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Crime and Justice

New arrests in Honduras case implicating president Juan Orlando Hernandez

Two Guatemalans who allegedly witnessed a $1 million election campaign contribution by El Chapo Guzman for president Hernandez in 2013 are now in US custody, court records show
15 Jun 2020 – 04:27 PM EDT
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President Juan Orlando Hernandez (l) and his brother Juan Antonio 'Tony' Hernandez (r) Crédito: Getty Images / David Maris / Univision

A pair of Guatemalan cousins who were indicted by U.S. federal prosecutors on drug trafficking charges in December appear to have turned themselves over to authorities, according to court documents that show they are scheduled to be arraigned in New York court later this week.

The cousins, Otto and Ronald Salguero, are linked to the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman and were indicted as co-conspirators of former Honduran congressman, Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernandez, the brother of president Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Tony Hernandez was convicted of drug trafficking charges in a New York trial last fall and faces possible life in prison at his sentencing scheduled for September 16. Prosecutors accused him of leading "a sophisticated state-sponsored organization that distributed cocaine for years" and in the process made Honduras "one of the most violent places in the world."

A key witness in the trial identified the Salguero cousins as being present at a meeting in El Paraiso, Honduras, when Guzman allegedly gave $1 million dollars in cash to Tony Hernandez as a contribution to his brother’s 2013 election campaign later that year.

The prosecution’s star witness, confessed drug trafficker and former El Paraiso mayor, Alexander Ardon, told the jury he met several times with then presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández to discuss the financing of his election campaign in 2013 with drug money.

The mayor said he spent $1.6 million on the successful Hernandez campaign. ”That money came from the proceeds of drug trafficking,” he told the court.

Ardon said he met with 'El Chapo' and Tony Hernandez around a table at Ardon’s house in El Paraiso, the mayor's home town near the Guatemalan border, where the $1 million was delivered to Tony Hernandez in plastic bags of cash, in bundles of $50,000 and $100,000.

The Salguero cousins join an increasingly long list of former drug traffickers who could someday be called to testify against Hernandez.

They operated out of Amates, Izabal, Guatemala, near the border with Honduras.
They would receive shipments from Honduras and transport them to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, according to the December indictment.

Announcing their indictment in December, Manhattan U.S. Attorney, Geoffrey Berman, said: “As alleged, these defendants conspired with the corrupt Honduran officials they bribed to facilitate the importation into the U.S. of large quantities of cocaine for the Sinaloa cartel. They allegedly provided security personnel – armed with machineguns and RPGs – for the drug shipments.”

The Tony Hernandez trial captured national attention in Honduras, provoking protests calling for the resignation of President Hernández.

The president is an unindicted co-conspirator in the case. He has has repeatedly denied the allegations against him saying they were "100% false, absurd and ridiculous … Alice in Wonderland crazy."

Hernandez says his government has bravely taken on drug traffickers with "a transnational anti-crime strategy" that included extradition.

Despite the allegations in court, the Trump administration has continued to praise Hernandez's efforts to combat drug trafficking and the flow of Central American migrants.

The U.S. State Department also this month quietly renewed certitication for Honduras to receive millions of dollars in U.S. aid, despite failing to demonstrate progress on human rights and rule of law. The Tony Hernandez trial was briefly mentioned in the State Department's report, though the alleged role of Juan Orlando Hernandez was not.

In its yearly International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the U.S. State Department said, "The political will of the Honduran government to combat drug trafficking in coordination with U.S. law enforcement agencies continues, but significant challenges to success remain."

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