(Update 1: Changes dateline, adds comments from president pars 9-10, Tegucigalpa celebrations last par, minor edits)
New York City/Tegucigalpa, Mar 30 (EFE).- A New York City court on Tuesday sentenced Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, brother of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández, to life imprisonment plus 30 years for drug trafficking.
“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,” US District Judge Kevin Castel said in federal court in Manhattan.
In addition, the judge ruled the forfeiture of $138.5 million, which is the amount that prosecutors say Tony Hernández made through his drug trafficking activities.
Tony Hernández, a deputy in the Honduran Congress between 2014 and 2018, was arrested on Nov. 23, 2018 at a Miami airport and convicted in a New York court on Oct. 18, 2019 on cocaine importation, weapons and false-statements offenses.
His lawyer Peter Brill said he would file an appeal.
In a court document, Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado was involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine destined for the US.”
“Hernández bribed law enforcement officials to protect drug shipments, arranged for heavily armed security for cocaine shipments, and brokered large bribes from major drug traffickers to powerful political figures, including the former and current presidents of Honduras. Hernández was complicit in at least two murders,” she added.
The Honduran president, who has not been charged by the US with a crime, has categorically denied accusations against him.
“What happened today is something hard for the family, hard on a personal level, I don’t wish it on anyone,” the Honduran leader said after the sentencing in audio released by the Presidency.
He added that “it is outrageous, incredible, that the false testimonies of confessed murderers are heard and valued in this way.”
In a statement from Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, the family of Tony Hernández said the sentence was “unfair and inhumane” and that he was “innocent.”
“We received with great pain the unjust conviction issued this day by the Court of New York against a person who, with courage, decided to confront the American judicial system to prove his innocence,” said the family.
They said that “not a single piece of evidence was presented to prove Juan Antonio’s participation in the four crimes that were charged,” during what they claim was not a fair trial.
Outside the court in New York, Hondurans celebrated the sentence handed down to Tony Hernández.
“I think it was what all Hondurans expected from the judge, to give this person jail for life. Because basically he has done a lot of damage to our country, along with his brother and all his relatives, taking advantage of all the power he had in the government, as the judge said, with all the military and the armed forces of our country,” Victor Manuel Guevara told Efe. “I believe that this day is a victorious day for Honduras.”
Dozens of people also celebrated in Tegucigalpa, chanting slogans such as “Out with JOH (Juan Orlando Hernández)” and burned an effigy of Tony Hernández in an orange prison jumpsuit. EFE