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US Justice Department concluded Honduras president was bribed by drug cartels

Monday, October 21st 2019 - 09:45 UTC
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A US jury on Friday found President Hernandez' brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, guilty of conspiring to import cocaine, illicit weapons possession and lying to US authorities A US jury on Friday found President Hernandez' brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, guilty of conspiring to import cocaine, illicit weapons possession and lying to US authorities

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez emerged battered from the trial and conviction of his brother last Friday after the US Justice Department concluded that the evidence showed narco-traffickers had bribed the president and his party.

A US jury on Friday found President Hernandez' brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, guilty of conspiring to import cocaine, illicit weapons possession and lying to US authorities. US prosecutors did not indict President Hernandez.

But the Department of Justice reiterated in a statement after the verdict that as a candidate and then president, Hernandez received drug money for his electoral campaigns, including from Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Hernandez, who took office in 2014, has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Analysts say the verdict has undoubtedly weakened the president, who has faced intermittent street protests calling for his ouster since he was sworn in for a second term in January 2018 amid allegations of fraud.

The Central American leader may now reckon with dwindling support at home, where local press avidly covered the two-week trial. He also may be more reliant than ever on support from the US government.

Long praised as a key US ally in the drug war, he has under President Donald Trump faced intense pressure to partner in the US effort to curb migration flows.

Witnesses at the trial alleged that President Hernandez pledged to protect his brother from extradition and called for bribing mayors in Copan, a department bordering Guatemala and a notorious gateway for cocaine trafficking, to secure power for himself and the ruling National Party.

Hernandez says the allegations are the fabrications of criminals bent on revenge for his efforts against organized crime.

Luis Zelaya, president of the opposition Liberal Party, told reporters that the party would demand that Hernandez leave power to be replaced with a transitional government.

“It is no longer a suspicion he is involved in drug trafficking,” Zelaya said. “He has to be accused.”

Hernandez will likely face a rough next two years in office“ because his legitimacy is being increasingly questioned,” said Kurt Ver Beek, co-founder of the Honduran-based civil society organisation, the Association for a More Just Society.

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