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

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By Brendan Pierson

NEWYORK (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 current president.

The verdict against Hernandez was handed up by a jury in federal court in Manhattan.

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 nation’s six most powerful cartels 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)

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