Updated Apr 21, 2022 - World

Ex-Honduran president extradited to U.S. on drug trafficking charges

former Honduras president, wearing a blue puffer jacket, sunglasses, a blue medical mask and apparently handcuffed at the front, walks surrounded by police while being extradited

Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez is escorted by Members of the Police Special Forces to be extradited to U.S. on April 21 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Photo: Jorge Cabrera/Getty Images

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was extradited to the U.S. on Thursday to face drug trafficking and weapons charges, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced.

The big picture: U.S. authorities have accused Hernández of leading a “violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy” with co-opted armed forces, police, Congress members and mayors.

  • Hernández says he is innocent and that drug traffickers who testified against him only did so because they were extradited while he was in power.

State of play: The three-count indictment, unsealed on Thursday, alleges Hernández "abused his position as the president of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state."

  • Prosecutors also said that "as a Congressman, then the President of the Honduran National Congress, and finally the two-term President of Honduras, [Hernández] was allegedly paid millions of dollars in cocaine proceeds, which he used to enrich himself, finance his political campaigns, and commit voter fraud while the people of Honduras endured conditions of poverty and rampant violence."

What they're saying: The Justice Department "is taking a comprehensive approach to protecting our communities and our country from violent crime," Garland said.

  • The department "is committed to disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far, or how high we must go," he added.

Between the lines: Hernández's legal woes represent a stunning fall from grace for a leader once embraced by American authorities who hoped he could help stem migration to the U.S., Axios Latino's Marina Franco writes.

Flashback: Several Hondurans have been extradited for similar charges, including two major drug kingpins that testified Hernández received bribes from them or gave them instructions for money laundering.

  • Tony Hernández, a former Congress member and brother of Juan Orlando Hernández, was sentenced to life in prison on drug charges last year.
  • The ex-president's predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, is also linked to drug-trafficking groups and is on a U.S. list of corrupt past and present officials.

What's next: Hernandez is expected to appear before a Southern District of New York court on Friday, the Justice Department said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details from the DOJ.

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