NEW YORK (AP) — A Honduran drug trafficker gave more details Friday about campaign contributions he says he gave to the current and former presidents of the Central American nation — money he says was channeled through the brother of now-President Juan Orlando Hernández.
Víctor Hugo Díaz Morales testified in a Manhattan court that he gave defendant Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández $100,000 in 2009 for a congressional race by the suspect’s brother as well as the campaign of eventual President Porfirio Lobo.
Díaz said Tony Hernández told him the payment would guarantee better information about police investigations and provide connections with the police and military to enable them to move cocaine through Honduras without government interference.
“The information would be much bigger and much more important,” Díaz said Hernández told him. But Díaz said Hernández was not just providing information and protection. Tony Hernández, a congressman himself, was producing and selling his own brand of cocaine, he said.
Prosecutors labeled Juan Orlando Hernández a co-conspirator in his brother’s case and said he received at least $1.5 million from traffickers for his 2013 presidential campaign. Hernández denies those allegations and hasn’t been charged.
Lobo said Friday he had never met Díaz, much less taken money from him. Lobo’s son, Fabio, was sentenced in the U.S. to 24 years in prison in 2017 for drug trafficking. Former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla was sentenced to 58 years in prison for embezzling government funds while Lobo was president.
Díaz had testified that assistance from Hernández had allowed him to move more than 140 tons of U.S.-bound cocaine through Honduras between 2004 and 2016.
After the $100,000 payment, Díaz said he asked Tony Hernández in 2010 if his brother needed more funding for his political career. Tony Hernández told him that he was all set, because he now had the backing of Alexander Ardon, a former mayor of El Paraíso, and drug trafficking brothers Devis Leonel and Javier Rivera Maradiaga.
Later that year, Tony Hernández told Díaz that his brother was going to run for president. If he won, “he would hold all the power in Honduras and there would be no problem moving cocaine through Honduran territory,” Díaz said Hernández promised.
In six hours of testimony Friday, Díaz gave details of multiple drug trafficking operations and the routes they took. They included three alleged purchases from Tony Hernández of 400, 500 and 1,000 kilograms of cocaine, the last of which yielded some $1.5 million for the defendant in $100 bills.
The witness also alleged that Tony Hernández sold weapons.
Díaz was arrested in 2017 in Guatemala and reached a cooperation agreement with prosecutors under which he hopes to receive a reduced sentence from the minimum 40 years he faces. He acknowledged not offering information on Tony Hernández initially.
“I was afraid because Tony Hernández and the president have all the power in Honduras,” he said.
Defense lawyer Omar Malone said the witness had not presented any proof linking him to Tony Hernández, and that the defendant’s name does not appear in notebooks in which Díaz documented his trafficking operations or text messages on his phone.
Malone argued that Díaz had lied on the stand and suggested that he knew it would be useful for him to tell U.S. prosecutors a story about the president’s brother.
The courtroom has been filled since the trial began with curious Hondurans and some relatives of the defendant.
Díaz testified in his prison uniform, while Tony Hernández listened wearing a blue suit alongside his two lawyers, seemingly calm and smiling lightly at times.
Monday is expected to see testimony from a former mayor of El Paraiso, Honduras, and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
Associated Press writer Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.