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EXPLAINER: Long ex-Honduras leader in the crosshairs of US prosecutors

Most of the allegations these prosecutors have brought against Hernández stem from two trials, that of Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, the president’s brother and himself a former Honduran congressman, and that of Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez. The pair were part of a massive drug trafficking case first filed in 2015. They were both convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life – Fuentes Ramírez last week. Prosecutors called Juan Orlando Hernández a “co-conspirator” in the same case.

WHAT CHARGES WOULD JUAN ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ BE ON IN THE UNITED STATES?

U.S. prosecutors did not release the indictment against Hernández, but charges were brought against him on Wednesday in an initial hearing before the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice. They include conspiracy to import drugs into the United States, use of firearms in support of a drug trafficking conspiracy, and conspiracy to use firearms to support of drug trafficking. They appear to mirror the charges that landed her brother a life sentence, except for the additional charge of her brother’s misrepresentation.

WHAT ALLEGATIONS DID U.S. PROSECUTORS MAKE ABOUT HERNÁNDEZ?

During Tony Hernández’s March 2021 sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Laroche called him “state-sponsored drug trafficking.”

The heart of the prosecutors’ charges is that Juan Orlando Hernández fueled his political rise from a congressman representing Lempira’s campaign in western Honduras to president of the National Congress and then to two consecutive presidential terms with the help of bribes and support he received from drug traffickers. In return, the traffickers were allowed to operate unhindered, given information that helped them avoid authorities, and sometimes even had security forces at their service.

Hernández became congress president in early 2010. In 2013, he was campaigning for president of Honduras and allegedly solicited $1.6 million from a drug trafficker to support his campaign and those of other Party politicians. nationally, according to US authorities.

Tony Hernández also received $1 million from Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán to support his brother’s presidential campaign. Tony Hernández had promised the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel that if his brother won the presidency, they could protect Guzmán’s drug shipments through Honduras.

Juan Orlando Hernández took office on January 27, 2014. US authorities allege that he continued to receive drug profits during his tenure in exchange for allowing the drugs to flow through Honduras.

Witnesses to the two-week Fuentes Ramírez trial shortly before Tony Hernández’s sentencing recounted that Hernández had taken bribes from Fuentes Ramírez and other drug traffickers from when he was a presidential candidate until 2019 at least.

It was during this trial that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Gutwillig said an accountant overheard Juan Orlando Hernández say he wanted to “shove the drugs up the gringos’ noses.”

Also during the Fuentes Ramírez trial, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former head of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he sent $250,000 to Juan Orlando Hernández in 2012 through his sister in exchange for protecting his smuggling business and for avoid extradition. An accountant said he saw Hernández receive bribes from Fuentes Ramírez twice in 2013.

WHAT DID HERNANDEZ SAY?

Each time the charges were brought by U.S. prosecutors, Hernández strenuously denied any illegal activity and called his accusers drug dealers seeking revenge on him by making up stories. He highlighted his government’s close cooperation with US authorities working to intercept cocaine being shipped from South America via Honduras to the United States. He reminded everyone that Honduras changed its constitution in 2012 – when Hernández was president of congress – to allow the extradition of Hondurans accused of drug trafficking and that many were extradited under his administration.

Now, the next envoy to the United States could be Hernández himself.

HOW LONG COULD HERNÁNDEZ BE EXTRADED?

If Hernández decides not to contest the US extradition request, things could move very quickly. If the judge decides that Hernández should be extradited, but he opposes it, it could take up to three months to go through the full process and any appeal.

The charges were read to Hernández on Wednesday, and the judge denied his request for house arrest and scheduled a hearing at which evidence supporting the US charges would be presented for March 16. Once the judge makes a decision on extradition, there will be an opportunity to appeal, but experts say that generally things move quickly at this stage and the appeal would be heard and decided in A few days.

AP writer Marlon González from Tegucigalpa, Honduras contributed to this report.

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