilla’s arrest and extradition in May last year for drug and arms trafficking. Prosecutors have labeled him a co-conspirator of former President Juan Orlando Hernández and the President’s brother Tony Hernández. The business has grown over the years in the Southern District of New York.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Former President Hernández is currently awaiting a Honduran judge’s decision on a US extradition request also from the Southern District of New York for drug and weapons trafficking.

U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan announced charges against Bonilla in April 2020, alleging he used his law enforcement influence to shield cocaine shipments bound for the United States. Bonilla denied at the time being a drug trafficker.

He then said he would go wherever necessary to prove the charges false and suggested that drug dealers were behind the charges. He presented his long cooperation with the US State Department as proof that he was someone the US 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 shipments of cocaine bound for the United States, used machine guns and other weapons to accomplish this, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a trafficker rival,” Berman said in a statement in 2020.

Bonilla was appointed chief of the National Police of Honduras in May 2012 by President Porfirio Lobo, serving until December 2013. He was removed from his post when Hernández took over as president.

Prosecutors said Bonilla let drug shipments pass through police checkpoints without inspection and gave drug organizations information about police air and sea interdiction operations so they could escape them.

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

Late Wednesday, Bonilla, like the former president, was led in front of cameras shackled at the wrists and ankles. He wore a black tracksuit and a baseball cap.

He was to spend the night at the same national police special forces base where Hernández is being held. Bonilla was due to appear in the Supreme Court of Justice on Thursday to have the charges read to him.

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Sherman reported from Mexico.

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