Written by Emily Palmer and Benjamin Weiser
US prosecutors Wednesday told a courtroom in New York that the Mexican drug kingpin known as El Chapo delivered $1 million to the brother of the Honduran president — money that had been intended to reach the president himself.
The allegation came in the prosecution’s opening statement of the drug trafficking trial of Juan Antonio (Tony) Hernández, the younger brother of the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández.
The president — who has not been charged in the case — has been an ally of President Donald Trump’s on security and immigration but has also faced growing suspicion as American prosecutors alleged recently he was part of the conspiracy in which his brother was charged.
Juan Orlando Hernández, 50, has denied any involvement in the drug crimes and said the allegations against him were made by traffickers angered by his tough-on-crime policies and his extraditions.
“All Hondurans know that we have led an unprecedented battle to free the country from the control of drug traffickers,” Hernández said Aug. 3 in response to news reports about the prosecutors’ suspicions.
While the case is being brought by American prosecutors, it has shaken Honduras deeply.
Thousands of Hondurans have left their country — many headed to the United States — after despairing of being unable to build a better life for themselves in their own country. The yearslong federal investigation, involving the country’s political elite, reinforces the belief that the government is corrupt and not working in their interests.
After the allegations against Juan Orlando Hernández became public in a court filing in New York in August, Hondurans renewed protests and calls for his resignation. Many carried signs with his initials — JOH — and the prosecutor’s shorthand for the president — CC-4, meaning a co-conspirator.
In the courtroom Wednesday, the prosecution and the defense both featured President Hernández as central to the trial — with the prosecution saying that Tony Hernández had helped insulate the president while benefiting from drug money himself.
“That protection and that control made him very confident that he would never be held accountable for his crimes, that he was untouchable — and for a very long time he was,” Jason A. Richman, the prosecutor, said.
Tony Hernández’s lawyer, Omar Malone, argued that it was the president’s tough-on-crime policies that had landed his brother in the courtroom.
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