Former President Juan Orlando Hernandez found guilty of drug trafficking

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By LatAm Reports Editorial Team

He will thus become the highest-ranking Latin American president convicted of drug trafficking following the case of Panamanian Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was found guilty Friday of drug trafficking and weapons charges by a New York jury, following a trial that has taken just over two weeks.

Hernandez, who is now waiting for Judge Kevin Castel to pass his sentence, will thus become the highest-ranking Latin American president convicted of drug trafficking following the case of Panamanian Manuel Antonio Noriega, sentenced in 1992 in a Florida court to 40 years in prison for his connections to the Colombian Medellín cartel.

Hernandez heard the sentence stoic, without any gesture, but when he got out of the chair and left the room, he turned to the public, looked at his two sisters-in-law – his wife did not travel because he had denied him the visa – and said, “I am innocent. I love you very much, tell the world.”

Half a hundred Hondurans outside the court immediately began to hold the verdict, which could cost Hernandez several life sentences.

The charge of “conspiring to import cocaine” carries a sentence of between 10 years and the perpetuity; that of “using and carrying machine guns and other destructive devices” to introduce drugs is punished between 30 years and for life; and that of “conspiring to use and carry machine guns” for the import of drugs also has a maximum penalty of perpetuity.

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Judge Kevin Castel has thus retained the three charges brought against him by the Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of the U.S. government, which has repeatedly said that Hernandez “participated in a corrupt and violent drug conspiracy to facilitate the import of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States.”

The Prosecutor’s Office argued that Hernandez’s drug trafficking activity is not limited to his two presidential terms, but to his entire political career since at least 2004, a time in which he used his public office, “as well as the Police and the Army” to support drug trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico and elsewhere.

Although there has been no conclusive evidence – in the form of videos, audios or intercepted communications – that incriminate Hernandez, 55, during the trial, the jury has been convinced by the testimonies provided by notorious drug traffickers who have testified against him after pleading guilty before the U.S. Justice, presumably seeking prison benefits.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Panamerica