Honduran ex-president virtually appears in US court for ‘cocaine trafficking’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Honduras’s former President Juan Orlando Hernandez (2-R) is escorted towards a plane during his extradition to the United States, April 21, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has made a virtual appearance in a court in the United States over drug and weapons charges.

Once a Washington ally, Hernández was extradited to the United States on April 21 from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, to stand trial for alleged involvement in the smuggling of cocaine in considerably large amounts to America and receiving millions of dollars in bribes.

The ex-president of Honduras appeared via video link in the New York federal court on Friday.

Federal authorities accuse him of participating in a “corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy to facilitate the importation of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States.” He is also accused of having facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tonnes of cocaine – mainly from Colombia and Venezuela – to the US via Honduras since 2004, long before his presidency.

In turn, he received “millions of dollars in bribes … from multiple narco-trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico and other places,” according to US prosecutors. They say the former president turned Honduras into a “narco-state” by involving the military, police and civilians in drug trafficking to the United States.

Hernández, 53, was not required to enter a plea, and his lawyers did not request bail for him. The former president denies any wrongdoing.

In a statement, his family underscored his “innocence” and said he was a “victim of revenge by the drug traffickers he himself had extradited or forced to flee to the United States.”

In February, Hernández said Washington had been “a friend and ally in the fight my government carried out valiantly against organized crime.”

Washington supported his re-election in 2017, despite a constitutional one-term limit and fraud accusations. Hernandez served two terms between 2014 and January 2022. He lost immunity from prosecution when he handed power over to Honduras’s first female President Xiomara Castro in January.

Eventually, a ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court in late March cleared the way for him to be extradited. The former president could be spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

A US judge set a May 10 arraignment hearing for Hernández, where he will be formally asked whether he pleads guilty or not. His brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former congressman in Honduras, was convicted in federal court in Manhattan in 2019 of cocaine trafficking. 

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