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Drugs

Secret report: Honduras’ new top cop helped move cartel coke

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 10:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 10:48pm

The newly appointed national police chief in Honduras, an ally in the US war on drugs, helped a cartel pull off the delivery of nearly a tonne of cocaine, according to a confidential security report.

Chief Jose David Aguilar Moran, who was sworn in last week, called off local police who raided a truckload of cocaine escorted by police officers in 2013, the report says. Aguilar, who was working his way up department ranks at the time, ordered the lower-level officers to let the drugs and police go, which they did. The US street value of the cocaine involved could have been more than US$20 million.

Cartel boss Wilter Blanco, who was running the drugs, was later caught with another cocaine load, extradited to the US and is now serving a 20-year prison sentence there.

But Chief Aguilar’s involvement, documented in an internal report, was never publicly reported. Last week, in a solemn ceremony, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez promoted him to the nation’s top police officer, saying the appointment would further his years-long effort to root out corruption and modernise the force.

“We are in a process of transforming the National Police,” the president said.

Associated Press did not share the copy of the Honduran Security Ministry’s Inspector General report that mentions Aguilar out of security concerns, but described its contents to government officials. The Honduran government declared it fake and said the incident did not happen. Aguilar did not respond to requests for comment.

But a former member of the National Police with knowledge of the investigation confirmed officials found that Aguilar and other top officers conspired to cover up the incident and that a high-ranking officer protecting the cocaine was later put on leave before becoming a sitting judge. Three other current and former high-ranking Honduran security and police officials confirmed elements of the report. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of violent reprisals.

Former and current US law enforcement officers and a US prosecutor reviewed the document and said it appeared genuine.

Here’s how the report describes the alleged crime: on October 15, 2013 around noon, a local head of a tourism police agency, acting on a tip, stopped a truck loaded with cocaine. Protecting the load were 11 police officers in four vehicles. The tourism officer hauled everyone into the station, but an irate regional police chief showed up, threatening to get everyone fired for interfering with the illicit delivery. They argued, the tourism officer pulled his gun and the regional chief ended up on the floor in handcuffs, demanding a call to Aguilar.

Aguilar ordered the release of the officers and the cocaine, and they complied.

Investigators were told that cartel boss Blanco routinely passed out thousands of dollars in bribes to police – including Aguilar – to make sure traffickers could safely land aeroplanes stuffed with South American cocaine in Honduras, unload their cargo and transfer it to vehicles.

The report concludes that Aguilar and other commanders sat on the case at Blanco’s request, keeping it from prosecutors “with the end goal of letting the case expire”.

Blanco was arrested in 2016 in Costa Rica and extradited to the US. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to move nearly two tonnes of US-bound cocaine from Colombia to Honduras during a two-month period. It was widely reported in Honduras that Blanco’s arrest had sparked investigations of dozens of police and other political and criminal justice officials, but nothing about a corruption investigations relating to Blanco has been publicly revealed. His attorney Victor Rocha said in repeated discussions his client never mentioned police collaborating with his drug smuggling operations.

Opposition party politician Maria Luisa Borjas, who ran the National Police’s internal affairs division during her long career on the force, said she had seen the inspector general’s report and could confirm its authenticity. She said it shows that the police purge commission’s claim to have cleaned up the ranks by booting 4,000 officers was “a failure”.

That commission is “more of a source of official protection for people who have been tied to drug trafficking”, she said.