Honduras has announced the suspension of 21 elite police agents assigned to the US Embassy for their implication in the theft of $1.3 million during an operation against drug traffickers, demonstrating the continued challenges the country faces in combating organized crime and widespread corruption.
According to La Tribuna, members of the specialized Honduran police force known as the “Tigers” (based on the Spanish acronym for Special Response Team and Intelligence Troop Law), allegedly buried the $1.3 million in 19 sacks following an operation in October 2014 against the Valles criminal organization in the western department of Copan.
The raid resulted in the capture of Miguel Arnulfo and Luis Alonso Valle Valle — brothers and leaders of the Valles, who were extradited to the US in December 2014 to face drug trafficking charges — and the seizure of $12.5 million, reported Reuters.
The Tigers agents involved in the raid had been part of a Special Investigation Unit that was assigned to the US Embassy to assist with counternarcotics operations.
German Palma, commissioner of the Tigers, announced during a press conference that investigations of the 21 agents had begun, raising the total number of Tigers commandos under investigation to 50, reported El Heraldo.
In December, another 22 Tigers agents who participated in the operation against the Valles were suspended for their implication in the theft.
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The Tigers — which began operations in January 2014 as President Juan Orlando Hernandez assumed office — were in part created to bypass the difficulties in reforming existing police structures, and were intended as an elite force to combat Honduras’ rampant crime and insecurity.
Yet despite their enhanced training and more stringent recruiting procedures, the involvement of Tigers agents in the Valles theft highlights the temptations and vulnerability to corruption that law enforcement agencies face when tasked with seizing the assets of wealthy drug traffickers.
While Honduras has been showing signs of progress in security, significant obstacles clearly remain.