Trial implicating Honduran president in drug trafficking begins

US prosecutors say Juan Orlando Hernandez accepted bribes from drug cartels, the president has denied the allegations.

The trial of an alleged Honduran drug-trafficker, whose case implicates Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and different high-ranking officers, is getting underneath method within the Southern District of New York on Monday.

Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, 50, was arrested making an attempt to depart Miami in 2020 and has pleaded “not guilty” to expenses of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States and associated weapons expenses.

References to Hernandez seem continuously within the filings in opposition to Fuentes Ramirez, in addition to in a drug-trafficking case in opposition to Hernandez’s brother Tony, who was convicted of drug trafficking and associated weapons expenses in October 2019.

In that trial, US prosecutors stated Hernandez had accepted tens of millions in bribes from drug traffickers. The president has repeatedly denied the allegation.

AP 19291657214863Tony Hernandez, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, has been convicted in an enormous drug conspiracy that prosecutors say was protected by the Central American nation’s authorities [File: Claudia Torrens/AP Photo]

In a tweet on the time, he stated the decision was “based on testimonies of confessed murderers”, referring to former drug traffickers who cooperated with US authorities within the trial. In feedback to Honduran media, Hernandez has denied all wrongdoing.

In Fuentes Ramirez’s case paperwork, federal prosecutors accused Hernandez, who has been president since 2014, of utilizing Honduran legislation enforcement and navy officers to guard drug traffickers.

Hernandez was a key ally to the US underneath each the Obama and the Trump administrations.

The investigation couldn’t solely have an effect on future bilateral relations but additionally complicate the new Biden administration’s efforts to take a position $4bn in Central America, together with Honduras, to handle the causes of migration.

Last month, 1000’s of Hondurans joined one of many largest-ever migrant caravans hoping to reach the US, with many citing rampant violence, authorities corruption and worsening poverty as their causes for leaving home.

Democratic US senators in late February launched a invoice that will sanction Hernandez for alleged drug trafficking and corruption and reduce off monetary help and ammunition gross sales to Honduran safety forces.

2021 02 24T212532Z 434449603 RC29ZL9WCTLE RTRMADP 3 HONDURAS DRUGSHonduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez addresses the congress in a speech about safety and organised crime, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras [File: Honduras’ Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

In addition to probably shedding mild on the extent of corruption and official involvement in drug trafficking in Honduras, revelations from Fuentes Ramirez’s trial may have an effect on presidential primaries happening in Honduras this month forward of November’s election.

Previous courtroom filings present that the US Drug Enforcement Administration started investigating Hernandez and others for drug trafficking and cash laundering round 2013, the 12 months he was elected president after heading the parliament, or Congress.

He was re-elected in a contested poll in 2017 to carry workplace till early 2022.

Hernandez has denied the allegations within the Fuentes Ramirez case. In a tweet, the presidency stated the concept that Hernandez had taken drug cash from Fuentes Ramirez or protected traffickers was “100 percent false and appears to be based on the lies of confessed criminals who seek revenge or to reduce their sentences”.

He has usually represented himself as powerful on medication and claimed credit score for breaking apart highly effective crime cartels and extraditing quite a few traffickers to the US.

US prosecutors stated the Honduran authorities has “hardly been forthcoming” with help of their investigations and stated the federal government had not honoured requests to extradite potential witnesses in opposition to the president.