Former Honduras president Juan Orlando Hernández convicted of aiding drug traffickers

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Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez was convicted Friday in New York of charges that he conspired with drug traffickers and used his military and national police force to enable tons of cocaine to make it unhindered into the United States.

The jury returned its verdict at a federal court after a two week trial, which has been closely followed in his home country.

Hernández, 55, served two terms as the leader of the Central American nation of roughly 10 million people. He was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, three months after leaving office in 2022 and was extradited to the US in April of that year.

US prosecutors accused Hernández of working with drug traffickers as long ago as 2004, saying he took millions of dollars in bribes as he rose from rural congressman to president of the National Congress and then to the country’s highest office.

Hernández acknowledged in trial testimony that drug money was paid to virtually all political parties in Honduras, but he denied accepting bribes himself.

He noted that he had visited the White House and met US presidents as he cast himself as a champion in the war on drugs who worked with the US to curb the flow of drugs to the U.S.

During closing arguments Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Gutwillig told the jury that a corrupt Hernández “paved a cocaine superhighway to the United States”.

Defense attorney Renato Stabile said his client “has been wrongfully charged” as he urged an acquittal.

Trial witnesses included traffickers who admitted responsibility for dozens of murders and said Hernández was an enthusiastic protector of some of the world’s most powerful cocaine dealers, including notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who is serving a life prison term in the US.

Hernández, wearing a suit throughout the trial, was mostly dispassionate as he testified through an interpreter, repeatedly saying “no sir” as he was asked if he ever paid bribes or promised to protect traffickers from extradition to the U.S.

His brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in 2021 in Manhattan federal court for his own conviction on drug charges.

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