He received briefcases stuffed with cash. He held clandestine meetings with drug traffickers in a rice factory. He sought to invest in a cocaine lab. He vowed to flood the United States with drugs. And he did all of this while pursuing the highest office in Honduras.
These were some of the accusations made about President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras in a federal courtroom in New York this month.
Mr. Hernández, who has repeatedly denied any association with drug traffickers, was not standing trial in the case and has not been charged with any crimes. Rather, Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, a Honduran citizen, was the defendant; he was convicted on Monday on all counts, including conspiracy to traffic cocaine and arms possession.
most trying to reach the United States.
The trial added to the growing mound of evidence gathered by federal prosecutors in recent years that casts Mr. Hernández as a key player in Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry. The proceedings led analysts to believe that formal charges against Mr. Hernández himself may not be far away.
“It’s yet another nail in his coffin,” said Eric L. Olson, director of policy at the Seattle International Foundation and an expert on Latin America. “But more than what this means for Juan Orlando, this sends another message to the people of Honduras that there’s no future for them, and what’s the point of hanging around?”
The swirl of corruption allegations around Mr. Hernández has been building for years.
In 2017, international observers documented many irregularities in his election to a second term, prompting weeks of violent protests around the country. The opposition said he should not have been on the ballot in the first place, arguing that Mr. Hernández had unfairly stacked the Supreme Court with his supporters, who then lifted the nation’s constitutional ban on re-election.
More recently, federal prosecutors in the United States have sought to show that the president built a symbiotic relationship with drug traffickers who provided financial support for his political ascent in return for protection from prosecution.
was convicted in federal court in New York on drug trafficking charges and is scheduled to be sentenced next week.
The accusations made by American government lawyers over the years have made for a jarring contrast with the United States’ continued political support for Mr. Hernández, who has cast himself as a willing partner in the effort to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.
In testimony during the trial this month, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, who once ran a violent drug gang called Los Cachiros, testified that in 2012 he gave $250,000 in cash to Mr. Hernández — transferring it by way of the president’s sister, Hilda Hernández — in exchange for the promise that he would not be arrested and extradited to the United States. Mr. Hernández, at the time, was running for his party’s presidential nomination.
Another witness, a Honduran accountant who testified under the pseudonym José Sánchez, said he witnessed Mr. Hernández accepting bribes from Mr. Fuentes and negotiating access to the drug trafficker’s cocaine lab during meetings at the offices of Graneros Nacionales, the biggest rice producer in Honduras.
“I couldn’t believe what I was watching,” Mr. Sánchez said of an encounter in 2013, when Mr. Hernández was running for president on his party’s ticket. “I was looking at the presidential candidate meeting with a drug trafficker.”
Mr. Sánchez said that in those meetings, Mr. Hernández was twice given bribes of cash stuffed into briefcases, one with $15,000 and the other with $10,000. The accountant said he was personally responsible for counting the cash: $20 bills wrapped in rubber bands.