Ex-Honduran President Extradited to United States to Face Drug Prices

The previous Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández was extradited to the US on Thursday, the place he’ll face fees in a New York court docket accusing him of trafficking medicine for many years to additional his political profession.

About 1:20 p.m., a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration airplane arrived on the Toncontín Worldwide Airport within the capital, Tegucigalpa, and nearly an hour later, the Honduran minister of protection mentioned Mr. Hernández had been handed over.

A federal indictment unsealed late Thursday in Manhattan charged that over almost the final twenty years, Mr. Hernández “participated in a corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy to facilitate the importation of tons of cocaine into the US.”

The indictment charged that Mr. Hernández obtained hundreds of thousands of {dollars} from quite a few drug trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico and elsewhere, together with from the previous chief of the Sinaloa Cartel, the Mexican drug lord often called El Chapo.

Mr. Hernández used the proceeds of his drug trafficking to “enrich himself, finance his political campaigns and commit voter fraud,” together with in reference to the 2013 and 2017 Honduran presidential elections, the indictment mentioned.

“This case ought to ship a transparent message to any international chief who corruptly abuses their energy to help drug cartels,” Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, mentioned at a information convention Thursday night.

“If you happen to assume you may disguise behind the facility of your place, you’re improper,” she added.

Lawyer Common Merrick B. Garland mentioned Mr. Hernández ran Honduras as a “narco-state.”

Mr. Hernández stepped down in January after finishing the 2 presidential phrases allowed by legislation. Quickly after, he was detained at his dwelling in Tegucigalpa, triggering an unsuccessful bid by his attorneys to dam the U.S. authorities’s extradition request.

On the night of Feb. 14, simply minutes after the Honduran Overseas Ministry mentioned it had obtained the extradition request, police automobiles surrounded Mr. Hernández’s dwelling, and he was led out the following morning in shackles and sporting a bulletproof vest.

“I’m able to current myself voluntarily and defend myself in accordance with the legislation,” he mentioned in a put up on Fb that morning. Mr. Hernández has lengthy vigorously denied that he has had any position in drug trafficking.

Final month, a Honduran decide dominated that Mr. Hernández must be extradited to the US, and his attraction to the nation’s Supreme Court docket was unsuccessful.

On Thursday, about 100 cops escorted Mr. Hernández from the constructing to the helicopter that may take him to a navy base subsequent to the Toncontín airport. He wore a cap, a blue vest and masks and a pair of handcuffs.

Because the helicopter took flight, loud gunpowder detonations had been heard all through town, with hundreds of individuals celebrating the long-awaited extradition of the previous president.

“Justice was finished,” mentioned Wendy Sierra, 22, a biology pupil on the Nationwide Autonomous College of Honduras. “He left us poor right here, he stole every little thing and favored drug traffickers, and nobody ever touched him. However with the gringos you can not play.”

Allegations have loomed over Mr. Hernández for years because the U.S. lawyer’s workplace in Manhattan and the D.E.A. performed a far-reaching narcotics trafficking investigation that uncovered corruption on the highest ranges in Honduras. The nation of 10 million has turn out to be a gateway for big quantities of cocaine moved by way of Mexico and into the US.

In two current federal trials in Manhattan, testimony positioned Mr. Hernández on the middle of a drug trafficking operation that relied on members of the Honduran navy and nationwide police, despatched tons of cocaine into the US and generated hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in proceeds that had been used on behalf of Mr. Hernández’s Nationwide Get together in campaigns.

Mr. Hernández, alongside together with his brother, Tony Hernández, a former Honduran congressman, “performed a management position in a violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy,” prosecutors mentioned in a 2021 court docket submitting.

The brand new indictment fees Juan Orlando Hernández with cocaine importation conspiracy, possession of machine weapons and damaging gadgets and conspiracy to own them.

In 2019, Tony Hernández was convicted of conspiring to import cocaine into the US and different fees and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Final 12 months, within the trial of a Honduran man who was convicted of conspiracy and weapons fees, an accountant testified that he heard Mr. Hernández, when he was a presidential candidate in 2013, say he would remove his nation’s extradition treaty with the US, rendering his associates “untouchable.”

In accordance with the testimony, Mr. Hernández additionally mentioned, “We’re going to stuff medicine up the gringos’ noses, and so they’re by no means even going to comprehend it.”

On the information convention Thursday, Damian Williams, the U.S. lawyer in Manhattan, mentioned that whereas Mr. Hernández and his co-conspirators helped to push 500 tons of cocaine into the US — “poison that landed on this nation on our streets,” as he put it — there additionally had been staggering prices for the folks of Honduras.

“Honduras grew to become one of the vital violent international locations on the planet in the course of the defendant’s presidency,” Mr. Williams mentioned, “and whereas Hernández amassed cash and political affect, the folks of Honduras endured circumstances of poverty and violence.”

Through the administration of former President Donald J. Trump, even whereas Mr. Hernández was underneath investigation, he was handled as an ally on problems with immigration and safety. In September 2019, after he agreed to a deal that may enable the US to pressure some migrants to hunt asylum in Honduras, Mr. Hernández earned a handshake from Mr. Trump in the course of the United Nations Common Meeting.

Kevin Ok. McAleenan, then the performing U.S. secretary of homeland safety, mentioned in a tweet on the time that Mr. Hernández was a “strong partner” who was working to “fight irregular migration and transnational legal organizations.”

Though it’s uncommon for an additional nation’s former head of state to be extradited to the US to face prosecution, it’s not unprecedented. In 2013, Alfonso Portillo, the president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004, was despatched to face prosecution in Manhattan, the place he pleaded responsible in a cash laundering case and was sentenced to almost six years in jail.

And Mr. Hernández just isn’t the primary former Honduran president to be prosecuted in New York.

Rafael Callejas, who served from 1990 to 1994, surrendered to the U.S. authorities in 2015 shortly after being charged in a sweeping corruption case that concerned FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing physique. Mr. Callejas pleaded responsible in federal court docket in Brooklyn to wire fraud conspiracy and racketeering conspiracy fees; he died in 2020 earlier than he might be sentenced.

Benjamin Weiser reported from New York, and Joan Suazo from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Katie Benner contributed reporting from Washington.