Former Honduras President On Trial In US For Taking Drugs Bribes.

File photo. The former president of Honduras in better times. Having been extradited from Honduras, he is now on trial in New York for taking bribes from drug traffickers.
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Former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s went on trial in the US yesterday in front of a  New York jury charged with running the Central American country as a “narco-state.”

Hernandez was previously regarded as a close ally of Washington in suppressing drugs trafficking.and he won support from former President Donald Trump for cracking down on illegal migration into the United States.

But three months after he left office, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged him with accepting millions of dollars in bribes from cocaine traffickers in exchange for using his position to protect them. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he abused his power to operate the country as a “narco-state.”

That came nearly three years after his brother, former congressman Tony Hernandez, was convicted on U.S. drug charges and sentenced to life in prison. A prosecutor at that trial said Juan Orlando Hernandez protected his brother.

Juan Orlando Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to three counts of cocaine importation conspiracy and illegal weapons possession. He has been detained at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center since his April 2022 extradition.

He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years and up to life in prison if convicted on all counts. The trial began with jury selection on Tuesday and is expected to last between two and three weeks.

Prosecutors said that while Hernandez was campaigning in 2013, he accepted $1 million from Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. He used that money to bribe officials to manipulate voting results in his favor, and used similar tactics for his 2017 re-election, prosecutors said.

“This rampant corruption and massive cocaine trafficking came at a cost to the people of Honduras,” Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, told reporters after Hernandez was extradited.

Hernandez has argued that drug traffickers have smeared him to seek to lighten their own sentences and to extract revenge over his administration’s law enforcement actions.

That argument has been used by other high-ranking Latin American officials who have been charged by the United States in recent years, including former Mexican security minister Genaro Garcia Luna, who was convicted last year on charges of taking bribes from El Chapo.

“I’m really curious to see if this is going to be a prosecution that is just going to exhibit a long list of finger-pointing at him by convicted former drug dealers, or if this is going to be a prosecution showing unquestionable evidence that he was actually involved,” said Edgar Zurita, a former law enforcement official at Mexico’s U.S. embassy and current managing director at investigations firm Nardello & Co.

El Chapo was himself convicted of drug trafficking in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison.

Earlier in February, two co-defendants who were initially set to be tried alongside Hernandez – his cousin Mauricio Hernandez and former Honduras national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla – pleaded guilty to drug trafficking.

Hernandez, if convicted, would be the third foreign leader to be convicted of drugs offences by the US, the first being President Manuel Noriega of Panama, and the second Andrew Fahie of the British Virgin Islands.

Sources: VOA, Reuters.
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