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U.S. charges ex-Honduras president Hernandez with drugs, weapons crimes


The United States has charged former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was extradited to the U.S. on Thursday (April 21), for alleged participation in a cocaine-importation conspiracy and related firearms offences, the Justice Department said.

Footage showed a handcuffed Hernandez as he departed from Tegucigalpa airport aboard a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane.

Honduran authorities said he received medical examinations before his departure which showed he was in "optimal condition."

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

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Hernandez received millions of dollars from drug trafficking organizations, including from the former leader of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and used those funds to enrich himself and finance his political campaigns, prosecutors said.

In exchange, Hernandez and other Honduran officials provided drug traffickers with protection from investigation and arrest, gave them access to law enforcement and military information, and prevented their extradition to the United States, according to the indictment.

"The indictment alleges that Hernandez abused his positions in the Honduran government to partner with some of the largest and most violent drug traffickers in the world to traffic hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine through Honduras for distribution in the United States," the U.S. Justice Department said.

Hernandez "abused his position as the president of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state," prosecutors wrote.

The indictment was filed on Jan. 27 - the day Hernandez was replaced by leftist Xiomara Castro following her November victory over Nasry Asfura, the candidate from Hernandez's right-leaning National Party - but kept sealed until Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Justice generally refrains from indicting sitting heads of state.

Honduran police detained Hernandez in mid-February following a U.S. extradition request, according to a U.S. embassy document seen by Reuters at the time.

The Honduran Supreme Court in March authorized his extradition.

Hernandez was a key ally to the United States under both the Obama and Trump administrations, in both immigration and anti-narcotics operations. But U.S. prosecutors revealed in court filings last year that Hernandez, 53, was under investigation as part of a sprawling probe into Honduras' bloody narcotics trade.

President Joe Biden has focused on tackling corruption in Central America since taking office in January 2021, to stem the tide of migrants from the region to the United States.

Hernandez's younger brother, Tony Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in prison in 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 have smeared him to exact revenge against his government and to reduce their sentences. He has portrayed himself as a fierce opponent of drug trafficking.

 

Published : April 22, 2022

By : Reuters