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Latin America & Caribbean

Former Honduran police chief, Gen Juan Carlos Bonilla, arrested on drug trafficking charges

General Juan Carlos Bonilla could be a key witness in the case against former president Juan Orlando Hernández, who is facing extradition to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.
Publicado 9 Mar 2022 – 07:07 PM EST | Actualizado 10 Mar 2022 – 11:03 AM EST
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The former head of the Honduran National Police, General Juan Carlos Bonilla, during an interview with Univision in 2019. Crédito: David Adams / Univision

After two years in hiding, former Honduran police chief General Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares has been captured by Honduran authorities, official sources confirmed to Univision.

The accused drug trafficker and murderer faces extradition to the United States, where he was named in a drug trafficking indictment that also includes former president Juan Orlando Hernández.

Bonilla, 62, also known as 'El Tigre', was charged in April 2020 by U.S. prosecutors in New York with allegedly abusing his official position to protect multi-ton cocaine shipments on behalf of Hernández, and his brother Tony Hernández, a former congressman who was sentenced last year by a federal judge in New York to life in prison.

Bonilla was arrested by Honduran police at a toll booth on the main highway between the capital, Tegucigalpa, and Comayagua, near the country's international airport.

Juan Orlando Hernández was indicted last month on drug and arms trafficking charges and detained at his home in Tegucigalpa. He is awaiting a Supreme Court decision next week on whether he will be extradited to the United States.

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Bonilla was police chief in western Honduras, a key drug trafficking area

Bonilla was charged in federal court in New York with conspiracy to traffic cocaine into the United States and weapons offences related to the use and possession of machine guns and destructive devices. The United States requested his extradition last year and the decision now rests in the hands of the Honduran Supreme Court.

Bonilla allegedly "abused his positions in Honduran law enforcement to circumvent the law and play a key role in a violent international drug trafficking conspiracy," prosecutors said. He also "engaged in acts of extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, in furtherance of the conspiracy," they added.

Univision met with Bonilla in Honduras several times in 2019 after he was identified as a coconspirator in the Hernandez case and claimed to have worked closely with the DEA during his time as police chief. He denied conspiring with the Hernández brothers, or any other drug traffickers.

Bonilla was a member of the Honduran National Police between approximately 1985 and approximately 2016. During his tenure, he held high-ranking positions, including Regional Chief of Police in western Honduras, a strategically important area for drug traffickers.

In exchange for bribes paid from drug proceeds, Bonilla "directed members of the Honduran National Police ... to allow cocaine shipments to pass through police checkpoints without being inspected or seized," prosecutors said. He also allegedly provided members of the conspiracy with sensitive law enforcement information to facilitate cocaine shipments, including information regarding air and maritime interdiction operations.

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