NEW YORK (AP) — A Honduran drug trafficker testified Thursday that he gave $40,000 to Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández in 2005 for the congressional campaign of his brother, who is now the president of Honduras.
Trafficker Victor Hugo Díaz Morales said that with Tony Hernández’s help he moved more than 140 tons of cocaine through Honduras between 2004 and 2016. Díaz said Hernández asked him for the money, explaining that with his brother in office, he could make government connections and help traffickers.
U.S. prosecutors allege Hernández capitalized on his government connections to move tons of U.S.-bound drugs through the country. President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is serving his second term, was previously president of the country’s congress.
Prosecutors say Juan Orlando Hernández received at least $1.5 million for his 2013 presidential campaign from drug traffickers. In exchange, the traffickers moved their shipments without government interference, prosecutors say.
The president has vehemently denied the allegations, noting that he helped usher in the agreement that allowed for the extradition of drug traffickers to the U.S. He says that move is why traffickers are seeking their revenge now with false allegations.
Juan Orlando Hernández has been named a co-conspirator in his brother Tony Hernández’s case, but does not face charges.
Díaz testified that over more than a decade, Tony Hernández rubbed elbows with top drug traffickers, toting a pistol and receiving thousands of dollars in bribes each time, through an intermediary, in exchange for information on investigations and police operations. He said Tony Hernández was not only an informant but also produced his own cocaine out of a Colombian lab and distributed it with the stamp of his initials, T.H.
“It was like the Tommy Hilfiger logo,” said Díaz, who acknowledged being involved in 18 murders.
Díaz also testified that a presidential bodyguard sometimes accompanied Tony Hernández to his meetings with traffickers, adding that a current Honduran congressman also was present.
U.S. prosecutors also showed jurors photos of notebooks seized from a known drug trafficker apparently logging drug shipments and payments that included the name of the president’s brother.
The ledgers were taken after the arrest of Nery Orlando López Sanabria last year in Honduras along with guns, cash, a radio and jewelry, prosecutors said.
The revelations came during the second day of the drug trafficking trial of Tony Hernández, who listened attentively to the proceedings dressed in a dark blue suit. The trial could last two weeks.
He denies the allegations against him, though prosecutors say he volunteered substantial information during an initial interview with investigators.
On the trial’s first day, prosecutor Jason Richman said the government would show that drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman personally gave $1 million to Tony Hernández for his brother.
President Hernández addressed reporters in Honduras’ capital Thursday without taking questions.
“In the coming days, like happened yesterday in a New York trial, a series of novelistic stories are going to be emitted from drug traffickers who see an ideal opportunity in this trial of Juan Antonio Hernández to attack the person responsible for their extraditions and imprisonment,” he said.
The president said it was he who told his brother to first talk to U.S. authorities in 2016 when rumors were swirling about his involvement with drug traffickers.
President Hernández has managed to maintain a close working relationship with the U.S. government even as the legal case against his brother advanced.
Last week, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Honduras signed an agreement with the U.S. that would make it more difficult for asylum seekers crossing Honduras to enter the United States, and Hernández met privately with President Donald Trump.
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.