Honduran Ex-Congressman Convicted of Cocaine-Trafficking Scheme

Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, brother of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez, arrives for a press conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on March 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio, File)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Only two days into their deliberations, a federal jury in New York reached a verdict sure to cause a political earthquake in Latin America. Honduran ex-congressman Antonio “Tony” Hernández was found guilty Friday of a drug-trafficking conspiracy that prosecutors say also involved that country’s president.

“Former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez was involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine that were destined for the U.S.,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement this afternoon. “Hernandez bribed law enforcement officials to protect drug shipments, solicited large bribes from major drug traffickers, and arranged machinegun-toting security for cocaine shipments.”

Trial began two weeks ago with a shocking allegation: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richman told a jury that the ex-congressman passed off a $1 million bribe from drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to his brother, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández.

The Honduran president has not been charged with any crimes and promptly compared the prosecutor’s claims to something out of “Alice in Wonderland.”

But another prosecutor, Emil Bove, assured jurors during closing arguments on Wednesday that the government’s case was not a work of fiction.

“This is not Netflix,” Bove said. “This isn’t a movie.”

Hernandez, 42, faces life imprisonment at his sentencing on Jan. 17, 2020.

The conviction of the Honduran president’s brother could spark a diplomatic tailspin.

During the United Nations General Assembly, President Donald Trump announced that he struck a deal with three Latin American countries on migration.

“Guatemala, Honduras & El Salvador have all signed historic Asylum Cooperation Agreements and are working to end the scourge of human smuggling,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, while closing arguments on Wednesday had been ongoing. “To further accelerate this progress, the U.S. will shortly be approving targeted assistance in the areas of law enforcement & security.”

With today’s verdict, a federal jury validated a case predicated on the idea that drug cartels enjoy the assistance and protection of a network of Honduran mayors, congressmen, military guards, police chiefs and its president. Trump’s deal would grant security and law enforcement assistance to those networks and strand asylum seekers there.

Prosecutors noted at trial that the other two parties to the deal, Guatemala and El Salvador, are known as “transshipment points” for U.S.-bound narcotics.

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