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Ex-Honduras president worked hand in hand with violent traffickers to transport 'massive amounts of cocaine' into the US: prosecutor

A courtroom sketch of former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez at his trial on drug trafficking charges in Manhattan federal court on February 20, 2024.
A courtroom sketch of former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez at his trial on drug trafficking charges in Manhattan federal court on February 20, 2024.REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
  • Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is on trial in New York on drug trafficking charges.

  • Prosecutors allege Hernández worked closely with violent drug traffickers to send loads of cocaine to the US.

  • "This is a case about power. About corruption, about massive amounts of cocaine," a prosecutor said.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández worked "hand in hand" with violent drug traffickers to send massive loads of cocaine into the United States, a federal prosecutor said on Wednesday in his opening statements at the high-profile New York trial of the fallen political leader.

"This is a case about power, about corruption, about massive amounts of cocaine, and about the one man who stood at the center of it all," Assistant US Attorney David Robles told a Manhattan federal court jury.

As the trial on drug and weapons charges kicked off, Hernández sat in the courtroom wearing a black suit.

Prosecutors have alleged that for nearly 20 years, including during his two terms as the president of Honduras, Hernández built up a "corrupt and violent" empire to smuggle tons and tons of cocaine to America.

Hernández, once considered to be a key ally to the US on anti-narcotics efforts, received millions of dollars in bribes from drug trafficking organizations — including from the notorious, now-imprisoned Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera — and essentially transformed Honduras into a narco-state, prosecutors have alleged.

In court documents, prosecutors wrote that Hernández, who was first elected in 2013 as president of Honduras, worked for years with "violent drug traffickers to harm the United States, telling his co-conspirators that he wanted to 'stuff the drugs up the noses of the gringos.'"

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in 2020.
Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in 2020.AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File

Robles told jurors in his opening statements on Wednesday that during the trial they will hear from some witnesses who "committed significant acts of violence."

"These are the people the defendant chose to work with, and because of that, they are the only people in the world who can tell us how the defendant committed his crimes," Robles said.

If convicted of the charges against him, 55-year-old Hernández — who has pleaded not guilty — could spend the rest of his life inside a US prison.

Hernández's defense attorney, Renato Stabile, told the jury in his opening statements that Hernández "does not sit down with drug traffickers."

"He stands up to them, and he does it at great personal risk," Stabile added.

The defense attorney said that some of the government witnesses the jury will hear from during the trial are killers and "psychopaths" who "are not worthy of trust or belief."

"The number of people they've killed is so high that if you look around this courtroom, the number killed is probably higher than everyone sitting here right now," said Stabile, who added, "So when the government comes to you and asks you to find the defendant guilty, please remember who and what these witnesses are."

"There's gonna be a lot of talk at this trial, but not a lot of concrete evidence," Stabile continued.

An accountant from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula was the first witness to take the stand on Wednesday.

Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Josè Sànchez told jurors of 2013 meetings between Hernández and convicted drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez at the office of the company where Sànchez worked.

"Mr. Juan Orlando Hernández said, 'We're going to shove the drugs up the nose of the gringos, and they're not even going to realize it,'" Sànchez recalled.

Read the original article on Business Insider