Tue | Dec 7, 2021

US prosecutors allege Honduras president helped move drugs

Published:Tuesday | March 9, 2021 | 1:26 PM
In this August 13, 2019 file photo, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez speaks to reporters as he leaves a meeting at the Organization of American States in Washington. US federal prosecutors in New York said on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, that an accountant witnessed meetings between Hernández and a drug trafficker in which they planned the trafficking of cocaine to the US. Hernández has previously denied any involvement with drug traffickers and has not been charged. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — An accountant witnessed meetings between Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández and a drug trafficker in which they planned the trafficking of cocaine to the United States, federal prosecutors in New York said Tuesday.

Assistant US Attorney Jacob Gutwillig said during his opening statement at the trial of accused Honduran drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez that the accountant was present when Hernández allegedly said he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos.”

Hernández has previously denied any involvement with drug traffickers.

He has not been charged.

The meetings allegedly occurred in 2013 and 2014, Gutwillig said.

The accountant, José Sánchez, ran a rice business through which Fuentes Ramírez allegedly laundered drug proceeds.

Sánchez will testify at the trial, the prosecutor said.

Gutwillig described the “shock, the fear” that Sánchez had seeing Fuentes Ramírez meeting with the president.

One of Fuentes Ramírez’s defence attorneys later said Sánchez wasn’t credible, suggesting the US would approve his asylum application in exchange for his testimony.

Prosecutors have previously said that Fuentes Ramírez paid Hernández $25,000 to be allowed to move drugs through the country without interference.

“Apparently $25,000 is all you need to bribe the president,” defence attorney Eylan Shulman said.

In January, US federal prosecutors filed motions in the Fuentes Ramírez case saying that Hernández took bribes from drug traffickers and had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.

The documents quote Hernández — identified as co-conspirator 4 — as saying he wanted to “‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos’ by flooding the United States with cocaine.”

The president also emerged in the trial leading to the 2019 conviction of one of his brothers, Juan Antonio Hernández.

During that trial, the president was accused of accepting more than $1 million from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán — an accusation repeated in the new motions.

Last month, another filing by prosecutors in the Fuentes Ramírez case appeared to confirm for the first time that Hernández was under investigation by US authorities.

Hernández has long denied any suggestion that he cooperated with or benefited from drug traffickers.

Prosecutors allege that much of his political rise from the president of the Congress to President was fuelled by money from drug traffickers, who paid in exchange for protection and to avoid interference from security forces.

On Monday, Hernández asserted again in a Twitter thread that he had waged war on drug trafficking, not aid it.

He said that the allegations against him come from drug traffickers seeking revenge and looking to lighten their sentences.

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