Honduran president′s brother convicted in US court of drug trafficking | News | DW | 18.10.2019
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Honduran president's brother convicted in US court of drug trafficking

The drug case revealed damning testimony against the Honduran government. President Hernandez has denied any role in shielding drug traffickers.

The brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was found guilty in a US court on Friday, in a sprawling drug case in which New York prosecutors said the defendant relied on "state-sponsored drug trafficking."   

Juan Antonio Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman, was convicted by a Manhattan jury on all charges of drug trafficking, illegal possession of firearms and lying to the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He will be sentenced at a hearing on January 17 and faces up to life in prison.

The two-week trial revealed explosive accusations that the Honduran government received bribes from drug traffickers, including imprisoned Sinaloa cartel honcho Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, to fund elections in exchange for protection.

The Honduran president was not charged in the case but was labeled a co-conspirator. He has denied the allegations and after the verdict said the case was "based on testimonies of confessed murderers," in reference to imprisoned drug traffickers who cooperated with prosecutors.

Antonio Hernandez, 41, was arrested in Miami in 2018 and charged with drug trafficking and weapons violations. US prosecutors accused him of smuggling almost 200 metric tons of cocaine into the United States under the protection of his brother.

"Beginning in 2010 the defendant worked on massive cocaine shipments sent to the United States on a monthly basis. The president of Honduras deployed the military to the border with Guatemala to protect the defendant's drug turf. The defendant used the National Police to murder one of his drug rivals. And the ringleader in that murder was later promoted to become the chief of the entire police force," Assistant US Attorney Emil Bove said in his closing statement.

Turncoat witnesses

The trial featured testimony from Honduran drug traffickers in US custody, including Amilcar Alexander Ardon, a former mayor, and Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of Honduras' Cachiros gang, who admitted to dozens of murders.

Ardon told the court that Antonio Hernandez promised Mexican drug baron El Chapo protection for drug shipments in exchange for a $1 million (€900,000) donation to his brother's presidential campaign in 2013.

Rivera Maradiaga testified that he paid bribes to multiple officials including President Hernandez.

Defense lawyers had urged the jury to ignore the witness testimony, arguing they were career criminals seeking to reduce their sentences by cooperating with US authorities.

Migration in the background

President Hernandez was reelected to a second term in 2017 despite a constitutional ban on reelection and allegations of fraud.

The president says he cooperates with US authorities to fight drugs and has extradited 24 traffickers.

The case highlighted the role of powerful drug cartels in the Central American country, where endemic violence and poverty has prompted migrants to flee to the United States.

Under pressure to curb migration, Honduras last month reached an agreement with the United States on how to deal with asylum-seekers.

cw/sms (AP, Reuters)

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