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Honduras ex-president bound for long stretch in US prison

Cocaine by the tonne passed through Honduras on the way to US thanks to corruptocrat Juan Hernandez.

Cocaine by the tonne passed through Honduras on the way to US thanks to corruptocrat Juan Hernandez. Photo: AAP/Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission

Former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez has been found guilty of drug trafficking conspiracy by a US jury, cementing the one-time US ally’s fall from grace.

Jurors in federal court in Manhattan needed about two days to reach a verdict on Friday, following a two-week trial.

Hernandez, 55, faces possible life in prison. US District Judge Kevin Castel will determine his sentence at a later date.

Renato Stabile, a lawyer for Hernandez, said his client planned to appeal the verdict. Hernandez led Honduras from 2014 to 2022.

During his presidency, the Central American country received more than $US50 million in US anti-narcotics assistance, and tens of millions of dollars in security and military aid.

But the Justice Department said Hernandez abused his power by accepting millions of dollars in bribes from traffickers to protect their US-bound cocaine shipments, and to fuel his rise in Honduran politics.

Paradise for traffickers

Hernandez was convicted on three charges: using machine guns to further a cocaine importation conspiracy, conspiring to use machine guns to further that conspiracy, and conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

“Juan Orlando Hernandez abused his position as President of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state where violent drug traffickers were allowed to operate with virtual impunity, and the people of Honduras and the United States were forced to suffer the consequences,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement after the verdict.

Hernandez was arrested and extradited to the United States in April 2022, three months after he left office.

He had pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking conspiracy and criminal weapons possession charges.

At the trial, several convicted traffickers testified they had bribed Hernandez.

Prosecutors said Hernandez used drug cash to bribe officials to manipulate voting results in his favour during Honduras’ 2013 and 2017 presidential elections.

Hernandez’s lawyers contended that prosecutors were relying on testimony from criminals who were trying to reduce their own sentences, and get even for Hernandez’s crackdown on cartels.

Testifying in his own defence on Tuesday, Hernandez denied meeting with or taking bribes from the traffickers, including convicted Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

“I had a policy against all those people because I could not stand them,” Hernandez said, referring to drug traffickers. “They did a lot of damage in the country.”

Hernandez has been jailed at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center since his extradition.

-AAP

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