According to federal prosecutors in New York, an accountant observed meetings between Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and a drug trafficker in which they planned the trafficking of cocaine to the United States.
During his opening statement at the trial of accused Honduran drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramrez, Assistant US Attorney Jacob Gutwillig said the accountant was present when Hernández allegedly said he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos.”
The president and Fuentes Ramrez conspired to give as much cocaine as possible to the United States, according to Gutwillig.
Fuentes Ramrez was arrested in Florida in March 2020. He is accused of drug trafficking and possessing guns.
However, much of the prosecutors’ firepower seems to be directed at Hernández, who they allege, along with other high-ranking officials, assisted Fuentes Ramrez in drug trafficking.
Hernández has previously denied any link to drug smugglers. He has not been charged with anything.
“His business prospered as a result of his contacts. Mayors, congressmen, generals in the military, police chiefs, and even Honduras’ current president,” Gutwillig said. “All of them were bribed by the defendant.”
According to Gutwillig, the meetings took place in 2013 and 2014. The accountant, José Sánchez, ran a rice company from which Fuentes Ramrez allegedly laundered drug profits, according to prosecutors. According to the lawyer, Sánchez will testify at the trial.
Sánchez’s “shock, fear” when he saw Fuentes Ramrez meeting with the president, according to Gutwillig. Sánchez wasn’t reliable, according to one of Fuentes Ramrez’s defense lawyers, who said the US would accept his asylum application in return for his testimony.
Prosecutors previously said that Fuentes Ramrez paid Hernández $25,000 in exchange for the freedom to transport drugs around the country without being stopped.
Eylan Schulman, a defense attorney, said, “Apparently $25,000 is all it takes to bribe the president.”
Federal prosecutors in the Fuentes Ramrez case filed motions in January alleging that Hernández took money from drug dealers and had the country’s armed forces secure a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.
According to the papers, Hernández, who is identified as co-conspirator 4, intended to “shove the drugs right up the gringos’ noses” by flooding the United States with cocaine.
In the trial that led to the conviction of one of his brothers, Juan Antonio Hernández, in 2019, the president made an appearance. At that trial, the president was accused of taking more than $1 million from Mexican drug lord Joaqun “El Chapo” Guzmán, an allegation that has been echoed in the latest motions.
Prosecutors in the Fuentes Ramrez case filed another document last month that seemed to indicate for the first time that Hernández was being investigated by US authorities.
Hernández has long denied cooperating with drug dealers or benefiting from their activities. Prosecutors claim that money from drug cartels fuelled much of his political rise from Congress president to president, in return for immunity and the avoidance of security forces interfering.
In a Twitter thread on Monday, Hernández reiterated that he had declared war on drug trafficking, not helped it. He claims that the accusations against him are made by drug dealers seeking vengeance and a reduction in their sentences.
“The international alliance (against drug trafficking) will crumble with Honduras, then with different countries,” he wrote, if drug dealers are rewarded for lying.
The first witness in the trial was Drug Enforcement Administration agent Brian Fairbanks, who testified that Hernández’s phone number and gmail account were among the details contained in Fuentes Ramrez’s cell phone.
Fairbanks also recognized Hernández smiling in photos with Fuentes Ramrez’s son and brother.
However, Fairbanks, who arrested Fuentes Ramrez, said that he was unable to locate any calls or text messages between the accused and the president.
Prosecutors showed the names of people Fuentes Ramrez had on his computer, including senators, cops, and high-ranking military officers.
Democrats filed a bill last month demanding that President Joe Biden enforce sanctions on Hernández and decide if he is a “specially named drug trafficker.”
The bill calls for the cessation of security assistance to Honduras, prohibits the sale of products like tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to Honduran security forces, and urges the US to reject multilateral development bank loans to those forces.
It also urges the Honduran government to approach the UN about setting up an anti-corruption mission. A similar mission backed by the Organization of American States was not revived under Hernández after it started to implicate some federal legislators.
Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the former chief of the Cachiros cartel, who has confessed to involvement in 78 murders, will be one of the prosecution’s primary witnesses. The lawyers for Fuentes Ramrez chastised the US government for accusing him based on Rivera Maradiaga’s confessions.
Schulman characterized Fuentes Ramrez as a good father of four children who ran a lumber company, saying, “His testimony would make you sick to your stomach.” Since Honduras is a dangerous country, he said Fuentes Ramrez had guns and bodyguards.
Rivera Maradiaga’s niece is married to one of Fuentes Ramrez’s sons.