Accountant testifies he saw Honduras president take bribes

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Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez during a ceremony at an air base to receive a shipment of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine via the COVAX program, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Saturday, March 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Elmer Martinez)

NEW YORK – A Honduran accountant testified Tuesday that he fled Honduras because he felt his life was in danger after witnessing two meetings in which an alleged drug trafficker paid bribes to now- President Juan Orlando Hernández in 2013.

In both meetings, the subject was “protection and receiving drugs,” said José Sánchez, a pseudonym prosecutors used for his protection. At one Hernández was given $10,000 and at another the amount was $15,000, the accountant said.

The accountant said he felt fear seeing Hernández and a drug trafficker sitting at the same table. “I was seeing the candidate for the presidency meeting with a drug trafficker,” he said.

That alleged drug trafficker was Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, whose New York trial is in its second week. Hernández’s name has come up repeatedly in the trial as U.S. prosecutors continue to argue that his political rise was fueled by drug traffickers.

The accountant testified that in addition to the two payments he witnessed, Hernández arrived various times to the company in a helicopter to receive monthly payments of 250,000 lempiras, about $10,000. The payments were for his campaign, the accountant said.

In the first meeting the accountant allegedly witnessed, Hernández received $15,000. It happened at a round table in the office of Fuad Jarufe, owner of Graneros Nacionales in Choloma north of San Pedro Sula. The accountant said that Fuentes Ramírez told Hernández when he presented the money it was “to help you in the campaign.”

The accountant counted the money while Hernández looked at his cell phone. Hernández preferred cash, the accountant said.

“We will be untouchable,” Hernández said, by the accountant’s re-telling. Hernández allegedly also said “He was going to shove the drugs up the gringos' own noses and they weren’t even going to realize it.”

Hernández won his first term as president in 2013 and took office in January 2014. Prior to that he had been the president of Honduras' congress.

Hernández has not been charged and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Fuentes Ramírez was arrested in March 2020 in Florida. He is charged with drug trafficking and arms possession.

During the accountant’s testimony, the phone line that allows those outside the court for reasons of the pandemic to listen in on the proceedings was cut at prosecutors’ request. They feared someone could recognize his voice.

The man had been the accountant for rice company Graneros Nacionales.

The accountant testified that that movement of drugs would be done with the help of the military and police.

He said the meetings with Hernández were recorded by security cameras inside the company’s offices.

In another meeting at the company’s offices without Fuentes Ramírez present, Hernández boasted about siphoning money from Honduras’ social security system, the accountant testified.

On Monday, convicted drug trafficker Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that Fuentes Ramírez had told him in jail that he had photographs and videos of Hernández being present when drugs were received from Colombia to airports in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Last week, Rivera Maradiaga testified that he paid Hernández $250,000 for protection from arrest in 2012 when the politician was the leader of Honduras’ congress.

The same judge on the case, Kevin Castel, is scheduled to sentence Hernández’s brother Tony Hernández next week. He was convicted on drug trafficking charges in 2019.