November 26, 2011

From the 'too odd to believed' criminal cops files

Poll: International invention in corrupt cops, Honduras
Poll: Do you agree or disagree that international organizations supervise the purification of the police?
79% agree, 14% disagree, 7% don't know or no response.
The chart on the right shows the political parties of the respondents who agree.
Image: La Prensa, Honduras

Kidnapper cop

On his day off last Saturday in San Pedro, police agent Adonis Faustino Romero Banegas accelerated to avoid a military road block. A soldier fired a warning shot in the air and Romero stopped further on, but two other suspects in his vehicle fled before soldiers reached his car. Though he tried to use his police position to avoid search, he was caught carrying two weapons without documentation, one of which was verified to have been stolen in 2007. The VIN numbers of the vehicle he was driving had been altered and a complaint was made that he had been lent the vehicle and failed to return it. [all links are in Spanish]

Furthermore, it was discovered that Romero had an unexecuted order of capture against him issued by a Copán court in January 2002 for the crime of kidnapping. The article didn't mention whether he was hired by the police before or after the kidnapping charge or why the police were unable to capture a suspect for 9 years who is on their own payroll. In the initial hearing for the charge of carrying an illegal weapon and abuse of authority, Romero was released by the judge and must voluntarily report to the court periodically until the trial. Apparently the kidnapping warrant was still not executed. "The investigations continue and if he is found culpable, he should be castigated.....", said the police spokesman.

Is this an example of change and police purification that Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla and President Pepe Lobo have promised?

Top level narco-cop "investigated" since 2002

In another police exposé, apparently tipped off by a high level official, El Heraldo has exposed massive corruption and criminality of a high-level police officer who has been 'under investigation' by the DLCN (anti-narcotrafficking department of the MP) and the Anti-Organized Crime prosecutor since September 2003. During the 8-year period of 'investigation', not only was the official not criminally charged or even suspended, EH says that the unnamed official has accumulated great wealth and has been promoted from comisario through the upper ranks, and is now head of one of the five directorates of the police department.

In the voluminious report of which EH has a copy, it was shown that the official and a relative of his have ties to organized crime and narcotrafficking through a female relative of narco Manuel Antonio Avilez Durón, who was captured in Panamá in 2002 and extradited to the USA. The investigation began when this official was comisario in Copán, later transferred to Gracias, Lempira, only 45 kilometers away.

Accusations include drug trafficking, including selling drugs out of his own heavily secured and walled house, personally passing on shipments of cocaine and heroin to Guatemalans, transporting drugs from Colón and Olancho to Santa Rosa de Copán, as well as distributing drugs within Copán. Through his police connections, he was also tipped off to operativos, which might help to explain why even when massive amounts of drugs are confiscated, there are almost never any narco suspects captured in Honduras.

Other accusations include that, along with a police chief in Santa Bárbara, he participated in robberies of shipments of goods by truck. His personal vehicle was a F-150 truck originally owned by Avilez Durón. He and his relative have suspicious financial activity that could point to money laundering and illegal enrichment. The investigations also pointed to contacts with "influential persons in the current [at that time] government" as well as involvement in a 12-person gang of auto thieves.

In a response to DLCN in February 2004, Coralia Rivera, then director of the police and now Vice-Minister reporting directly to the top police official, stated that they had knowledge of the situation and that is why he was transferred to a different position.

The case was initially opened in September 2003 under the direction of Julián Arístides González, head of the DLCN, who was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in December 2009 while dropping off his daughter at school. In a new report in 2010, the DLCN gave a summary of the advances in the investigations. It was noted that the official took out large long-term loans, but then paid them off in 3-4 months, and that all three suspects had large bank accounts with suspicious financial activity.

Though not naming the person, EH concludes the article by listing the five commissioners who are the current heads of the five police directoratives. A few days later, Proceso Digital through a source in the president's office, announced that Transit Commissioner Randolfo Paguaga Medina had been suspended [alternately spelled in the news Paguada, Pagoaga, and Pagoada]. That rumor was quickly and firmly denied by police authorities.

Under investigation for 8 years! Not fired, not charged with crimes. Instead transfered here and there spreading the corruption, and then ultimately promoted to one of the highest levels in the police organization.

Minister Bonilla's response

You aren't going to believe this: On a morning talk show on Monday, the day after EH's exposé was published, Minister Pompeyo Bonilla asked El Heraldo to provide him with the investigative report and tell him who the commissioner is because Bonilla doesn't know. "My door is open and when we know, we'll take action in this case." — this despite 8 years of investigation, including stakeouts outside the suspect's home, the detailed information about where he was assigned when, information about his vehicle including his license plate number, and confirmation that Bonilla's number two official was cognizant of the investigation in 2004! If El Heraldo would only tell him who it was, Bonilla promised a "profound investigation" and if anyone has committed "indecorous" or criminal acts.... well, you know the rest of that line. "Indecorous"?

I was going to write that that 'Bonilla disingenuously asked....', but let's call it what it is: 'Bonilla deceitfully asked....'. The seriousness of the police scandal has been in the headlines for a month. Bonilla has promised thorough investigation and purification of criminal cops including at the highest level. There are only two choices here: Either the top cop and his immediate command are completely incompetent or he is being deceitful about what he knows. I guess we'll be looking at another several years of profound investigation until this pops to the limelight again as this unnamed official is obviously one of the 'untouchables'.

Inspector General of the police, César Augusto Somoza, also affirmed that he has no knowledge of any member of the police leadership involved in organized crime.

In an interview with El Heraldo reported on Friday, Minister Bonilla made the amazing comment that he has not even asked his top cops if they are the one in question. Additionally, he says that he has asked for reports from the prosecutor's office, DLCN, the courts, and others but implies that he has not received them yet. He has not spoken directly to DLCN. He basically implies there is nothing he can do until and if the official is charged and tried at which point he "will ask for the official's resignation". Wonder if he will receive it.

When asked directly where were ex-director José Luis Muñoz and the other officials who were replaced on October 31, Bonilla evaded the question by saying, "I haven't had the pleasure of communicating with them in the past days. They are in a condition of availability". When asked about other separations, he blamed the employment laws as preventing him from taking action, adding that the laws protect the rights of a few people at the detriment of the majority of society. He says that he needs the legal tools... but when referring to the law proposed by former Minister Alvarez, Bonilla also states that they can't be dictatorial. He also has been unable to find a diagnostic report about the police department performed by Colombian experts in the past few months.

Is this an example of transparency and police purification that Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla and President Pepe Lobo have promised to complete within the next six months? Is this an example of the authorities promises over and over again to the public that they will not cover up for any police officers? Why must whistleblowers leak information to the media in order to for the authorities to admit anything?

Narco police raid or police narco raid

In another one of cases from the 'too-odd-to-be-believed' file, in July of 2009, 12 Tegucigalpa police agents, some of them on vacation and another suspended from duty, traveled to La Mosquitia in the remote state of Gracias a Dios either to a) rob a narco's home of 143 kilos of cocaine (estimated value US $1.1 million) or b) perform a secret police operativo unknown to their supervisors, the local police, prosecutors, the DLCN, or the Minister of Security.

In addition to no one in authority knowing anything about this 'operativo', a few other pesky details were that the raid occurred at 4 am (an illegal hour for such activities), these officers were assigned to areas such as homicide and auto theft, some were on vacation at the time and one was suspended, the cocaine was not turned over to higher authorities but instead was hidden and was being guarded by a civilian, the officers used illegal weapons such as AK-47s and grenades, they stole two boats to transport the drugs upriver, and one of the officers was found hiding out in a hotel room with a kilo of cocaine and two AK-47s.

Neighbors alerted local police to the early morning home invasion by armed strangers. The suspects were later captured by a joint operation of local police authorities, DLCN, DNIC, and navy officials. The ten police could not justify being in the area and had no paperwork authorizing the operativo. They were charged with eleven administrative and criminal offenses, including trafficking of drugs, illegal weapons, and theft of two boats.

Captured were Mario Guillermo Mejía Vargas, head of the Homicide unit, Marvin Mauricio Zavala, sub-chief of the auto theft unit, Karil Alexis Romero Maldonado, Wilmer Fiallos, Josué David Villalobos, Jorge Luis Borjas Valladares, Miguel Ángel Cerna y Víctor Hernán Ortiz. The other two, injured in the operativo/robbery, were subinspector Juan Francisco Sosa (who was at the time suspended from duty) and agent Carlos Díaz, who were sent to the capital for treatment and later escaped.

The operativo was supposedly unilaterally ordered by José Francisco Murillo López, then commissioner of DNIC (criminal investigation), who was initially suspended and investigated for the suspicious anti-drug operative. He was returned to duty in November 2009. He said that he had only sent the sent the agents to gather information, not perform an operativo, and he produced a memorandum to that effect, some believe after the fact.

Julián Arístides González, now deceased director of the DLCN, described the entire situation as totally irregular and said it was evidence that the DNIC was infiltrated by narcotraffickers.

At their initial hearing, they were ordered to prison pending trial. That decision was confirmed by the appeals court in May 2010, and the Supreme Court in February 2011. This was celebrated as one of the few times that the justice system seemed to work against corrupt cops.

The case seemed pretty clear, but alas, in March 2011 the La Ceiba sentencing court chose to believe option b) and not only absolved the suspects from any wrongdoing, but ordered them back to police duty. Police authorities were able to hide from the public the fact that these agents have been back at work since May 2011.

This may have been around the same time that former Minister Oscar Alvarez became more vocal, but still vague, about police corruption and judges forcing the department to reinstate bad cops. In September, he proposed a law which would allow the Minister the discretion to fire police officers. He was asked to resign shortly after that. Both President Lobo and Minister Bonilla are blaming him for the poor administration within the department.

From the President

Times of horror, HondurasMeanwhile, President Pepe Lobo tells the public that the police will be purified within six months and that we'll all be living in peace and tranquility in nine months. In somewhat of a contradiction, Lobo stated to media directors in a meeting on Friday that "We stand practically in zero on the police investigations; we don't have the capacity to investigate".

Cartoon titled "Times of horror", by Dario Banegas, La Prensa.
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