Convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán allegedly used the brother of the current Honduran president as the go-between in a 2013 bribe scheme trading $1 million for cartel protection, U.S. federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, 41, was accused in a Manhattan courtroom of using his connections in the Honduran government to smuggle cocaine through the country, knowing the final destination for the narcotics would be the United States.
In his opening statement, federal prosecutor Jason Richman said Tony Hernández was "protected by and had access to his brother, the current sitting president of Honduras, a man who himself has received millions of dollars in drug money bribes — bribes he received from some of the largest cocaine traffickers in the world, bribes he received from men like El Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel, who personally delivered $1 million to the defendant for his brother.”
Tony Hernández was arrested in 2018 in Miami. He’s the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. The Honduran president is listed as a co-conspirator in the case but hasn't been charged, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Prosecutors also alleged the Honduran president took an additional $1.5 million in drug trafficking money in 2013 to finance his election campaign in exchange for providing protection for other drug traffickers, the Los Angeles Times reported. Juan Orlando Hernández was reelected in 2017 despite a constitutional ban on him serving another term. Guzman was captured in Mexico on Jan. 8, 2016.
According to prosecutors, Tony Hernández first began trafficking narcotics in 2004, eventually becoming “a violent drug trafficker of epic proportions” who carried out murders and smuggled “massive” amounts of cocaine as the “untouchable” brother of the head of state.
The Honduran president denied the prosecutors' Twitter claims Wednesday, writing: “The allegation in itself is 100% false, absurd and ridiculous...this is less serious than Alice in Wonderland.” He also said drug cartels in his country were seeking revenge on the government for cooperating with U.S. officials to extradite suspects.
He previously stated the allegations against him were supported by testimony from people in his country who wanted to retaliate against him for his policies to clean up corruption within the police force and fight organized crime, The Times reported.
It was unclear from the prosecutors’ statements when did Tony Hernández receive the alleged $1 million payment from El Chapo to pass along to his brother. Guzmán infamously escaped prison in Mexico twice before his eventual capture and extradition to the U.S. He was convicted of a slew of federal charges earlier this year related to his time as head of the Sinaloa cartel and is currently serving a life sentence at a maximum security prison in Colorado.