Honduras raids mayor's homes, finds fancy trucks, peacocks

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran police and soldiers raided the homes of a ruling-party mayor suspected of links to drug traffickers, uncovering a collection of luxury vehicles and more than 250 exotic birds, a prosecutor's office spokesman said on Monday.

Authorities on Sunday arrested Arnaldo Urbina Soto, the National Party mayor of Yoro, a city 68 miles (110 km) north of the capital Tegucigalpa, said a police source involved in the investigation. The arrest followed the raid on 10 properties in the Yoro area linked to Urbina Soto, the source said.

Anti-drug police and soldiers found 11 vehicles, including Toyota Prado land cruisers and Toyota Hilux pickup trucks and four all-terrain vehicles or quad bikes, the source said. Authorities also found about 250 fighting cocks, two ostriches, several peacocks, guns and a set of gold-encrusted cutlery.

The raid was part of a continuing operation against the "criminal gang of Urbina Soto," which is being investigated for crimes including drug offences, murder and rape, a national anti-narcotics unit known as DLCN said in a statement.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Justice," has so far resulted in the arrests of nine people, including one person with a Mexican passport, the statement said, without giving any other names.

Diana Urbina Soto, a National Party lawmaker from Yoro and the mayor's sister, denied that the haul was ill-gotten.

"There is no illegal activity in our family, and we will prove it," she told local television on Monday, adding that the objects had been in the family for more than 100 years.

The mayor was to face a hearing on Monday on charges of illegal possession of weapons and illicit enrichment, the public ministry said.

Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, according to the United Nations, with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people in 2012.

Gang warfare has blighted the Central American country for years, with security deteriorating further after violent Mexican drug cartels expanded into Honduras, using it as a pit stop for moving Andean cocaine north to the United States.

National Party President Juan Hernandez has stepped up the use of army resources in an effort to tame the drug gangs and lower the murder rate.

Yoro is the capital of Yoro department, equivalent to a state or province.

The area is known for drug trafficking; many planes from South America land there.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Christine Murray; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Jonathan Oatis)


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