Honduras Ex-President Hernandez Extradited to US

Honduras Ex-President Hernandez Extradited to US

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS – Honduras extradited former President Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States on Thursday to face drug trafficking and weapons charges in a dramatic reversal for a leader once touted by US authorities as a key ally in the war on the drugs.

Just three months after leaving office, Hernandez boarded an airplane handcuffed with agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration bound for the United States, where he faces charges in the Southern District of New York. He faces a three-count indictment charging drug importation and weapons offenses.

In court documents, US 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.

Hernandez was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa in February at the request of US authorities. He was shackled and paraded in front of animals, a sight many Hondurans never imagined seeing.

Honduras’ Supreme Court rejected his appeal of a judge’s decision in favor of extradition.

US prosecutors have accused Hernandez of fueling his political rise with money from drug traffickers. The payments were made in exchange for Honduran authorities allowing them to operate or for information helping them to evade interdiction.

Hernandez 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.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland announces the extradition and unsealing of an indictment charging former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez with drug and criminals offenses, at the Department of Justice on April 21, 2022, in Washington.

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 Hernandez),’ Osorto said.

US prosecutors have spent years building cases from low-level drug traffickers and local politicians to organized crime bosses who used their political connections and ties to drug trafficking cartels in Colombia and Mexico to move tons of cocaine to the United States. Many of them tested about making payments to Hernandez or one of his brothers, also a politician.

Hernandez’s brother Tony Hernandez, a former congressman, was required to live in prison in the same US court on essentially the same charges.

Juan Orlando Hernandez 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 Hernandez 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 Hernandez at the request of US prosecutors on similar charges and is expected to be extradited in the coming weeks.

US prosecutors allege Bonilla assisted the movement of tons of cocaine through Honduras, working with Hernandez and his brother Tony Hernandez, both co-conspirators in the case in the Southern District of New York.

Hernandez’s transport via helicopter under heavy guard from the police base where he was held to the airport Thursday was covered live by local television outlets.

Some Hondurans stood outside the airport’s perimeter fence to catch a glimpse of the former president boarding the plane with US authorities. When Hernandez’s plane took off some were seen jumping at celebration.

Thousands of their countrymen emigrated from the country during Hernandez’s administration, often shouting ‘Get out JOH!’ using his initials as they walked north. They frequently complained of a lack of job opportunities and gang violence.

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