World News

Brother of Honduran president found guilty in U.S. drug trial

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Honduran politician Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez was found guilty of U.S. drug trafficking charges on Friday after a two-week trial that featured dramatic accusations of corruption against his brother, the Central American nation’s president.

FILE PHOTO: Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is accused of protecting his brother Juan Antonio ÒTonyÓ Hernandez to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States and denies it, speaks during a rally in his support in Tegucigalpa, Honduras October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera/File Photo

The verdict against Hernandez on all counts was handed up by a jury in federal court in Manhattan. His lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

Hernandez, 41, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 17 and faces up to life in prison.

Hernandez was arrested in Miami in 2018 and charged with drug trafficking and possessing illegal weapons. U.S. prosecutors accused him of helping smuggle almost 200,000 kilograms (220 tons) of cocaine into the United States while enjoying the protection of his brother, President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

President Hernandez has repeatedly denied the claims.

Tony Hernandez’s two-week trial featured testimony from Honduran drug traffickers who are now in U.S. custody and cooperating with authorities, including, Amilcar Alexander Ardon, a former mayor, and Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of Honduras’ Cachiros gang.

Some of the most explosive testimony in the trial came from Ardon, who told jurors that Tony Hernandez promised Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman protection for his shipments in exchange for a $1 million donation to his brother’s presidential campaign in 2013.

Rivera Maradiaga, who admitted to murdering 78 people, testified that he paid bribes to multiple officials including Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Tony Hernandez’s lawyers urged jurors not to trust the prosecutors’ cooperating witnesses, describing them as career criminals willing to lie to get their prison sentences reduced.

The president, who began his second term in January 2018 amid allegations of electoral fraud, has not been charged with a crime.

President Hernandez has represented himself as a tough anti-drug warrior, claiming responsibility for breaking up the six most powerful cartels in Honduras and extraditing 24 traffickers to the United States. He said traffickers were using his brother’s trial to seek revenge.

Hernandez’s administration faces pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to curb migration to the United States. The two countries struck a deal last month under which Honduras would take in more asylum seekers.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Grant McCool