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Friday, February 23, 2024

Honduran Ex-President’s Trial Postponed in New York

The trial of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, which was going to start Monday in a New York court, has been postponed until February 20, one of his lawyers confirmed Saturday.

The postponement of the trial was due to the fact that “the government (prosecution) confirmed that it could not comply with the delivery of the drafting of classified information” that should have been delivered to the defense the day before, lawyer Raymond Colon confirmed.

Hernández, who so far has proclaimed his innocence, will be tried alone in the Southern District federal court in Manhattan after two co-defendants, former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos “Tiger” Bonilla and former police officer Mauricio Hernández pleaded guilty in recent days to drug trafficking.

Extradited to New York in April 2022, the 55-year-old former president is accused of participating in and protecting a network that sent more than 500 tons of cocaine to the United States between 2004 and 2022.

In return, he would have received “millions of dollars” from drug cartels, including from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States.

The drug money served to enrich himself and “finance his political campaign and commit electoral fraud” in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections, according to the prosecution.

If found guilty of the three charges brought against him by the prosecution – drug trafficking, arms trafficking and possession – he could be sentenced to life plus 30 years, like his brother Tony Hernández and his collaborator Geovanny Fuentes, who participated in the same network.

His wife, Ana García, who considers the former president’s detention as “political persecution,” reacted this Saturday on X (formerly Twitter) by saying that “it was shown that they do not have the evidence or are ready to present it.”

Fourth postponement

Attorney Renato Stabile, who joined Hernández’s defense team two weeks ago to assist lead counsel Raymond Colon, who has health issues, asked the judge for another postponement this week arguing lack of time to study the voluminous incriminating material.

He also requested jury selection through a questionnaire to guarantee impartiality. Presiding Judge Kevin Castel denied both requests on Thursday.

With this, there have already been four postponements of the trial, which is generating great expectation, as it is unusual to see a former president (2014-2021) sit in the dock of another country’s justice system to answer drug trafficking charges.

Last year, former Mexican National Security Secretary Genaro García Luna, the highest-ranking Mexican official to sit on a U.S. bench, was found guilty of drug trafficking, among other charges, by a New York court. The announcement of his sentence is scheduled for March 1.

A loyal collaborator of Donald Trump’s Republican administration (2017-2021), JOH, an acronym for his name by which he is known in Honduras, even boasted about Washington’s praise for his government’s work in seizing drugs and fighting organized crime.

“He arrested people who had no links to him, but protected others,” said former DEA agent Mikel Vigil. JOH also has another pending trial in Honduras for fraud and money laundering.

Reminder

“No one is above the law,” said Josette Altmann, secretary general of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) based in Costa Rica, believing that this case can be a “reminder for leaders across the geopolitical spectrum” of the legal but especially “reputational” repercussions that “participation in improper conduct entails.”

Since 2014, Honduras has extradited 38 people accused of drug trafficking to the United States, where Tony Hernandez and Geovanny Fuentes have already been convicted, in addition to Fabio Lobo, son of former President Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014), sentenced to 24 years in prison, and former deputy Fredy Renán Nájera , to 30 years.

If found guilty, Hernández would follow in the footsteps of other former Latin American leaders convicted in the United States such as Panamanian Manuel Antonio Noriega, in 1992, and Guatemalan Alfonso Portillo, in 2014.

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