By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Six members of the Honduran National Police were indicted on Wednesday on U.S. charges they participated in drug trafficking activities and conspired with a son of former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo to import cocaine into the United States.
The indictment, filed in federal court in Manhattan, said the officers agreed to take bribes to help two informants posing as drug traffickers transport a multi-ton load of cocaine through Honduras so it could be sent to the United States.
The two informants, who worked on behalf of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, were introduced in 2014 to the six officers by Fabio Lobo, a son of the former Honduran president, the indictment said.
Lobo, who prosecutors said agreed to provide the informants with security and logistical support in the purported drug deal, was arrested in 2015 in Haiti and pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.
The case comes amid efforts in Honduras to clean up the country’s 12,000-strong police force, which has long been accused of working with criminal gangs in the poor Central American country.
Omar Rivera, a member of a special Honduran commission with authority to investigate corruption and dismiss or suspend members of the national police, welcomed the indictments.
“Police who dedicate themselves to protecting drug traffickers, who dedicate themselves to the drug trade, aren’t police but criminals and they should be treated as such,” he said in an interview, adding that U.S. law enforcement collaboration is “fundamental” to resolving these cases.
According to U.S. prosecutors, certain members of the Honduran National Police from 2004 to 2014 received bribes from drug traffickers for access to information about ongoing probes and military and law enforcement checkpoints.
Prosecutors noted that the Honduran government had recently established the special commission, which has already sanctioned several police.
The six officers indicted were Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero, 39, Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas, 46, Juan Manuel Avila Meza, 45, Carlos Jose Zavala Velasquez, 44, Victor Oswaldo Lopez Flores, 43, and Jorge Alfredo Cruz Chavez, 39.
Rivera said that Mejia Vargas has already been suspended from the police and is being investigated in Honduras for possible involvement in the 2009 murder case of a top anti-drug official, while Zavala Velasquez has been removed from the force.
Lopez Flores has been suspended pending an investigation, while the fates of the other three men are expected to be resolved shortly, along with some 150 other officers under evaluation, added Rivera.
All six defendants remain at large and were charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and related firearms offenses. They could not be reached immediately for comment.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler)