The United States on Thursday (21) accused former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández of operating Honduras as a “narco-state” and of using bribes he received from drug traffickers such as Joaquín Guzmán, known as “El Chapo”, to to rig the two elections he contested. Hernández was extradited on Thursday to the US, where he will make his initial appearance this Friday (22) before Judge Stewart D. Aaron in New York.
Hours after Hernández took off for New York, where he will be tried, the US Department of Justice released the full indictment against the former president. According to the more than 20-page document, the former Honduran leader was part of a conspiracy to transport more than 500 tons of cocaine to the US from Colombia, Venezuela and other countries.
“Hernández abused his position as president of Honduras between 2014 and 2022 to operate the country as a narcostate,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland told a news conference in Washington.
The indictment document states that “Hernández used these proceeds from drug trafficking to enrich himself, finance his political campaigns and commit electoral fraud, including in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections.”
The US alleges that in 2013, Hernández received a “$1 million bribe” from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, then leader of the Sinaloa cartel, “in exchange for a promise to protect” that group in Honduras.
“Hernández then ordered his allies in the conspiracy to travel to various parts of Honduras to bribe officials to manipulate votes for him to become president,” New York Southern District Attorney Damian Williams told a news conference.
As a result of his relationships with drug traffickers, the former president “corrupted the legitimate institutions of Honduras, including parts of the Honduran National Police, the Armed Forces and the National Congress”, and turned his country into one “of the greatest points of shipment of cocaine to the US in the world”, the document states.
Williams alleged that, during a meeting, Hernández declared that he wanted to “fill the noses of the gringos with drugs”, and that he also accepted bribes from drug dealers and “buy votes” to win re-election in the controversial 2017 elections.
The 53-year-old former president was detained at his home in Tegucigalpa on February 15, the day after the United States requested his “provisional arrest” for extradition purposes, and has since been held in a special unit of the National Police. He was extradited on Thursday to the United States, where he is facing three charges related to drug trafficking and use of weapons, an unprecedented feat in the history of Honduras.
Hernández was handed over to members of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at the Hernán Acosta Mejía Air Base, to which he was taken from a police facility in a Honduran Air Force helicopter by Security Minister Ramón Sabillon.
Minutes before the extradition, Hernández’s wife, Ana García, released a video message from the former president, in which she said: “I am innocent, I was and am being subjected to an unfair process.”
It is not yet known what sentence the prosecution will seek against him, but the Justice Department anticipated some possibilities.
For the first charge Hernandez faces, of “conspiracy to import” more than 500 tons of cocaine into the United States, the minimum sentence is ten years and the maximum sentence is life imprisonment if convicted.
For the second, for using and possessing machine guns and destructive devices to support the importation of cocaine, he could receive a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of life imprisonment. For the third, of “conspiring to use” such weapons, the maximum penalty is also life imprisonment.
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