Honduras extradites former president to the US to face drug trafficking charges

The content originally appeared on: CNN

(CNN)Juan Orlando Hernandez, the former president of Honduras, was extradited Thursday to the United States, where he will face federal drug trafficking and firearms possession charges.

The US Justice Department at the same time unsealed an indictment alleging Hernandez engaged in a conspiracy to protect and profit off smugglers moving cocaine from Central and South America into the United States.
The indictment in US District Court in the Southern District of New York charges Hernandez with cocaine importation conspiracy, possession of machine guns and destructive devices, and conspiracy to possess machine guns and destructive devices.
“As is charged in the indictment, Hernandez abused his position as President of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday at a news conference announcing the charges.
The Honduran government said Hernandez, who denied allegations against him, was being flown to New York.
He was taken from a police special forces prison to an air base in Tegucigalpa, the capital, for the flight. The handcuffed Hernandez, wearing a blue jacket and jeans, was escorted by more than a dozen police officers, as seen on local television.
Hernandez was placed in a US Drug Enforcement Administration plane that took off from Toncontin International Airport at around 4:20 p.m. local time, Honduran authorities said.
Hernandez’s wife, Ana Garcia, posted a video of the former president on her Twitter account.
“The truth is a liberating force when it’s revealed, it’s my prayer, my family’s and of thousands of Honduran families, so the truth is revealed and prevails in my case. I am innocent, I have been, and I am unfairly treated by the process,” he said.
“You know that I worked tirelessly to restore peace in Honduras. We gave our maximum effort for our nation, and it’s unfortunate that those who turned Honduras into one of the most violent countries on Earth, those villains, now want to be heroes,” Hernandez said in the video, whose recording date is unknown.
The Honduran Supreme Court last month authorized the extradition.
Hernandez left office in January after eight years as president.
The former leader was arrested at his home on February 15 at the request of the US government. About a month earlier, federal prosecutors claimed Hernandez helped an alleged drug trafficker deliver thousands of kilos of cocaine to the US in exchange for hefty bribes. His administration denied the allegation.
Hernandez’s brother, Tony Hernandez, is currently serving a life sentence in a US federal prison for drug trafficking.
According to court filings in that case, US authorities believe Hernandez was a co-conspirator in the operation, funneling drug money to help fund his presidential campaigns. Hernandez has repeatedly denied those allegations.
According to the indictment, Hernandez partnered with some of the most violent drug trafficking groups, receiving millions of dollars off a network that funneled cocaine through Honduras and into the United States. He used the money, the indictment says, to enrich himself, finance his political rise and subsequently remain in power.
In exchange, Hernandez provided the trafficking organizations with law enforcement information that helped shield the organizations’ leaders from criminal investigations, protected leaders from extradition to the US and allowed them to commit violence with virtually no consequences, US authorities say.
Garland said that the Justice Department’s yearslong investigation into drug trafficking organizations have led to “the conviction of numerous Honduran drug traffickers who were responsible for the importation of over 500,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States and dozens of foreign murders.”
“If you think you can hide behind the power of your position, you are wrong,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said during the news conference.