U.S. jury convicts Honduran man in drug trafficking case linked to President Hernandez

·2 min read

(Reuters) - A New York jury on Monday found a Honduran man accused of criminal dealings with the country's President Juan Orlando Hernandez and other high-ranking officials guilty on three counts of drug trafficking and related weapons charges.

Prosecutors said Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, who was arrested in Miami in March 2020, smuggled drugs into the United States with the help of Hernandez, who has been president since 2014.

The verdict is the latest case to allege Hernandez has been involved in drug trafficking to the United States, despite millions in U.S. security assistance to Honduras, which prosecutors during the trial called a "narco-state."

"Juan Orlando Hernandez didn't just want the defendant's cash, he wanted access to the defendant's cocaine," assistant U.S. attorney Michael Lockard said, referring to a cocaine lab Fuentes was said to have controlled in Honduras.

An accountant at the firm where Hernandez and Fuentes were said to have met said he saw Fuentes pay Hernandez $25,000 in bribes for access to the cocaine lab and protection. A Honduran drug gang boss also testified to paying bribes to Hernandez.

Hernandez denies any wrongdoing, saying captured traffickers have faked evidence to smear him and reduce their sentences.

Any narrative omitting the "95%" drop in drug trafficking his government had achieved was just "false testimony by narcos we defeated," Hernandez said on Twitter after the verdict.

The U.S. Justice Department, which does not typically pursue serving foreign leaders, has not charged Hernandez with a crime.

U.S. prosecutors are seeking life in prison for his brother, Tony Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman convicted of drug trafficking in 2019. They allege President Hernandez was a party to his brother's "state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy."

The latest allegation against Hernandez could complicate efforts by the Biden administration to address the causes of migration from Central America, including Honduras.

(Reporting by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)