Honduras ex-President Hernandez convicted at US drugs trial

By Thomson Reuters Mar 8, 2024 | 1:17 PM

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez was found guilty on Friday of drug trafficking conspiracy by a U.S. jury, cementing the onetime U.S. ally’s fall from grace.

Jurors in Manhattan federal court needed about two days to reach a verdict, following a two week trial. Hernandez, 55, faces the possibility of life in prison. U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel will determine his sentence at a later date.

Hernandez led Honduras from 2014 to 2022.

During his presidency, the Central American country received more than $50 million in U.S. anti-narcotics assistance, and tens of millions of dollars in security and military aid.

But the Justice Department said he abused his power to run Honduras as a “narco-state,” accepting millions of dollars in bribes from traffickers to protect their U.S.-bound cocaine shipments.

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 in Manhattan federal court, several convicted traffickers testified they had bribed Hernandez.

Prosecutors said Hernandez used drug cash to bribe officials to manipulate voting results in his favor 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 defense on March 5, 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.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Chris Reese)