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LATIN AMERICA | 28-03-2022 21:44

Honduras ex-president Hernández to be extradited to the US over drug-trafficking

Honduras' Supreme Court authorises extradition to the United States of former president Juan Orlando Hernández on drug-trafficking charges.

The Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) of Honduras authorised on Monday the extradition to the United States of former president Juan Orlando Hernández (2014-2022), where he will be prosecuted for drug-trafficking, a crime that in that country can be punished with up to life imprisonment.

Hernández, 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.

After analysing all the elements, the Court "has ruled that the appeal filed [by the defence of the former president] is inadmissible," which means "that the decision of the first instance judge to grant the extradition of the citizen is confirmed." Juan Orlando Hernández," said the spokesman for the Judiciary, Melvin Duarte. 

The decision is unappealable.

Hernández will be tried for three crimes. The first referred to "conspiracy to import and distribute a controlled substance to the United States." In this case, the 15 magistrates of the CSJ voted unanimously to grant the extradition.

In the case of the crimes of "use and possession of firearms" during the importation of narcotics, and "conspiracy to use firearms", the vote was 13 to 2. In the event of extradition, the accused can only be tried for the crimes authorised by the justice of the country of origin.

"We are ready and confident of being able to demonstrate before the US justice system that these accusations are a plot of revenge by Honduran drug-traffickers" against Hernández, the former president's family said in a statement.

"Those drug-traffickers who could not intimidate Juan Orlando (...) now have the opportunity to hit him in other ways, but we trust in justice and above all in God," they added.

On February 14, the United States requested the extradition of JOH –as he is known by his initials–, whom he accuses of conspiring to export some 500 tons of cocaine to its territory, since 2004.

A day later he was captured and remains in a prison in the police special forces barracks, known as Los Cobras.

From this moment, the US authorities can send their agents to search for Hernández.


'Living dead'

"From jail, Hernández defended himself, reiterating that he is "innocent" and "the victim of revenge and a conspiracy." 

"I am sure that God will do me justice," he said in a handwritten letter released Monday.

He acknowledged that he is living a "painful" moment and that it is "hard to be separated" from his loved ones. 

"I never believed that this fight for peace of us Hondurans would lead us to be known as a narco-state. I knew that this fight would not be easy, it would have many risks," said the president.

The United States initially highlighted him as an ally in the fight against drug-trafficking and was one of the first to recognise his re-election in 2017, when the opposition claimed fraud, amid protests that left 30 people dead.

Hernández described the accusations against him as "revenge from the cartels" that his government helped to extradite and that are now seeking to reduce their sentences: "An orchestrated plot so that no government will confront them again." 


Drugs and weapons

"If there is a citizen to be judged, he must be judged in our country," said the former president's wife, Ana García.

The former first lady arrived with a dozen supporters of the former president to the court building in Tegucigalpa, claiming his innocence and praying for him.

Hernández, who left the Honduran presidency on January 27 after eight years in office, has been implicated by New York prosecutors as having ties to drug-trafficking. The accusers believe that the activity of Hernández and his collaborators turned Honduras into a "narco-state."

Like him, a former police chief accused of being his accomplice is also waiting for an extradition request from the United States to be resolved.

A brother of the former president, former deputy 'Tony' Hernández, was sentenced in March 2021 to life imprisonment in the United States for the same crime. 

In the petition, the United States singled out the former president for "conspiracy (...) to import controlled substance" and "possess firearms, including machine guns and destructive devices, in support of conspiracy to import narcotics."

Hernández could face a life sentence if convicted.


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by Noe Leiva, AFP


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