- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 8, 2019

NEW YORK (AP) - A Honduran former drug trafficker and mayor testified Tuesday that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández wanted thousands of dollars in bribes from him for his re-election campaign in 2017.

On the witness stand on the fifth day of the drug trial against Hernández’s brother Tony Hernández, Amílcar Alexander Ardón said that in return he would receive protection for his smuggling activities.

Ardón, who was mayor of the Honduran city of El Paraiso, also alleged that Juan Orlando Hernández asked him to bribe mayors in two departments, or provinces, “because their polls had low numbers.” He said he paid $500,000 in Lempira department and about $60,000 in Copan.

Honduras’ president has vigorously denied any wrongdoing and said Tuesday that Ardón, who during his testimony has acknowledged responsibility for dozens of murders, was lying.

“CONFESSED KILLER of 56 people who lives with a deep hatred and thirst for revenge against me. The conspiracy is CLEAR between confessed criminals who no longer have anything to lose,” the president tweeted.

Juan Orlando Hernández, who is not charged in the case, added that he never took money from Ardón: “Not $1 million, not any amount, never, nobody.”

Tony Hernández, a 41-year-old former lawmaker, is being tried in the United States because he purportedly smuggled cocaine to the U.S. He is also accused of weapons possession and lying to U.S. authorities.

He has appeared in court each day dressed in a suit, smiling, seemingly confident and greeting his lawyers effusively. His defense says there is no proof to the charges.

Ardón also testified that he met with the president in the city of Santa Rosa about six months before the 2017 election.

And he gave more details on an alleged $1 million payment from Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to Tony Hernández for his brother’s political campaign.

In a 2013 meeting with Guzmán and others, the witness testified, Tony Hernández told Guzmán that if his brother won, it would be possible to guarantee their security to smuggle drugs. The longtime Sinaloa cartel boss allegedly had asked for protection for the route from Nicaragua to Guatemala.

Juan Orlando Hernández was first elected president in 2013 and again in 2017 despite a ban on seeking second terms, in a vote that was marred by irregularities and disputed as fraudulent by his opponent.

Later Tuesday, the president released a longer statement touting his policies on extraditing criminals, prisons and purging corrupt police forces. He said he had “ended Ardón’s political career by blocking his re-election, then fired his brother and shut down his office.

“Ardón hates me for that,” the president said.

Defense lawyer Omar Malone sought to paint Ardón as a liar trying to appease prosecutors by falsely accusing Tony Hernández to receive a reduced sentence. He also said there is no proof to corroborate Ardón’s testimony.

Agent Sandalio González of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who arrested Tony Hernández in 2018 at the Miami airport, also took the stand Tuesday.

Jurors were shown a video of González’s interrogation of the defendant in which Tony Hernández acknowledged knowing traffickers but saying he did not smuggle drugs despite being invited repeatedly to get into the business.

The trial was expected to resume Thursday.


Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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