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Honduran president's brother sentenced to life in US prison over drug case

Weapons sold, drugs trafficked, and officials bribed, Honduran President gets tangled in brother's network of crimes.

Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez, brother of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez, arrives for a press conference

Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez, brother of the Honduran president, was sentenced to life in prison in the United States on Wednesday.

He was convicted on drug charges and related weapons charges in October 2019. The high-profile case has also brought a spotlight on his brother, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Hernandez, 42, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court where assistant US Attorney General Matthew Laroche characterized the crimes as "state-sponsored drug trafficking."

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has come under scrutiny for allegations of being linked to his brother's trafficking ring

What happened in the case?

Prosecutors made the argument that Hernandez deserved a life behind bars citing his criminal history and the "staggering amount of poison that he helped import into the United States."

He was accused of trafficking around 185,000 kilograms (204 tons) of cocaine in the US over 12 years.

Prosecutors said Hernandez sold weapons to drug traffickers, some of which came from the Honduran military, and that he controlled drug laboratories in Colombia and Honduras.

Hernandez turned to drug dealing even though he grew up well off, Laroche to the court, adding he "can't point to poverty, lack of opportunities or a need to support his family."

Anti-narcotics officer stands infront of a burn pit which is incinerating cociane.

In this 2016 picture, anti-narcotics and military police officers incinerate more than 200 kilos of cocaine seized in southern Honduras near the border with Nicaragua

His defense lawyer, Peter Brill, said that the US should focus anti-drug trafficking efforts on the "voracious appetite" for drugs.

Brill had argued for leniency for his client, saying he felt "that witnesses who testified against him were not only self motivated but were motivated against make up as much as they could to ruin his life and the life of his family."

US District Judge Kevin Castel agreed with the prosecutors. "Based upon Tony Hernandez' free choice to engage in a life of drug trafficking for 12 years, a sentence of life imprisonment is richly deserved," said Castel, who also ordered a $135.5 million (115 million) in forfeiture.

How did the Honduran president react?

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has taken a tough stance on drugs and portrays himself as an ally to the US in immigration and anti-narcotics operations.

His stance is in stark contrast to statements made by prosecutors who wrote that the president received "drug-derived" bribes from his brother.

In a voice note released by Honduras's presidency, President Juan Orlando Hernandez said he found it "incredible that false testimonies of confessed murderers" were taken seriously.

"What happened today is something hard for the family, hard personally," Hernandez said. "I do not wish it on anyone."

About 80 people protested against the Honduran president outside the US courthouse where his brother was being sentenced.

[Source: DW, Berlin, 31Mar21]

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