Thu, Feb 01, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Honduran police chief helped drug cartel move cocaine, secret report says

The report raises questions about Honduras’ much-touted purge of corrupt police officers as well as the reliability of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s administration, a key ally in the US war on drugs

By Christopher Sherman, Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke  /  AP, MEXICO CITY

Illustration: Mountain people

Honduran authorities are promising “an exhaustive investigation” into alleged ties between Honduras’ new national police chief, Jose David Aguilar Moran, and a cartel kingpin who is serving a 20-year sentence in a US federal prison.

A confidential Honduran government security report obtained by The Associated Press (AP) says that Aguilar helped the drug trafficker pull off the delivery of nearly 1 tonne of cocaine in 2013.

The clandestine haul of more than 770kg of cocaine was packed inside a tanker truck that, the report says, was being escorted by corrupt police officers to the home of Wilter Blanco, a drug trafficker convicted in Florida and serving a 20-year sentence.

Aguilar, who at the time was serving as chief of intelligence for the Honduran National Police, intervened after a police official safeguarding the drugs was busted by a lower-ranked officer who had seized the tanker, the report says.

The handcuffed officer called Aguilar, who ordered that the officer and the tanker be set free, says the report, which was prepared by the Honduran Ministry of Security’s inspector general.

The US street value of the cocaine involved could have topped US$20 million.

The incident raises questions about Honduras’ much-touted purge of corrupt police officers and the reliability of the administration of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a key US ally in the war on drugs, who was sworn in for a new term on Saturday last week following a disputed election in November last year.

On Friday last week, Omar Rivera, a member of the special commission that says it has purged more than 4,000 members of the police for reasons ranging from corruption to restructuring and voluntary retirement, held a news conference alongside a spokesman for the force.

They said the national police did not have a document that corresponded to the number on the security report, but government authorities have often had difficulties locating information in police archives.

Members of the government commission, including Rivera, have said publicly since it started its work in 2016 that the ministry archives were in disarray and that some police officers assigned to the archives have worked to disappear files or wipe them clean of incriminating details.

Rivera said the commission would again look at Aguilar, his deputy and the new police inspector general.

“Starting today, they will be subjected to a rigorous re-evaluation process to show their suitability for the positions they hold,” he said.

When Hernandez swore in his new police chief, local media reported that he said Aguilar was chosen “with the utmost confidence” and would lead “a national police that becomes a role model for the region.”

“We are in a process of transforming the national police, with a huge investment of financial resources,” the Honduran president said.

Aguilar, 54, vowed to instruct his officers “to follow the law and make sure the law is followed,” local reports said.

Asked about the incident, the Honduran government issued a lengthy statement saying that the investigative report is fake and does not correspond to any “official communication from the Honduras police.”

AP did not share the document with the government due to security concerns, but described its contents.

The statement also said the allegations against the police high command “lack veracity,” and demanded that the news media verify information before creating “false scoops” that damage the institution and its employees.

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