TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — The United States has requested the extradition of a former chief of the Honduras National Police on drug and weapons charges, a Honduran government official said Friday.
Honduras’ Supreme Court had confirmed receiving an extradition request from the Southern District of New York, but had declined to identify the target.
On Friday, a Honduran official familiar with the case, but not authorized to discuss it confirmed the request is for Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, known as “El Tigre” or “The Tiger.”
U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan announced charges against Bonilla in April 2020, alleging that he used his law enforcement clout to protect U.S.-bound shipments of cocaine. Bonilla denied at the time being a drug trafficker.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said then 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 loads of cocaine bound for the U.S., used machine guns and other weaponry to accomplish that, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker,” Berman said in a statement last year.
Tony Hernández was sentenced to life in prison in March this year for his role in a drug trafficking conspiracy that implicated his brother, the president, who has not been charged and has denied any involvement.
Bonilla was not in custody. If U.S. prosecutors are eventually able to get him and he cooperates, he could pose a problem for Hernández, whose second presidential term ends in January, based on prosecutors’ allegations.
The president’s name has arisen repeatedly in drug trafficking trials in Manhattan. Prosecutors have characterized the cases as “state-sponsored drug trafficking.” Bonilla’s control of the police and access to security information would be invaluable to drug traffickers moving cocaine through Honduras en route to the United States.
A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman said that it was department policy to neither confirm nor deny extradition requests.
Bonilla was named head of Honduras’ National Police in May 2012 by President Porfirio Lobo, through December 2013. He was removed when Hernández took over as president.
Prosecutors have said Bonilla let drug shipments pass through police checkpoints without inspection and gave drug organizations information about police aerial and maritime interdiction operations so they could evade them.
An internal police report in Honduras once accused Bonilla of leading death squads and participating in three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002. He was prosecuted for one murder but was acquitted in 2004.