© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Honduras former President Juan Orlando Hernandez is escorted by authorities as he walks towards a plane of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for his extradition to the United States, to face a trial on drug trafficking and arms po
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was bribed by the country’s prominent Rosenthal family, which owned a “massive” group of businesses in the Central American country, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.
Hernandez, a former U.S. ally who led Honduras from 2014 until January 2022, was extradited to the United States last April on charges of receiving millions of dollars from drug-trafficking organizations in exchange for protecting them from investigation and arrest. He has pleaded not guilty.
In court papers filed on Friday, prosecutors said evidence at Hernandez’s trial, currently scheduled for Sept. 18, will show that the former president “also received bribes from the Rosenthals as well as helped them obtain business contracts to launder money.”
Marlon Duarte, a lawyer for the Rosenthal family in Honduras, denied the allegations.
The wealthy and politically connected Rosenthal family once controlled businesses including a soccer club, an automobile importer and one of the country’s largest banks through their Grupo Continental conglomerate.
The family lost control of their business empire after Honduran security forces seized 19 of the company’s units in 2015 after U.S. prosecutors accused Grupo Continental’s chief, Jaime Rosenthal, and two family members of money laundering. Rosenthal died in 2019.
Rosenthal never appeared in U.S. court. His son Yani Rosenthal and another family member, Yankel Rosenthal – both former Honduran congressmen – served U.S. prison sentences after pleading guilty to money laundering. Both were released in 2020. Their case is separate from the charges against Hernandez.
Duarte noted that Hernandez was president when the Honduran government seized Grupo Continental’s assets.
“Juan Orlando Hernandez was against all the Rosenthals,” Duarte told Reuters in a telephone interview, arguing that prosecutors would struggle to prove the family bribed Hernandez.
Lawyers for Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment.