Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was extradited to the US for drug trafficking and weapons charges
Just three months after leaving office, Hernández was handcuffed onto a plane with agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration to the United States, where he faces charges in the Southern District of New York.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Hernandez “abused his position as President of Honduras from 2014 to 2022 to run the country like a drug nation.”
In court documents, US prosecutors accused Hernandez of being involved in a “corrupt and violent drug trafficking conspiracy” that shipped more than 550 tons of cocaine to the United States. He was charged with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy, possession of a machine gun and destructive devices, and conspiracy to possess a machine gun and devices of destruction.
Prosecutors accused Hernandez of receiving millions of dollars from drug cartels, including from notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. They allege that he used the money to fund his political campaigns and participated in voter fraud during the 2013 and 2017 Honduras presidential elections.
“In return, drug traffickers in Honduras are allowed to operate with virtual punishment,” says Garland. “We allege that Hernández damaged legitimate public institutions in the country – including parts of the national police, military and Congress.”
Hernández was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa in February at the request of US authorities. He was shackled and marched in front of journalists, a sight many Hondurans never imagined seeing.
Honduras’ Supreme Court rejected his appeal of the judge’s decision in favor of extradition.
“Drug trafficking fuels violent crime and addiction; it devastates families and devastates communities,” says Garland. “The Department of Justice is committed to disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far or how high we have to go.”
Hernández has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. In a video message released Thursday, he said, “I am innocent; I have been and am being unfairly prosecuted.”
He has said he was a 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.
Osorto said: “This is a start because it has started with the biggest political part the country has and logically the rest of the parts will fall apart, at least the closest ones (to Hernández). ).
US prosecutors have spent years building cases from low-level drug dealers and local politicians to organized crime bosses who have used connections their contacts and political ties with drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico to deliver tons of cocaine to the United States. Many of them testified about the payment to Hernández or one of his brothers, also a politician.
Hernández’s brother, Tony Hernández, a former congressman, was sentenced to life in prison in the same US court on essentially the same charges.
Juan Orlando Hernández took office in January 2014 and serves as president until this January, when Xiomara Castro is sworn in as his replacement. Castro has campaigned to eradicate corruption in Honduras and Hernández is seen as the biggest target.
On Wednesday, Honduras’ Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the former National Police Chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, better known as “El Tigre” or “The Tiger”. He was arrested after Hernández at the request of US prosecutors on similar charges and is expected to be extradited in the coming weeks.
US prosecutors allege Bonilla assisted in transporting tons of cocaine through Honduras, working with Hernández and his brother Tony Hernández, both accomplices in the case in the Southern District of New York.
The transport of Hernández by helicopter under heavy guard from the police base where he was held to the airport on Thursday was reported live by local television stations.
Some Hondurans stood outside the airport’s perimeter fence to catch a glimpse of the former president boarding a plane with US authorities. When Hernández’s plane took off, several people jumped to celebrate.
Thousands of their countrymen emigrated from the country during Hernández’s administration, often shouting “Get out of JOH!” used his initials as they headed north. They frequently complain about the lack of job opportunities and gang violence.
Balsamo reports from Washington. Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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https://abc7news.com/honduras-juan-orlando-hernandez-drug-trafficking-extradition/11778200/ Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was extradited to the US for drug trafficking and weapons charges