US court convicts Honduran president's brother of drug

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez's brother, Honduran Deputy Juan Antonio (Tony) Hernandez, prepares to speak to the press upon his arrival at the Toncontin international airport in Tegucigalpa from the United States. (AFP Photo)

A New York court convicted the Honduran president's brother of drug trafficking Friday, a verdict immediately rejected by the South American leader as opponents called for his resignation.

Tony Hernandez was found guilty on all four counts following a trial in Manhattan that lasted almost two weeks.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez said his brother had been convicted with "testimony from confessed murderers."

"On behalf of my family, and personally, it is with great sadness that I received word of the verdict in New York," the president wrote on Twitter.

Tony Hernandez was arrested at a Miami airport in November 2018 on charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, weapons offenses and making false statements.

The former Honduran congressman, 41, is due to be sentenced on January 17. He faces from five years to life in prison.

Following the verdict, opposition parties in Honduras called for street protests to demand that the president step down.

Manuel Zelaya, the former president of Honduras who was overthrown in a coup in 2009, tweeted that the verdict had "unmasked the drug and corruption network run by the government of Honduras."

Although he wasn't on trial himself, the court proceedings featured compromising allegations against the president.

Prosecutors said the Honduran leader took millions of dollars in bribes from drug lords including jailed Mexican kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

President Hernandez, an ally of US President Donald Trump, dismissed the accusation as "absurd" and "less serious than Alice in Wonderland," in a tweet.

The Manhattan prosecutor's office filed a motion in August alleging that President Hernandez received at least $1.5 million in drug money from one of the prosecution's cooperating witnesses for his first campaign, and $40,000 for the second.

He has rejected the accusations and has not been formally charged by the US judicial system.

The US government successfully argued that Tony Hernandez was a large-scale drug trafficker who worked from 2004 to 2016 with others in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico to import cocaine into the US by plane, boat and submarine.

Some of the cocaine he was transporting was labeled with his initials "TH," prosecutors argued.

The prosecution also said Hernandez, who served as a member of the Honduran Congress from 2014 to 2018, was involved in at least two murders of rival drug traffickers in 2011 and 2013.

Defense lawyers questioned the credibility of the witnesses, many of them former drug traffickers, some of which had been convicted of murder, but those arguments did not influence the 12 jurors who took less then two days to convict.

US prosecutors have aggressively pursued current or former Honduran public officials and their relatives over drug trafficking allegations.

The verdict comes after Guzman, the 62-year-old former co-leader of Mexico's feared Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in New York in February of smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana into the United States.

He has been jailed for life, a sentence he is appealing.

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