US extradites ex-Honduras president on medication, weapons charges

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (REUTERS) – The United States extradited former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on Thursday (April 21) on charges of collaborating in a cocaine-importation conspiracy and associated firearms offences, the Justice Department mentioned.

The indictment marked a surprising fall from grace for the previous Washington ally who led the Central American nation from 2014 to January 2022.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan mentioned Hernandez obtained tens of millions of {dollars} from drug trafficking organisations, together with from the previous chief of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and used these funds to complement himself and finance his political campaigns.

In trade, Hernandez and different Honduran officers supplied drug traffickers with safety from investigation and arrest, gave them entry to legislation enforcement and navy data and prevented their extradition to the United States, in keeping with an 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 advised reporters in Washington. “Hernandez worked closely with other public officials to protect cocaine shipments bound for the United States.”

Hernandez was a key ally to the United States through the Obama and Trump administrations on immigration and anti-narcotics operations. But US prosecutors revealed in court docket filings final yr that Hernandez, 53, was below investigation as a part of a sprawling probe into Honduras’ bloody narcotics commerce.

President Joe Biden has targeted on tackling corruption in Central America since taking workplace in January 2021, with a watch towards stemming the tide of migrants from the area to the United States.

Hernandez’s youthful brother, Tony Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in jail within the United States in March 2021 after an earlier conviction on drug trafficking charges.

The former president had strongly denied the allegations, arguing that captured traffickers smeared him to actual revenge in opposition to his authorities and to cut back their sentences. But he has pledged to cooperate with authorities and has portrayed himself as a fierce opponent of drug trafficking.

‘Honduras wants our help’

In the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, the handcuffed ex-president was escorted to the airport by a phalanx of safety forces. Around the airport, dozens of individuals gathered waving the nation’s blue and white flag to have fun Hernandez’s extradition.

Hernandez departed aboard a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) aircraft on Thursday afternoon and was anticipated to make an preliminary look in a Manhattan federal court docket within the coming days.

“If you turn the power of the state into a violent drug trafficking machine, if you allow violence and murder to flourish at the hands of the cartels, then the DEA will stop at nothing to hold you accountable,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram advised reporters.

The indictment was filed on Jan 27 – the day Hernandez was changed by leftist Xiomara Castro following her November victory over Nasry Asfura, the candidate from Hernandez’s right-leaning National Party – however stored sealed till Thursday.

The US Department of Justice typically refrains from indicting sitting heads of state.

“The new administration of Honduras wants our help,” Garland mentioned. “There’s no conflict between our doing this kind of work and having good relationships in Latin America.”

Honduran police detained Hernandez in mid-February following a US extradition request, in keeping with a US Embassy doc seen by Reuters on the time.

The Honduran Supreme Court in March authorised Hernandez’s extradition.

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