A disgraced former Honduran president was on Thursday April 21, extradited to the U.S. to face drug and arms charges.
Juan Orlando Hernández, the once-powerful former president, was handcuffed as he boarded an airplane with agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to face legal proceedings in New York City.
He faces a three-count indictment charging drug importation and weapons offenses.
In court documents, U.S. prosecutors alleged Hernandez was involved in a “corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy to facilitate the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States.”
Prosecutors charge that Hernandez received millions of dollars from drug cartels, including from notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. They allege he used the money to finance his political campaigns and engaged in voter fraud in the 2013 and 2017 Honduran presidential elections.
Hernández was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa in February at the request of U.S. authorities. He was shackled and paraded in front of journalists, a sight many Hondurans never imagined seeing.
Honduras’ Supreme Court rejected his appeal of a judge’s decision in favor of extradition.
U.S. prosecutors have accused Hernández of fueling his political rise with money from drug traffickers. The payments were allegedly made in exchange for Honduran authorities allowing them to operate or for information helping them to evade interdiction.
Hernández has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. In a video message released Thursday, he said, “I am innocent; I have been and I am being unjustly subjected to prosecution.”
He has said he is the victim of drug traffickers he extradited who are now lying to seek revenge.
Henry Osorto Canales, a retired National Police commissioner who is now an analyst, said that while the extradition was an embarrassment for Honduras, it was also a historic day.
“This is a start because it has begun with the largest political piece that the country had and logically the rest of the pieces are going to fall, at least those closest (to Hernández),” Osorto said.
Hernández’s brother Tony Hernández, a former congressman, was sentenced to life in prison in the same U.S. court on essentially the same charges.
Juan Orlando Hernández took office in January 2014 and held the presidency until this January, when Xiomara Castro was sworn in as his replacement. Castro campaigned on rooting out Honduras’ corruption and Hernández was seen as the largest target.
On Wednesday, Honduras’ Supreme Court denied an appeal from the former chief of the National Police, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, better known as “El Tigre” or “The Tiger.” He was arrested after Hernández at the request of U.S. prosecutors on similar charges and is expected to be extradited in the coming weeks.
U.S. prosecutors allege Bonilla assisted the movement of tons of cocaine through Honduras, working with Hernández and his brother Tony Hernández, both co-conspirators in the case in the Southern District of New York.