Sunday , May 22 2022
Honduras ex-President Hernandez on way to US to face drug charges

Honduras ex-President Hernandez on way to US to face drug charges

US authorities accuse Juan Orlando Hernandez of receiving millions in bribes as part of a drug-trafficking scheme.

Honduras has extradited former President Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States, where he is due to face weapons and drug-trafficking charges.

A US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plane took off with Hernandez aboard from the airport in Tegucigalpa, the capital, on Thursday afternoon. Just three months after leaving office, Hernandez boarded the plane in handcuffs.

The extradition comes weeks after Honduras’ top court in late March cleared the way for Hernandez, who served as president from 2014 until earlier this year, to be extradited to face charges in a New York court.

US authorities have accused the former leader of participating in a drug-trafficking scheme in which he facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tonnes of drugs – mainly from Colombia and Venezuela – to the US via Honduras.

The 53-year-old has denied all the charges, saying they are part of a plot orchestrated by enemies who are trying to get back at him.

But US prosecutors have alleged Hernandez received millions of dollars from drug traffickers for protection, including from Mexican narco-kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Once viewed as a key ally in Washington’s fight against drug trafficking, Hernandez lost his immunity after handing power to Xiomara Castro, the country’s first female president, in late January.

He faces three charges: conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States; using or carrying firearms including machine guns; and conspiracy to use or carry firearms.

Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Buenos Aires, said Hernandez was transported by helicopter from a Honduran special forces’ military base to an airport, where the DEA plane was picking him up.

“Hernandez was a very close ally of the United States. In fact, he met with Vice President Biden when he was [part of] the Obama administration. He met with former President Donald Trump,” Bo said. “He was considered to be doing the right thing at the time because he was fighting against illegal immigration and assisting the United States in that fight.”

She added that while this is not the first time that a former leader has been accused of drug trafficking, “it’s very, very significant – especially [in reference] to the United States policy in the region and the war on drugs”.

Some Hondurans had celebrated in the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, when Hernandez was arrested in February. Hundreds of police officers had surrounded his home after a lower court judge issued a warrant for his arrest following the US extradition request.

“The authorities are finally doing what they should have done a long time ago: penalise and put behind bars the people who have robbed this country,” Aaron Hernandez, a 31-year-old Honduran truck driver, told Al Jazeera after the Supreme Court’s decision.

But others has come out in support of Hernandez, saying they believe he did nothing wrong.

“If a citizen is tried, they should be tried in our country,” the ex-president’s wife, Ana Garcia, a lawyer, said as she joined about a dozen protesters outside the Supreme Court in late March to proclaim Hernandez’s innocence.

Most of the allegations against Hernandez emerged in two trials in New York — those of Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, the president’s brother and himself a former Honduran congressman, and Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez.

Both men were part of a sprawling drug trafficking case filed in 2015 and both were given life sentences. Prosecutors labelled Hernandez a “co-conspirator” in the same case.

In a letter published when the Supreme Court issued its decision, Hernandez maintained that he is innocent and said he is the “victim of revenge and conspiracy”.

His family also said in a statement at that time that they were “ready and confident that we’ll be able to show the US justice system that these accusations are a revenge plot from Honduran narcos whose empire of crime and violence Juan Orlando destroyed”.

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