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

CIACS / 28 AUG 2015

An investigation into the customs fraud network known as "La Linea" has implicated Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina and…

ELITES AND CRIME / 22 AUG 2019

After a high-profile investigation, anti-corruption prosecutors in Honduras have secured a conviction against a former first lady, marking the first…

BARRIO 18 / 1 OCT 2020

It was late 2016 and officials in San Salvador were preparing for the grand opening of a sparkling new market…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…