Wednesday, March 5, 2014

News Flash: Honduran Police in the Pocket of Drug Dealers

A reporter for Channel 5 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras reportedly tweeted a picture yesterday of sworn testimony given by a suspended judge that he says links the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández to a Colombian arrested in a marijuana growing operation and high tech drug lab in the department of Lempira. 

We don't agree with the inferences being drawn. There clearly is a pervasive penetration of drug money throughout Honduran society, but the standards for guilt in Honduras too often rest on rumor and innuendo.

On January 30, the Honduran police and military shut down a drug operation in La Iguala, Lempira that consisted of a very large suite of greenhouses being used for growing marijuana and opium poppies.  It also contained what was described as a high tech drug lab. 

During the raid, police arrested a Colombian citizen, Rubén Dario Pinilla. 

This was not the first time Rubén Dario Pinilla had been arrested in Honduras on drug related charges.  On the 25th of July of last year, he was arrested in the same town along with another Colombian, Fredy Hernán Roldán Jiménez.  They were found to be growing 73 pot plants, with 2440 seedlings alleged to be pot plants growing in the same greenhouses on the same property. 

That case came before judge Francisco Rodríguez in the city of Gracias a Dios in the department of Lempira, and the judge dismissed the charges against both Pinilla and Roldan Jimenez on July 31, 2013. 

Both were represented in court by the law office of Tony Hernández, brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Since then, the police involved in the initial arrest, the police chief in La Iguala, and the judge who heard that July, 2013 legal case against the two Colombians, have all been suspended and are being investigated to see if they have ties to the drug-growing operation or have done anything illegal.

What was publicized this week was a picture of one page of the deposition of the judge who released Pinilla in the 2013 case, conducted by the Public Prosecutor's office. It gives us the judge's claims-- which we can say from the outset will predictably be designed to assign responsibility for this failure of the justice system somewhere else.
Prosecutor's Office:  Asked so that you can say:  do you have any knowledge of these Colombian persons paying money either to the lawyers, the judge and the police to be put at liberty?

Judge:  I personally in no moment had physical contact or communication with Rubén Pinilla and Hernán Jimenez.  The only time I saw them was in the arraignment when they were represented by the law office of Tony Hernandez, brother of the president of the republic of Honduras, and by the lawyer José Antonio Madrid Corea.  Of the thing that they talk about in the newspapers, I don't know anything about who they gave money to, the mechanisms used to give them money, persons involved, and I did not receive money from the two accused and I ask you to investigate should also investigate to see if at any time I went to the local prison in Gracias, Lempira, to talk to the two accused and I give you my cell phone number [redacted by me] to see if I ever had contact with them in the dates they were deprived of their liberty, from July 24 to 31 in 2013....

A reporter can tweet that this shows that Tony Hernandez was involved in this drug case, but all it actually shows is that, as legal systems in Honduras allow, the defendants even in controversial issues are entitled to legal representation.

The judge's answers to other questions on the single page of testimony released seems to suggest that he freed the defendant because the police failed to supply all the necessary documents to build a case against Pinilla. The page starts in the middle of a response by the judge to a question we cannot see, but that must deal with the legal documents because his response is that "I personally, in all the analysis of the file, this documentation doesn't appear. The deposition continues:
Prosecutor's Office: Asked so you can say: in the initial hearing did you interrogate the agent Pablo Albarenga about the facts just mentioned?
Judge: if I personally had had in the administrative file the said paperwork on the actions carried out by the agent Pablo Albarenga, I would have asked the questions related to those aspects, but it did not exist.

The implication is that this omission might have been deliberate. But that points not at the defense, but the police investigating officer.

That would not be surprising.  But it makes for a far less scandalous story: police in the pocket of organized crime is an old story, not news.

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