Honduras president duped US anti-drug agency, witness tells trial

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in this Janiary 2021 file image, gestures during an AFP interview in Tegucigalpa
·2 min read

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez received cocaine shipments from Colombia -- and duped the US anti-drugs agency, a Honduran former drug lord told a federal trial in New York on Monday.

Leonel Rivera, who led the feared Los Cachiros cartel and now collaborates with the US government, said in the court in Manhattan that he met the defendant, alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes, in 2020 in the New York Metropolitan Jail.

In that meeting, according to Rivera, the defendant told him that "he had evidence, photographs, videos to show how Juan Orlando (Hernandez), the president of Honduras, was receiving cocaine shipments from Colombia at the San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa airports."

Fuentes wanted to ask the US Drug Enforcement Administration to release him for a month from prison to retrieve that evidence, Rivera said.

But the former head of Los Cachiros assured that Fuentes told him that the alleged drug trafficking took place "in front of the DEA, but that the DEA was not aware of it and that Juan Orlando Hernandez was pulling a fast one on the DEA."

Prosecutors for the southern district of New York claim that the president of Honduras and the defendant were partners in the trafficking of tons of cocaine to the United States, but Hernandez has not been charged.

The Honduran president says that he is innocent and that Rivera is lying to get his sentence reduced.

New York prosecutor Jacob Gutwillig last week told the trial that Hernandez was paid a $25,000 bribe by Fuentes.

Hernandez, a lawyer who came to power in January 2014 and is in his second term, has styled himself as a champion in the fight against drugs.

US prosecutors consider him a co-conspirator alongside Fuentes. He has called the allegations "false testimonies."

The president's brother, Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez, was found guilty of large-scale drug trafficking in October 2019 in New York. He has not yet been sentenced.

Prosecutors say he was the middle man between accused trafficker Fuentes and the president.

Rivera faces a life sentence plus 30 years in prison but hopes it will be reduced in exchange for his testimony.

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