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Former president of Honduras sentenced to 45 years in US prison

Juan Orlando Hernandez was found guilty of taking millions of dollars in bribes to cover up drug shipments to the US

Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez was sentenced by a US judge on Wednesday to 45 years in prison and ordered to pay an $8 million fine for helping drug traffickers import hundreds of tons of cocaine to the US. Hernandez has consistently denied the charges. 

The 55-year-old had been held at a jail in New York since being extradited to the US in April 2022. Prosecutors accused Hernandez of collaborating with powerful drug cartels, as they moved more than 400 tons of cocaine to the US via the Central American nation, during his tenure.

“I am innocent,” Hernandez said at his sentencing. “I was wrongly and unjustly accused.”

In March, a Manhattan jury found the former leader guilty of accepting millions of dollars in bribes to protect drug trafficking rings that he publicly claimed to be combating.

The judge concluded that Hernandez employed “considerable acting skills” to make it seem that he was an anti-drug trafficking campaigner.

Prosecutors also said that as part of the scheme, Honduran National Police were used to shield the cocaine trade. According to them, Hernandez had worked with drug traffickers since 2004 and received millions of dollars in bribes.

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US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement on Wednesday that Hernandez “abused his position as president of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state where violent drug traffickers were allowed to operate with virtual impunity.”

During a two-week trial, prosecutors also claimed Hernandez used drug money to bribe officials and manipulate voting results during the Honduran presidential elections in 2013 and 2017. Several convicted traffickers, who stood as trial witnesses, testified they bribed Hernandez, and claimed he was responsible for murders and assisted some of the world’s most powerful cocaine dealers. 

The US judge said the number of murders related to drug trafficking during Hernandez’ political career was “staggering.” He cited one drug trafficking witness as admitting during the trial that he assisted in 56 killings, while another said the former president was involved in 78 murders.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence, arguing that the penalty would serve as a warning to other politicians who use their power to protect criminal groups.

Hernandez was president of Honduras from 2014 until 2022, when he was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa three months after leaving office, and extradited to the US.

June 27, 2024 at 06:10PM

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