US prosecutors say Honduras president took bribes in 2019


NEW YORK — Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández accepted bribes from a drug trafficker as recently as 2019 — not just while running for office years earlier — a U.S. prosecutor said Friday.

In the closing arguments of the trial of accused Honduran drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez in New York, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard said that the defendant had met with and paid bribes to Hernández twice in 2019.

The repeated allegations against Hernández, who has been president since January 2014, have overshadowed the allegations against Fuentes Ramírez, even though Hernández has not been charged with any crime.

Hernández has repeatedly denied any connection to drug trafficking, though one of his brothers faces the possibility of a life sentence for drug trafficking in the same court later this month.

Lockard said Fuentes Ramírez spoke of these meetings to Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, while both were locked up in New York.

“As recently 2019, the year before his arrest, the defendant continued to meet with and pay bribes to President Hernandez,” Lockard said. “When he saw Rivera Maradiaga in jail, he said he had two meetings the year before with President Hernández and had paid him bribes in both meetings.”

“Juan Orlando Hernández did not only want the cash, he wanted access to the defendant’s cocaine,” Lockard said. “The defendant’s drug lab was a short distance to Honduras’ biggest port city, Puerto Cortes, and Juan Orlando wanted the defendant’s cocaine so he could export it through that port. Access to the defendant’s lab would be worth millions.”

Lockard also said that Fuentes Ramírez met with high-ranking officials in the Honduran military at Hernández’s request to discuss a money laundering business.

An accountant testified earlier in the trial that he witnessed two meetings between Fuentes Ramírez and Hernández in 2013, during which the accused paid bribes to the presidential candidate.

In documents filed this week by prosecutors in the case of Hernández’s brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former Honduran congressman, the U.S. government alleged the president’s long-running involvement. Prosecutors say the president’s political rise was funded by drug traffickers in exchange for receiving protection for their illicit activities.

“The defendant was a Honduran congressman who, along with his brother Juan Orlando Hernández, played a leadership role in a violent, state sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy,” prosecutors wrote.

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