Alleged El Chapo Bribe to Honduras President Sets Stage in US Drug Trial

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The president of Honduras featured prominently in the first days of trial against his brother as US prosecutors presented a damning ledger and levied accusations that he received drug money from notorious Mexican kingpin “El Chapo” Guzmán, in what are likely just the first of a number of jaw-dropping accusations to come.

The drug trafficking trial of former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández — who is alleged to have leveraged his political connections to lead a vast drug trafficking conspiracy that ensnared politicians, traffickers, police and military officials — began with prosecutor Jason Richman describing how Hernandez trafficked drugs freely due to the clout of his brother, “who himself received millions of dollars in drug money bribes.” 

Richman also said that Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” had hand-delivered $1 million to Tony Hernández that was meant for the Honduran President.

The drug money was “to protect [Tony Hernández], to protect his organization and keep them in business,” Richman said.

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While Tony is the one on trial, President Hernández, who is an un-indicted co-conspirator in the case, is also under the spotlight. The head of state vehemently denied the accusations that he received drug money from El Chapo, describing them as “absurd and ridiculous” and “less serious than Alice and Wonderland.”

On day two, prosecutors tied Tony Hernández to drug trafficking through a 350-page “narcolibreta,” or ledger, confiscated by anti-drug officials last year. The book detailed numerous cocaine shipments allegedly received by the former congressman and distributed to one of his co-conspirators, Nery Orlando López Sanabria, presumed to be one of Honduras’ most notorious traffickers, Univision reported.

Another entry listed $440,000 in payments to “JOH y su gente,” or JOH and his associates, according to Univision. It’s unclear whether the letters are meant to signify the president, but he has long been called by his initials, which are frequently seen on posters in support of and against him.

The first two days of trial also saw the selection of 12 women and six men chosen to sit on the jury that will decide the fate of Tony Hernández. The jurors were provided with a list of key figures that will be mentioned throughout the trial, including the former leaders of the infamous Valles and Cachiros drug trafficking clans, as well as the former and current presidents of Honduras.

InSight Crime Analysis

The first days of trial against former Honduran congressman Hernández were explosive, but it’s likely just the beginning of what is bound to be a growing list of accusations describing intimate ties between government officials and organized crime.

This has been the case in other high-profile drug trials. In the US trial of El Chapo last year, the defense opened with the dramatic allegation that former Mexican presidents Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto both received “hundreds of millions in bribes” from cartel leader Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo.”

In a separate US case against Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, ex-Cachiros leader Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga — who is also likely to play a key role in Hernandez’s trial — detailed how he repeatedly bribed the former head of state.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

While tying President Hernandez to his brother’s alleged drug trafficking might seem like a bold opening gambit by prosecutors, history gives the allegations some weight.

In 2015, President Hernández admitted to having accepted dirty money linked to a massive corruption scandal to help fund his successful presidential campaign in 2013. Prosecutors have also previously alleged that he received $1.5 million in drug proceeds for campaign funding.

If Tony Hernández’s first days in court made one thing clear, it’s that prosecutors won’t be afraid to also point the finger at President Hernández for his alleged role in his brother’s drug conspiracy.

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