July 16th, 2024

Former Honduran president sentenced for helping traffickers get tons of cocaine into US

By Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press on June 26, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was sentenced Wednesday in New York for his conviction on charges that he enabled drug traffickers to use his military and national police force to help get tons of cocaine into the United States.

Judge P. Kevin Castel sentenced Hernández to 45 years in a U.S. prison and fined him $8 million. A jury convicted him in March in Manhattan federal court after a two-week trial, which was closely followed in his home country.

“I am innocent,” Hernández said at his sentencing. “I was wrongly and unjustly accused.”

Castel called Hernández a “two-faced politician hungry for power” who protected a select group of traffickers.

Hernández was in a full green prison uniform as he stood in court with his lawyers. Two U.S. marshals stood behind him.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of life in prison, plus 30 years.

Hernández, 55, served two terms as the leader of the Central American nation of roughly 10 million people.

Hernández was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, three months after leaving office in 2022 and was extradited to the U.S. in April of that year.

U.S. prosecutors say Hernández worked with drug traffickers as long ago as 2004, taking 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.

Hernández insisted in a lengthy statement made through an interpreter that his trial was unjust because he was not allowed to include evidence that would have caused the jury to find him not guilty. He said he was being persecuted by politicians and drug traffickers.

“It’s as if I had been thrown into a deep river with my hands bound,” he said.

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 U.S.

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

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