June 8, 2023

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Honduran ex-police chief extradited to US to face drug charges

Honduran ex-police chief extradited to US to face drug charges

Former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla was extradited Tuesday to the United States, where he stands accused of supervising drug trafficking operations on behalf of ex-president Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Hernandez, 53, was extradited to the United States last month to face drug trafficking charges, less than three months after he left the presidency following eight years in office.

An airplane belonging to the US Drug Enforcement Agency took off from a military base in Tegucigalpa with a handcuffed Bonilla aboard, an AFP journalist at the scene saw.

Bonilla, 61, was implicated during a trial in a New York court in which Hernandez’s ex-congressman brother Tony was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

Bonilla “allegedly abused his positions in Honduran law enforcement to flout the law and play a key role in a violent international drug trafficking conspiracy,” then federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman said in a statement in April 2020.

In the name of the Hernandez brothers, he also “oversaw the transshipment of multi-ton loads of cocaine bound for the US, used machine guns and other weaponry to accomplish that, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy.”

Bonilla — known as “The Tiger” — could face life in prison if convicted.

He served as police chief from 2012 to 2013, right at the beginning of Hernandez’s mandate.

He was arrested in March and the Supreme Court ratified his extradition a month later.

Security Minister Ramon Sabillon said Bonilla had submitted to the extradition to “shorten the process.”

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Several days ago, Bonilla wrote an open letter claiming he had been targeted “unfairly by unknown people acting outside the law” to implicate him.

He said he would travel to the United States “with head held high” and a “clean conscience.”

Hernandez, who was due to appear in court later Tuesday, has denied involvement in drug trafficking.

US prosecutors say the former president turned Honduras into a “narco-state” by involving the military, police and civilians in drug trafficking.

Several drug traffickers have told US prosecutors they paid bribes to Hernandez’s inner circle. By the time he left office, DEA agents were ready to move against him.

His family claims he is the “victim of revenge by the drug traffickers he himself had extradited or forced to flee to the United States.