TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - More than 20 police officers assigned to the U.S. embassy in Honduras have been suspended pending an investigation into their alleged involvement in skimming part of $12.5 million seized in a drug cartel bust, a government spokesman said on Monday.
The 21 members of an elite unit were involved in an anti-drug raid in October in which police seized $12.5 million, of which $1.3 million went missing.
The money was found in October in 19 plastic bags buried in a mountainous region in western Honduras during an operation that led to the capture of Miguel Valle Valle, the head of the powerful Valle Valle cartel, who was extradited to the United States in December.
“Twenty-one agents of a special police unit who were assigned to the U.S. embassy have been suspended and put under investigation for their suspected involvement in the disappearance of the seized Valle Valle money,” security ministry spokesman Leonel Sauceda told Reuters.
A spokesman for the U.S. mission in Tegucigalpa said the embassy was closed for Presidents day, a U.S. holiday, and had no immediate information to give.
The police force in Honduras, the country with the world’s highest murder rate, is widely seen as corrupt and has been accused of extra-judicial killings.
Violence has increased in Honduras since a 2009 coup destabilized the country, allowing Mexican drug cartels to expand into the coffee-growing nation, receiving planeloads of South American cocaine along the country’s Caribbean coastline.
Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Gabriel Stargardter in Mexico City; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Marguerita Choy