HomeNewsFormer Honduras President Pleads Not Guilty, Ex-Police Chief Extradited to US

Former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández pleaded not guilty to drug charges on the same day that a notorious ex-Honduras police chief was extradited to the United States – in a strange confluence of events that speak to the country’s descent into a narco-state.

Hernández entered his plea in an arraignment hearing at a federal New York court on May 10 in front of Judge Kevin Castel. US prosecutors have charged Hernández with one count of cocaine importation conspiracy, alleging that he was part of an international trafficking network that moved 500 tons of cocaine over two decades.

Prosecutors told the judge that evidence includes recordings, data from electronic devices, social media information and other hard evidence, Univision reported.

Hernández has repeatedly denied any links to drug trafficking. Upon his extradition about three weeks ago, he proclaimed his innocence in a video statement.

SEE ALSO: Juan Orlando Hernández Profile

Coincidentally, the hearing came on the same morning that former Honduras National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, better known as “El Tigre,” was extradited to the US to face drug charges in the same New York court.

Prosecutors indicted Bonilla in 2020, alleging that he used his role to facilitate the safe passage of cocaine and to protect “politically connected traffickers he aligned with,” including President Hernández and his brother, Tony, who was convicted of drug trafficking in 2019.

Hernández, who served two terms as president from 2014 to 2022, is accused of receiving millions of dollars in drug money from some of his country’s most notorious traffickers, including Victor Hugo Díaz Morales, alias “El Rojo”; Amilcar Alexander Ardón, a former mayor; Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, who allegedly provided him with access to a cocaine lab; and his brother.  

Prosecutors allege that Hernández even dispatched his brother to receive a $1 million bribe from Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo." Prosecutors also accuse Hernández of financing his political campaigns and bribing election officials with drug money.

The former Honduran president was extradited to the US on April 21. His indictment and extradition capped off a stunning fall for Hernández, who was once considered a US ally in combatting drug trafficking and later became the subject of repeated accusations by US prosecutors of ties to the drug trade.

A tentative trial date in Hernández's case was set for January 2023.

InSight Crime Analysis

The back-to-back scenes of a former president in court and a former police chief placed on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plane offer a stark display of how drug money infiltrated the highest rungs of government and law enforcement in Honduras.

Ironically, any relationships the pair may have had with US officials could complicate their cases if they go to trial, while also embarrassing the US government if those relationships are made public.

Hernández’s defense attorneys have already signaled that they plan to look for evidence of his cooperation with US officials and to probe the traffickers-turned-witnesses who are likely to appear in the case.

SEE ALSO: How Honduras' Former Top Cop May Seal Fate of Embattled Ex-President 

Hernández’s defense has asked prosecutors to disclose all information that can impugn the trial testimony of a government witness, according to one court document.

The former president's lawyers, meanwhile, made the outrageous claim to Univision that they plan to call on former US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the case, as well as current President Joe Biden, to speak about Hernández’s collaboration with the US government during his tenure.

One of his defense team members, Jay Levy, told the news outlet that Hernández made a 2017 visit to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he received national security documents despite supposedly being under investigation.

As for Bonilla, his lawyer in Honduras, Ramón Matamoros, told HRN Radio that his client plans to plead not guilty, saying that the DEA and US prosecutors don’t have evidence that demonstrates Bonilla participated in drug trafficking.

The separate criminal indictments against the pair indicate that two cases are entwined, and speculation has swirled that Bonilla could become another key cooperating witness in the case against Hernández, who is accused of using the police and military to protect drug shipments.

According to the complaint against Bonilla, Hernández “helped Bonilla advance his position within the Honduran National Police” while the former president was the head of the legislature between 2010 and 2013. In return, Bonilla protected his and his brother’s drug trafficking activities, prosecutors allege.

Matamoros said Bonilla “will decide if he wants to be a protected witness.”

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CARIBBEAN / 26 APR 2021

Puerto Rico is seeing a surge in cocaine seizures, indicating that drug flows are being reactivated after months of dormancy…

COCAINE / 17 JAN 2023

The trial of Mexico’s former top public security official will reveal shortcomings in the fight against organized crime.

BRAZIL / 16 MAR 2022

Rocco Morabito’s story has all the makings of a great film script. The Italian mob, tons of cocaine, exotic destinations,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…