Weekly Report - 24 March 2022 (WR-22-12)

HONDURAS: Hernández edges closer to extradition

A supreme court (CSJ) justice has ruled in favour of extraditing former president Juan Orlando Hernández (2014-2022) to the US to face drug trafficking and weapons related charges. The judge’s decision, which Hernández’s legal team has since appealed, would suggest the former president is edging closer to facing prosecution in a US court, after his headline-grabbing arrest last month [WR-22-07], less than a month after he stepped down and President Xiomara Castro took over. The judge’s ruling comes as other high-profile figures are also facing the prospect of jail time for alleged crimes committed under the previous Partido Nacional (PN) administrations.

On 16 March CSJ justice Edwin Ortez announced that he was authorising the extradition request for Hernández to face three charges: conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the US; using or carrying firearms, including machine guns; and conspiracy to use or carry firearms.

Hernández stands accused of involvement in the same drug trafficking ring [WR-22-07] as his brother Juan Antonio (‘Tony’) Hernández, a former congressional deputy, who was arrested in the US in 2018 and received a 30-year prison sentence in March last year. As previously, the former president maintains that the allegations against him are based on statements provided by convicted drug traffickers, whom he says are out for revenge.

With Hernández’s appeal currently under review by the CSJ, which, it is worth recalling, is stacked with appointed loyalists, a week earlier local security forces arrested another high-profile figure whose extradition is requested by the US: a former head of the national police force (2012-2013), Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares.

Better known as ‘El Tigre’, Bonilla Valladares, who is wanted by the US on drug trafficking charges, was arrested on 9 March while reportedly driving through a toll booth on the outskirts of the capital, Tegucigalpa. US prosecutors announced charges against him in April 2020, accusing him of allegedly abusing his positions in Honduran law enforcement to “flout the law and play a key role in a violent international drug trafficking conspiracy”.

According to a 30 April 2020 US Department of Justice (DoJ) press release, as alleged, “on behalf of… ‘Tony’ Hernández and his brother the president, Bonilla… oversaw the transshipment of multi-tonne loads of cocaine bound for the US, used machineguns and other weaponry to accomplish that, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy”.

Speaking to journalists following the arrest, which came in response to a US extradition request filed in May last year, Security Minister Ramón Sabillón said that Bonilla Valladares would now remain under tight security until his next extradition hearing on 8 April. If convicted, Bonilla Valladares could face a life sentence in a US prison.

Bonilla Valladares held the post of police chief under Hernández’s predecessor, Porfirio Lobo (PN, 2010-2014), who has also been implicated in drug trafficking allegations. Lobo’s son Fabio was sentenced to 24 years in prison in the US in 2014, accused of involvement in the trafficking of 1.4 tonnes of cocaine to the US.

Meanwhile, on 17 March a court convicted Lobo’s wife, former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla. and her then private secretary Saúl Escobar, of corruption. Bonilla had been sentenced to 58 years in prison in September 2019 on charges of fraud and embezzlement. However, in March 2020 the CSJ overturned her conviction, citing procedural problems, and ordered a new trial which on 17 March also produced a conviction.

‘Perverso’ arrested

On 18 March Honduran authorities arrested Tokiro Rodas Ramírez, also known as ‘Perverso’, a Salvadorean national and alleged leader of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), in Choluteca department. Rodas was indicted in the US in 2011 in line with four other suspected MS-13 leaders on racketeering charges, as well as being accused of ordering and carrying out murders and other attacks.

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