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Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández helped smuggle thousands of kilos of cocaine into the United States, a U.S. prosecutor said Tuesday in opening arguments in the federal trial of alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes in New York.
Prosecutor Jacob Gutwillig told the jury that Fuentes "bribed even the president of Honduras" and became "untouchable" due to this association. "The president bulletproofed him," he said.
In 2013 and 2014, Fuentes paid bribes totaling "$25,000 in drug money" to the current president in exchange for protection, "and something more valuable: access to the defendant's drug lab" in the mountains of Honduras, he added.
The prosecutor said that a man present at those meetings, an accountant identified as Jose Sanchez, who worked for a rice company through which Fuentes laundered money, will tell the jury "the shock, the fear he felt when he saw the defendant sit down with the president."
Defense attorney Eylan Schulman attempted to discredit the accountant's eventual testimony in his opening arguments.
The defense also told the jury that it should not believe the testimony to be given by "one of the worst murderers on the face of the Earth," Leonel Rivera, former leader of the Honduran cartel Los Cachiros, who killed 78 people and is imprisoned in the United States for drug trafficking.
Prosecutors in charge of the case consider Hernandez a "co-conspirator" of Fuentes in the shipment of tons of drugs to the United States, but he has not been charged.
Yesterday, the trial against Honduran drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez began in the Southern District Court of NY
We will be posting daily summaries of the trial proceedings. See here for general info on case & also what happened on DAY ONE:https://t.co/ulvR0q25wm
In recent hours, the Honduran presidency denied that the president had accepted money from Fuentes or given protection to drug traffickers.
"It is 100% false and appears to be based on lies from self-confessed criminals seeking revenge," the presidency said on its Twitter account, adding that State Department publications acknowledge a significant reduction in cocaine trafficking in Honduras over the past five years.
The revelation that US prosecutors are investigating the president, who has been a key US ally in Central America, could complicate efforts by Joe Biden's administration to invest $4 billion in the region by addressing the roots of migration from that area.
Prosecutors also noted that little assistance has been received from the Honduran government in the ongoing investigations and accuse it of providing "only limited records" and failing to comply with extradition requests for potential witnesses against the president.
The president's brother, Tony Hernández, 42, was found guilty of "large-scale" drug trafficking in New York in October 2019, and his sentencing, postponed several times, is scheduled for March 23. He could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors claim that Tony was the intermediary between Fuentes and the president of Honduras.