NEW YORK –
The former Honduran national police chief appeared for the first time in a New York court on Wednesday after being extradited to the United States to face criminal drug charges, a day after the former president of the Central American nation pleaded not guilty to criminal charges. related criminal charges.
Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, 62, was held without bail after the 10-minute proceeding before a judge in Manhattan federal court.
A lawyer appointed to represent him declined to comment on the case.
Known as «El Tigre», Bonilla Valladares served as head of the police in 2012 and 2013. He was arrested on March 9 after US prosecutors considered him an accomplice of former President Juan Orlando Hernández and his brother Tony Hernández.
A prosecutor said he was turned over to US authorities before noon Tuesday and arrived in the New York area last night. He faces charges related to weapons and drug trafficking.
“The former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, would not have come to power or benefited from huge drug revenues were it not for his extensive network of corrupt associates,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
«These associates, like Bonilla Valladares, also took advantage of their positions to traffic cocaine into the United States and protect other drug traffickers with political connections through violence, all for their own benefit,» he said in a statement. «Bonilla Valladares further betrayed the people of Honduras by using his badge to cover up his crimes.»
Federal prosecutor Damian Williams said that the extradition of Bonilla Valladares “demonstrates that no one is exempt by virtue of their position or authority from being criminally prosecuted for contributing to the flow of illegal narcotics into this country that cause so much damage, not even presidents and chiefs of foreign police.
The federal charges against Bonilla Valladares were revealed in April 2020, when authorities claimed that he used his police influence to protect cocaine shipments headed for the United States. Bonilla denied at that time being involved in drug trafficking.
At the time, he said he would go wherever necessary to prove the accusations false and hinted that the accusations were made by drug traffickers seeking a deal. He cited long-standing cooperation with the US State Department as evidence that the US government trusted him.
On Tuesday, a lawyer for the former Honduran president made similar accusations weeks after Hernández was extradited to New York to face charges that he received millions of dollars between 2004 and 2022 to support the trafficking of hundreds of tons of narcotics into the United States.
Hernández, who governed the Central American nation between 2014 and 2022, has denied charges that include participating in a conspiracy to traffic drugs, possession of machine guns and destruction devices, and criminal association to possess machine guns and destruction devices. The trial would tentatively begin on January 17.
Attorney Raymond Colon said outside court Tuesday that he believed the former president was the victim of lies told by drug traffickers trying to reduce his lengthy prison sentences. He also mentioned what he describes as his client’s extensive cooperation with US federal agencies to go after drug traffickers and his willingness to have them extradited to the United States.
The former president’s brother, Tony Hernandez, was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty in October 2019 in a New York court on drug charges, which prosecutors said was a government-sponsored operation.