Former Honduran leader placed on US list of corrupt officials | world news

By JOSHUA GOODMAN, Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — The Biden administration quietly placed former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández on a classified list of officials suspected of corruption or undermining democracy in Central America last year, according to the State Department. , which made the designation public on Monday.

The list was provided to the US Congress last summer under legislation pushed by former Congressman Eliot Engel, who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee before being defeated in a Democratic primary in 2020.

The release of the so-called Engel list has fallen like a bombshell in Central America, containing the names of another former Honduran president, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, among more than 50 active lawmakers, top politicians and d former officials in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries.

But one notable omission was Hernández, who was in power at the time but reeling from accusations that surfaced in the drug trial of his brother, former lawmaker Antonio “Tony” Hernández, that his political ascent had been financed by bribes from drug traffickers. Tony Hernández was sentenced in New York in March to life in prison.

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Individuals on the list are generally ineligible for visas and admission to the United States

“The United States’ commitment to fighting corruption and promoting democracy, the rule of law, and accountability to the people of Central America is unwavering,” the State Department said. in a statement, citing “multiple credible media reports” that Hernández had engaged in significant acts of corruption by accepting payments from drug traffickers.

With Hernández’s resignation last month, the State Department felt it no longer needed to maintain secrecy, two people familiar with the sanction said on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Pressure is mounting in Washington to prosecute Hernández as his successor, Xiomara Castro, seeks to improve relations with the United States

Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this month called on the Biden administration to designate Hernábdez as a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker” under the Kingpin Foreign Narcotics Designation Act, thus prohibiting American companies and individuals from doing business with him. His comments followed a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland by Rep. Norma Torres, a California Democrat who co-chairs the Central America Caucus in Congress, calling on the US Justice Department to indict Hernández.

“Hernández played a pivotal role in undermining the rule of law in his own country and in protecting and assisting drug traffickers to smuggle their material through Honduras and the United States,” said said Torres at the time. “He has been repeatedly identified as a co-conspirator in other drug trafficking cases and has caused incredible pain to both the people of Honduras and the United States. I believe it is essential that States United hold him accountable for his criminal behavior.”

Hernández likened prosecutors’ attention to a witch hunt fueled by the false testimony of confessed murderers who were also key witnesses in her brother’s trial.

In a statement Monday, he touted his record in prosecuting drug cartels, which he said had the backing of the Drug Enforcement Administration among other federal agencies, and questioned why the designation was based. on press articles.

He cited US government reports showing that the flow of drugs through Honduras has declined sharply since he took power and that under his rule, 59 drug traffickers were either extradited or handed over to US authorities.

“These drug traffickers and confessed killers totally dominated the country, but since I came to Congress in 2010 and later as President since 2014, my government has made decisions and executed actions that have dramatically reduced the flow of drugs that was reaching the United States,” he said. .

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