A convicted Honduran drug trafficker and former leader of a cartel testified in United States federal court Thursday that he paid now-President Juan Orlando Hernandez $250,000 for protection from arrest in 2012.
Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he made the payment in cash through one of Hernandez’s sisters, Hilda Hernandez, in exchange “for protection so that the military police and preventive police didn’t capture us in Honduras.”
He said he also paid so that he wouldn’t be extradited to the U.S. and so companies used by the Cachiros to launder money would be favored by the government. Rivera Maradiaga has admitted to being involved in 78 murders.
At the time of the alleged bribe, Juan Orlando Hernandez was leader of Honduras’ Congress, but had begun angling for the presidency, which he won in 2013. He took office the following January. Hilda Hernandez, who later served in his administration, died in a helicopter crash in 2017.
The accusation came in the third day of testimony in the trial of alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez. U.S. prosecutors have made it clear that allegations against President Hernandez would arise during the trial, though he has not been charged.
Fuentes Ramirez was arrested in March 2020 in Florida. He is charged with drug trafficking and arms possession.
Hernandez has vehemently denied any connection to drug traffickers. One of his brothers, Juan Antonio Hernandez, was convicted of drug trafficking in the same court in 2019.
During that trial, the president was accused of accepting more than $1 million from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
U.S. prosecutors have alleged that much of Hernandez’s political rise was funded by drug traffickers who paid to be allowed to move drugs through Honduras without interference.
In January, U.S. federal prosecutors filed motions in the Fuentes Ramirez case saying that Hernandez took bribes from drug traffickers and had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.
The documents quote Hernandez ? identified as co-conspirator 4 ? as saying he wanted to “‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos’ by flooding the United States with cocaine.”
This week, Hernandez has said in a series of Twitter messages that the witnesses in New York are seeking to lighten their sentences by making up lies against him.