Honduras former President Juan Orlando Hernandez is being transported to the U.S., in Tegucigalpa
Honduras former President Juan Orlando Hernandez when being transported to the U.S., in Tegucigalpa. Photo by: Reuters/Fredy Rodriguez

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was convicted on Friday of aiding drug traffickers who smuggled cocaine into the United States, using the country's military and police force to enable this, The Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors had accused Hernández of working with drug traffickers since at least 2004, taking millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for his help from within public office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Gutwillig told the jury during the closing arguments that Hernández "paved a cocaine superhighway to the United States."

The former president said that all of the country's political parties took money from these groups but denied taking bribes himself.

He also rejected the charges, saying that as president he had worked with U.S. authorities to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the country, and that those who implicated him fabricated the claims to get leniency in their sentences. "They all have motivation to lie, and they are professional liars," Hernández said.

Two of those people pleaded guilty at the beginning of February. They are Carlos Bonilla, who was head of National Police during Hernández's tenure, and Mauricio Hernández Pineda, the former president's cousin. They admitted to being guilty of "conspiring to importing cocaine to the United States" and the possession of firearms to facilitate the movement of the drugs.

Hernández was arrested in February 2022 in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, and extradited to the United States two months later. Praised by the Trump administration for "stopping drugs at a level that has never happened," he saw a complete U-turn from the U.S. once Biden took office.

Among the accusations against him stand out an alleged partnership with notorious Mexican kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, who is also currently in prison in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.

"Around 2013, while Hernández was campaigning for president, he took roughly $1 million from drug-trafficking profits from Guzmán Loera," said the Department of Justice as part of the accusation. Hernández rejected the accusation and even requested that Guzmán be called to testify, a petition that was not upheld.

Hernández is the first former head of state to face these kind of charges in the U.S. since Panama's Manuel Noriega did so over 30 years ago. Juan Antonio Hernández, a brother of his, has already been sentenced to life in prison. Juan Orlando Hernández's sentence has not been announced yet, but he could also spend the rest of his life behind bars.

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