Convicted: First brother and Honduras congressmanJuan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández, [photo], prospered in his drug trafficking under the umbrella of his brother, while passing along bribes from traffickers which his brother used in funding his political campaign
The Honduran politician Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández has been found guilty in a vast drug conspiracy case in New York City after prosecutors said he relied on “state-sponsored drug trafficking” enabled by his brother – the country’s president.
“Tony” Hernández was impassive as the verdict was announced by a jury that deliberated over parts of two days. He was convicted of drug conspiracy, weapons charges and lying to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The two-week trial put a spotlight on the lucrative drug trade between the United States and Honduras, where poverty, violence and corruption have driven thousands of migrants to flee north through Mexico.
Highlighting the issues dogging the embattled president, including his alleged links to drug traffickers, major scandals that have tarred his reputation, and threats to his political future, US prosecutors say the drug conspiracy was protected by the Central American country’s government.
The drug case filed in US courts against the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández ensnared the president, who prosecutors say took part in a conspiracy when millions in drug proceeds went to fund his campaigns in exchange for protecting traffickers.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández [photo], allegedly took part in a conspiracy when millions in drug proceeds went to fund his campaigns in exchange for protecting traffickers
The trial featured testimony that the convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán gave $1m in bribes to Antonio Hernández to pass along to his brother, president Juan Orlando Hernández
The defense lawyer Michael Tein had argued that prosecutors had insufficient evidence and that five ‘turned’ witnesses who admitted to dozens of killings were “liars, losers and murderers”.
The Honduran president was not charged in the case but was labeled a co-conspirator. The president tweeted during the trial that the prosecution’s allegations were “100% false, absurd and ridiculous”.
In a closing argument Wednesday, the assistant US attorney Emil Bove said the drug conspiracy was already over six years old in 2010 when Antonio Hernández and his associates gained control of the government to protect drug traffickers aligned with the country’s National party.
“That is state-sponsored drug trafficking. And with that level of power and control, the defendant was virtually untouchable,” he said. “The results of that are astonishing.
“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,” Bove said.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor said, Guzmán was able to travel to Honduras in 2013 twice despite being one of the most wanted people in the world.
“And during the second meeting, he handed the defendant a million dollars in cash, drug money, to help the defendant’s brother, Juan Orlando, get elected president so he could keep protecting them,” the prosecutor said.
Juan Orlando Hernández has been seen as a key regional ally by Washington, which was quick to recognize his re-election in December despite accusations of widespread fraud. In the controversial outcome Hernández won with 42.95% of the vote in Honduras, compared with 41.42% for runner-up Salvador Nasralla.
President Juan Orlando Hernández denied the accusations against him and tweeted that he received the news of the verdict with great sadness and that the decision was “based on the testimonies of confessed murderers.”
The allegations made in court against the Honduran president have sparked protests in the country and calls for his resignations.
Juan Orlando Hernández speaks during a rally in his brother’s support in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on 9 October
When President Hernández was first elected head of state in 2013, the United States saw him as a critical ally to fight corruption, impunity and organized crime in the violence-stricken Central America.
Over time, however, a number of criminal allegations have cast doubt on Hernández’s commitment to tackling his country’s most pressing problems.
Bilateral cooperation on migration, the use of extradition, and US-backed “mano dura,” or “hard fist,” strategies to fight crime might not be enough to keep him in the good graces of his allies in Washington.
Last month, Honduras agreed to allow the US to return asylum seekers from third countries to the Central American nation.
During the trial prosecutors pointed the finger at Hernández and other high-level officials, including former President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, who allegedly leveraging drug trafficking to “maintain and enhance their political power.”
A pivotal figure in the case was Amilcar Alexander Ardón who went from cattle rustler to milk farmer to drug capo to mayor of El Paraíso, a small town along a key trafficking route on Honduras’ border with Guatemala.
There, Ardón formed a business relationship with Tony Hernández, whereby Ardón provided drug proceeds to the political campaigns of Tony’s brother, Juan Orlando Hernández in exchange for protection.
This criminal partnership allegedly lasted for years, that may yet prove to be the death knell for Hernández’s political career.
President, Juan Orlando Hernández, formerly viewed as a key US ally in the drug war was called an unindicted co-conspirator. He has not been charged
The tale unfolded that Western Honduras, a remote mountainous region used to smuggle all types of contraband and drugs, is also where Tony Hernández used his brother’s rising status in the National Party to protect and advance his own drug trafficking enterprise.
From his base in the department of Lempira, Tony Hernández rode his brother’s coattails, becoming a local powerbroker and then a congressman. Tony also used his clout prosecutors said to provide cover for criminal groups, such as the Valles, while funneling drug money to his brother’s political campaigns.
After President Hernández’s alleged links to traffickers was unmasked, he immediately pointed out that he extradited dozens of capos to face justice in the United States. Ironically the compromised traffickers, seeking plea deals with U.S. authorities for shorter sentences, have been cooperating extensively with US officials.
Their testimony led to the drug case against the president’s brother Tony Hernández , an unintended consequence of the extradition policy Hernández rammed through to get into office.