Tegucigalpa (AFP) – Former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla was extradited to the United States on Tuesday, where he is accused of overseeing drug trafficking operations on behalf of former President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Hernandez, 53, was extradited to the United States last month to face drug trafficking charges, less than three months after stepping down as president after eight years in office.
A plane from the American Drug Enforcement Agency took off from a military base in Tegucigalpa with a handcuffed Bonilla on board, noted an AFP journalist present at the scene.
Bonilla, 61, was involved in a trial in a New York court in which Hernandez’s estranged brother, Tony, was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
Bonilla “would have abused his position with 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. a press release in April 2020.
On behalf of the Hernandez brothers, he also “supervised 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 in the murder of a rival trafficker, to advance the conspiracy.”
Bonilla – known as ‘The Tiger’ – could face life in prison if found guilty.
He served as police chief from 2012 to 2013, at the very start of Hernandez’s tenure.
He was arrested in March and the Supreme Court ratified his extradition a month later.
Security Minister Ramon Sabillon said Bonilla submitted to the extradition to “shorten the process”.
A few days ago, Bonilla wrote an open letter claiming he had been “unfairly targeted by unknown persons acting outside the law” to implicate him.
He said he would travel to the United States “with his head held high” and a “clear conscience”.
Hernandez, who was scheduled to appear in court later Tuesday, denied any involvement in the drug trade.
US prosecutors say the former president turned Honduras into a ‘narco-state’ by implicating the military, police and civilians in drug trafficking.
Several drug dealers have told U.S. prosecutors that they paid bribes to Hernandez’s inner circle. By the time he left office, DEA agents were ready to take action against him.
His family claims he is “the victim of revenge by drug traffickers whom he himself extradited or forced to flee to the United States”.
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