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03TEGUCIGALPA1622 2003-07-08 22:06:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tegucigalpa
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEGUCIGALPA 001622 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2013


Classified By: Political Chief Francisco L. Palmieri;
Reasons 1.5 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Yet another Honduran political figure was
implicated in drug trafficking when he was arrested on July 6
fleeing the scene of an airplane crash in the eastern
department of Olancho. National Party Deputy, Armando Avila
Panchame, was arrested by the police for drug trafficking and
attempted murder (for running his car through two police
roadblocks.) President Ricardo Maduro, President of the
National Congress Pepe Lobo, and Attorney General Roy Medina
-- all indicated congressional immunity would be lifted to
pursue the prosecution of this deputy. This arrest could
prove to be a key test of the political and judicial
systems, ability to attack the growing narcocorruption
problem in Honduras. END SUMMARY

2. (U) On Saturday, July 5, Honduran police authorities,
responding to intelligence information, mounted an operation
against a suspected drug trafficking airplane that crashed in
the eastern Honduran department of Olancho. The operation
resulted in the arrest of nine individuals, including a
member of the Honduran National Congress, Armando Avila
Panchame, a Colombian, and a Venezuelan. Unfortunately,
there were no drugs seized or found; however police are still
conducting a series of searches of the surrounding areas.
Canine units, funded by a State International Narcotics and
Law Enforcement (INL) program, did alert to the rpesence of
drugs in the aircraft and vehicles. The bold narco aircraft
landing took place on a secondary paved roadway that was
blocked by drug traffickers, vehicles, which had been
modified to illuminate the makeshift runway with floodlights.
Trees along the roadway had also been removed with
chainsaws. Police recovered automatic AK-47 and M-16 rifles,
200 rounds of ammunition, satellite phones, radio equipment,
and night reflector vests at the location. It appears that
the aircraft successfully unloaded its cargo, but in its
haste to depart as police descended on the scene it struck
one of the vehicles that had secured one end of the
improvised runway.

3. (SBU) There is some media speculation, based on public
statements made by the son of the notorious (and currently
incarcerated in the U.S.) drug trafficker Ramon Matta, that
there was a confrontation between rival drug cartels. The
location of the drug delivery abutted a ranch owned by the
Matta family. Matta is claiming to have aided police by
informaing them of the landing of the suspect aircraft and
ythen shooting at it as it tried to depart. He also said he
permitted searches of his property for the missing drugs.
(Comment: Police report no such cooperation and have said
that the shots fired from the Matta group were a signal to
the aircraft,s pilot that police were approaching. There
were bullet holes observed in the aircraft. End Comment.)

4. (C) While no drugs were seized, Honduran Deputy Avila
Panchame is charged with attempted murder for having run his
vehicle through two police roadblocks. The statements of two
police officers at those roadblocks accuse Avila Panchame of
refusing to stop and charging through the roadblocks. He is
also being charged with drug trafficking. The arrest of a
member of Congress is keeping the spotlight on the extent to
which narcocorruption is permeating Honduran institutions.
President Maduro, President of the National Congress Pepe
Lobo, and the Attorney General have all indicated
congressional immunity will be waived in this case to pursue
the prosecution of this deputy on the drug charges. Under
the Honduran Constitution, immunity for attempted murder or
murder are exempt from any congressional immunity claim
(Comment: This incident is not the first time that Avila
Panchame has come to the Embassy,s attention for possible
involvement in drug trafficking. Earlier in April of this
year, the same vehicle in which he was traveling during this
incident was observed by witnesses at the scene of an earlier
suspected crashed aircraft. In that incident police seized
397 kilos of cocaine, but no arrests were ever made. End

5. (C) COMMENT: This arrest could prove to be a key test of
the political and judicial systems, ability to attack the
growing narco-corruption problem in Honduras. Avila Panchame
is now the third Honduran political figure to be arrested on
drug trafficking charges in the last year. Coming on the
heels of the June 20 arrest of Liberal Party Central American
Parliament member Cesar Diaz in Nicaragua (reftel) and last
summer,s arrest of a former deputy in Panama (both of whom
were arrested in possession of heroin) the media is
highlighting the mounting connections between international
drug traffickers and Honduran political elites. As reported
septel, the Ambassador recently placed the Attorney General
on notice that his office must produce some high-profile
drug-trafficking and corruption prosecutions immediately or
risk losing further U.S. support. We will be monitoring
developments in this case closely. END COMMENT.