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Honduras ex-president Hernandez to be extradited to US over drug trafficking

The Honduras Supreme Court on Monday authorized the extradition of former president Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States to face charges of drug trafficking.

Honduran Supreme Court spokesman Melvin Duarte confirms that the extradition of Honduran former president (2014-2022) Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States to face charges of drug-trafficking was authorised, in Tegucigalpa, on March 28, 2022. (Photo by Orlando SIERRA / AFP)

The Honduras Supreme Court on Monday authorized the extradition of former president Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States to face charges of drug trafficking.

The court rejected an appeal by Hernandez, 53, following a judge’s March 16 decision to accept an extradition request by the Court of the Southern District of New York, said judiciary spokesman Melvin Duarte.

Hernandez could face a life sentence if convicted.

His former congressman brother Tony Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison in the United States in March 2021 for drug trafficking.

It was during that trial that the ex-president was implicated in the illicit trade.

Hernandez, who held office from 2014 to 2022, is accused of having facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tons of drugs — mainly from Colombia and Venezuela — to the United States via Honduras since 2004.

US prosecutors have alleged he received millions of dollars from drug traffickers for protection — including from Mexican narco-kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Hernandez faces three charges: conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States, using or carrying firearms including machine guns, and conspiracy to use or carry firearms.

On the first charge, the Supreme Court’s 15 magistrates voted unanimously in favor of extradition.

For the two firearms related charges, the vote was 13 for and two against.

The court’s decision cannot be appealed.

Hernandez was arrested in mid-February, less than a month after leaving the presidency, following a US extradition request.

In mid-March, a judge ordered his extradition, which Hernandez appealed.

‘Orchestrated plot’
In a letter published on Monday, Hernandez maintained that he is innocent and said he is the “victim of revenge and conspiracy.”

Hernandez claims that drug traffickers he helped extradite to the United States have tried to get back at him by implicating him in the trade.

“Three life sentences could make me a living dead,” said Hernandez, who admitted it was “painful” to be separated from his loved ones.

Once seen as a US ally in the fight against drug trafficking, Hernandez then found himself accused of involvement by the very drug kingpins he helped get extradited to the US.

Hernandez insisted that he is the victim of “a revenge by the cartels.”

He said it was “an orchestrated plot so that no government confronts them ever again.”

His wife Ana Garcia, a lawyer, joined a group of around a dozen protesters outside the courthouse in Tegucigalpa proclaiming his innocence.

“If a citizen is tried, they should be tried in our country,” said Garcia.

His family also released a statement, saying, “We are ready and confident that we will be able to demonstrate before the US justice system that these accusations are a revenge plot by Honduran drug traffickers.”

Prosecutors in the US say Hernandez and his allies turned Honduras into a narco-state.

“I never thought that this fight for peace for us Hondurans would make us viewed as a narco-state,” Hernandez said in his letter.

“I knew this fight would not be easy, that it was very risky.”

Hernandez, a right-wing lawyer, departed office on January 26 when leftist Xiomara Castro became president.

Controversy has never been far away from Hernandez since he entered politics.

Re-election is banned by the Honduran constitution, but Hernandez was allowed to stand for a second consecutive time in 2017 following a ruling by the Supreme Court.

His subsequent victory, after initially trailing opponent Salvador Nasralla by five percentage points with more than half of the votes counted, sparked accusations of fraud.