Former president of Honduras sentenced to 45 years for drug trafficking crimes

Juan Orlando Hernández, the former president of Honduras who was found guilty of drug crimes in a US court, has been sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Hernandez was convicted in March of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and possessing “destructive devices,” including machine guns.

New York prosecutors said he ran the Central American country as a “narco-state” and accepted millions of dollars in bribes from drug traffickers to protect them from the law.

“He paved a cocaine highway to the United States, protected by machine guns,” prosecutors said in their closing arguments before his sentencing.

As part of his sentence, he was also ordered to pay a fine of $8 million (£6.3 million).

“I am innocent,” Hernandez said at his sentencing hearing, according to the Associated Press. “I was wrongly and unjustly accused.”

The judge, during the hearing, called him a “two-faced and power-hungry politician,” the news agency reported.

The 55-year-old man has been held in a Brooklyn jail since his extradition to the United States.

Last month, the Manhattan judge overseeing the case denied his motion for a new trial after his lawyers argued that the trial was tainted by incorrect testimony from a law enforcement official who said cocaine trafficking increased in Honduras. during the former president’s term.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel found the error “immaterial” for the drug conspiracy charge.

“Hernández’s conviction was based on the testimony, over the course of a three-week trial, of numerous witnesses whose testimony was corroborated in part by telephone records and a recovered drug ledger,” Judge Castel wrote.

Hernández was president of Honduras from 2014 to 2022, serving two consecutive terms in the nation of more than 10 million people.

He initially ran as a law and order candidate and promised to address the country’s drug crime problem.

Instead, prosecutors accused him of conspiring with “some of the world’s most prolific drug traffickers to build a corrupt and brutally violent empire based on the illegal trafficking of tons of cocaine into the United States.”

Three months after leaving office, he was extradited to New York and arrested in April 2022 to face federal charges in the United States.

He had previously been seen as a strong ally of the United States, sending his country more than $50 million (£39 million) in counter-narcotics assistance, as well as millions of additional dollars in security and military aid.

In 2019, then-President Donald Trump thanked Hernández for “working very closely with the United States.”

Hernández in turn thanked Trump and the American people “for the support they have given us in the firm fight against drug trafficking.”

Prosecutors later discovered that Hernández had been linked to drug traffickers since 2004, long before he became president, and that he had facilitated the smuggling of around 500 tons of cocaine into the United States.

They said drug traffickers paid him millions of dollars in bribes to allow cocaine to be smuggled from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras into the United States.

During his trial, several convicted drug traffickers testified that they had bribed Hernandez.

His lawyers argued that those who testified against him did so for their own benefit.

Hernandez also took the stand to testify in his own defense, accusing the witnesses who testified against him of being “professional liars.”

Prosecutors alleged he had used drug money to then bribe officials and rig Honduras’ 2013 and 2017 presidential elections in his favor.

Denying the accusations, Hernández stated that he became “a victim of a vendetta and a conspiracy by organized crime and political enemies.”

He is expected to appeal his conviction.

His brother, a former congressman from Honduras, was jailed by the same Manhattan court in 2021 on separate drug charges. Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández is currently serving a life sentence.

Hernández is not the first former Latin American head of state convicted of a drug-related crime in the United States.

Manuel Noriega of Panama was convicted of drug trafficking charges in a Miami court in 1992, and Alfonso Portillo of Guatemala was convicted of money laundering charges in a New York court in 2014.

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