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Honduras President Targeted Again in US Criminal Investigation

ELITES AND CRIME / 10 FEB 2021 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Federal prosecutors have specified in a recently filed court document that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been under investigation for connections to drug trafficking, though US authorities have targeted him in the past.

Prosecutors with the Southern District of New York identified President Juan Orlando Hernández and other high-ranking Honduran government officials as targets of an investigation into accused drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, according to a February 5 court filing, Reuters reported.

Using the country’s national police and armed forces, President Hernández relied on official complicity “to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras," prosecutors said in the filing. Hernández has once again denied allegations he protected drug traffickers in exchange for bribes. A February 8 statement from the presidential Twitter account called the accusations “100 percent false" and apparently "based on lies of confessed criminals who seek revenge or to reduce their sentences.”

SEE ALSO: Allegations Against Honduras President Add to Narco-State Case 

In the court filing, prosecutors say that the Honduran government has “hardly been forthcoming” throughout the course of their investigation, refusing to honor extradition requests and providing only "limited records” in response to requests for evidence relating to Tony Hernández, the president’s brother and former congressman who was convicted of US drug charges in October 2019.

President Hernández is safe from prosecution for now due to presidential immunity. However, he will leave office in 2022 after Honduras holds general elections in November of this year.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time a court filing has revealed that President Hernández has been directly investigated by US authorities.

In a 2019 pretrial motion in the case against Tony Hernández, prosecutors revealed that President Hernández was the target of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation that began in 2013. The motion contained a 2015 court filing that said President Hernández, his late sister Hilda, and several members of Honduras’ powerful Rosenthal family were all named as being under investigation for “large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering activities related to the importation of cocaine into the United States."

Though federal prosecutors had not previously said that the president himself was under investigation, they have made public allegations that he was a co-conspirator in drug trafficking, particularly with his brother's cocaine smuggling ring. In his brother’s US trial, President Hernández was accused of accepting bribes from drug traffickers, including Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo." His initials also appeared in a drug ledger documenting cocaine shipments and alleged bribes paid out to government officials.

SEE ALSO: Yet More Accusations Against Honduras President, But Will They Matter?

In early January 2021, separate court documents in the case against Fuentes Ramírez identified cooperating witnesses that would testify that President Hernández -- identified as CC-4 in these and previous filings -- accepted tens of thousands of dollars from traffickers in exchange for providing protection from law enforcement and military supervision of cocaine shipments.

“CC-4 [President Hernández] said that he wanted to make the [DEA] think that Honduras was fighting drug trafficking, but that instead he was going to eliminate extradition," prosecutors said, "and shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos."

It remains to be seen whether US prosecutors might unveil a criminal indictment aimed at Hernández himself, rather than just implicating him as part of investigations into other players in Honduras' drug trade.

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