Former Honduran president convicted in US of aiding drug traffickers

NEW YORK (AP) — Former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez was convicted in New York on Friday on charges that he conspired with drug traffickers and used the military and national police forces to allow large quantities of cocaine to enter the United States unimpeded.

The jury’s verdict in federal court after a two-week trial was closely watched in his home country.

Hondurans closely watch ex-US president’s drug trafficking ‘trial of the century’

Hernandez, 55, a two-term leader central american countries After the jurors read their verdicts, about 10 million people stood with others in the courtroom and patted defense attorney Renato Stabile on the back.

When the news reached the nearly 100 Hernandez opponents on the street outside the courthouse, they clapped and began jumping into the air to celebrate the result.

In this courtroom sketch in federal court in New York on February 20, 2024, former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, seated in the middle of the defense table, turns to the future during the jury selection process at the start of his trial. Jurors. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)

The scene in the courtroom was calm and Hernandez appeared relaxed as the jury foreman announced the verdict on three counts. At times, as each juror was asked to affirm the verdict, Hernandez folded his hands in front of him or crossed one leg over the other. They all did it.

Judge P. Kevin Castel, speaking to the jury before they left the courtroom, praised the jury for reaching a unanimous verdict, which was necessary for the conviction.

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“We live in a country where 12 people can’t agree on pizza toppings,” the judge told them. Regardless of their verdict, he said his message would be the same. “That’s why I’m in awe of you.”

Defense attorneys and prosecutors had no immediate comment.

Hernandez arrested at home in Tegucigalpa Honduras Three months after leaving office in 2022, he was extradited to the U.S. capital in April of that year.

U.S. prosecutors accused Hernandez of working with drug traffickers as early as 2004, saying he accepted millions of dollars in bribes as he rose from rural congressman to president of the National Assembly to the country’s top job.

Hernandez admitted in trial testimony that drug money was paid to nearly every political party in Honduras, but he denied taking bribes.

He noted that he has visited the White House and met with the US president, who has cast himself as a champion of the war on drugs, working with the United States to curb the flow of drugs to the United States.

At one point, he said, the FBI warned him that a drug cartel was trying to assassinate him.

He said the accuser had fabricated the charges against him to seek leniency for his crimes.

“They all had a motive to lie, and they were professional liars,” Hernandez said.

But prosecutors scoffed at Hernandez’s apparent claim to be the only honest politician in Honduras.

During closing arguments Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Gutwilliger told jurors that the corrupt Hernandez “paved a cocaine highway for America.”

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Stabile said his client was “wrongly accused” and urged an acquittal.

Trial witnesses include traffickers who have admitted responsibility for dozens of murders and say Hernandez was a passionate protector of some of the world’s most powerful cocaine traffickers, including notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” “Joaquin Guzman, who is serving a life sentence in the United States.

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Hernandez, who wore a suit throughout the trial and remained largely calm while testifying through an interpreter, repeatedly said “no, sir” when asked whether he had paid bribes or promised to protect traffickers from extradition to the United States.

His brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in prison in Manhattan federal court in 2021 on drug charges.

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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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