In a court filing, prosecutors say that for a decade, Juan Orlando Hernandez and other top Honduran politicians and officials “relied on drug proceeds to fund National Party campaigns."
In a shocking opening statement in the New York drug trial of Tony Hernandez, brother of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH), a federal prosecutor alleged Wednesday that Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman personally delivered US$1 million to the current head of state.
United States prosecutors allege Tony Hernandez used his government connections to smuggle U.S.-bound cocaine through Honduras. They have labeled his brother, Honduras' President, a co-conspirator and said Wednesday he has received millions from other drug lords as well, though he hasn’t been charged.
According to prosecutor Jason Richman's accusation, in exchange for the delivery of bribes to JOH, Tony Hernandez received protection from the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, recently sentenced to life imprisonment for cocaine, heroin and marijuana trafficking to the US, laundering of money and violence with firearms.
In a court filing, prosecutors say that for a decade, Juan Orlando Hernandez and other top Honduran politicians and officials “relied on drug proceeds to fund National Party campaigns, and other political operations, to control large swaths of the Honduran government, to bribe officials who helped ensure safe passage for their cocaine.”
The 44-page report, which is related to the trial in New York's Southern District on mainly drug trafficking charges, summarizes some of the key evidence collected by the plaintiffs.
In it, the court refers to Juan Orlando Hernandez as CC-4, (Co-conspirator 4), who is described as having been "elected President of Honduras in late 2013" and former president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo is identified as CC-3 (Co-conspirator 3). Lobo was Hernandez’s mentor and oversaw his rise to power.
According to the evidence presented by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, in 2004 Tony Hernandez formed relationships with narcotraffickers using his family’s political influence to provide them with in exchange for bribes, “information about law enforcement activities and operations so that the traffickers could transport cocaine through Honduras without incident.”
As connections with drug traffickers from the Honduran Valle Valle cartel and Colombian contacts were strengthen, Tony Hernandez partnered with Alexander Ardon, a former mayor of El Paraiso from JOH’s party. Ardon then became a Cooperating Witness, identified in the document as CW-3, who prosecutors argue “was also a large-scale drug trafficker.”
The document goes on to affirm that Tony Hernandez “told CW-3 [Ardon] that they could form a particularly successful partnership based on protection from CC-3 [Lobo] and CC-4 [JOH] if the won in the 2009 elections, and that he believed CC-4 [JOH] would succeed CC-3 [Lobo] as the president of Honduras and continue to protect them.”
Prosecutors then claim that Juan Orlando Hernandez asked Ardon for US$1.5 million in drug trafficking money to fund and secure the presidency in 2013. The money was used for cash bribes to Honduran officials as well as gifts and favors to local politicians to secure his win, prosecutors maintain.
Drug Trafficking Accusations Against JOH Are Not New
As drug-related extraditions to the U.S. began in 2014, the then-police commissioner, General Ramon Sabillon, publicly accused JOH of protecting Ardon. Sabillon was relieved from duty and had to fleed the country due to death threats.
Due to public pressure, President Hernadez removed Hugo Ardon, Ardon's brother, from his government post, yet maintained close relations with the family asking for funding for the highly questioned 2017 election.
Then in 2018, Tony Hernandez was arrested in Miami in November, while Fabio Lobo, the son of Pepe Lobo was convicted of drug trafficking in 2017 and sentenced to 24 years in jail.
Hernadez continues to deny all allegations, saying that they are attacks made by drug traffickers. Despite implications against JOH in the document, prosecutors have not accused him of any crime in the U.S.
JOH is a close partner in the region for U.S. President Donald Trump and last week, signed a safe third country-type agreement with the U.S. government.
“This tells you this [U.S.] administration is really anxious to reach a deal on immigration with Honduras no matter what other concerns there are with that government, including drug trafficking,” Andrew Selee, president of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute told the New York Times. “I can’t think of another case where we have had such open dealings with a head of state suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.”