The former president of Honduras will appear in US District Court in New York on 22 April after he was extradited to the US as part of a sweeping indictment on drug and weapons charges.
Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York allege that Juan Orlando Hernandez “participated in a corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy to facilitate the importation of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States,” according to the US Department of Justice .
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Mr Hernandez abused his position to operate Honduras as a “narco state” for which he received millions of dollars from drug trafficking organizations – including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman” – to allow criminal groups to operate “with virtual impunity” in the country.
Mr Hernandez allegedly received a $1m bribe from El Chapo to protect the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations through Honduras.
“Because of these alleged crimes, communities in the United States suffered, and the people of Honduras suffered,” Mr Garland said on 21 April.
Mr Hernandez is expected to plead not guilty, and he has repeatedly denied allegations against him. In a video message on Thursday, I have claimed he has been “unjustly subjected to prosecution” and exploited by drug traffickers.
“This is revenge from the cartels, it’s an orchestrated plot so that no government will confront them again,” he said in a letter that was published last month. “Part of that conspiracy has been a campaign of hate and misinformation. But it’s evident, the contradictions of criminals, trial after trial, they lie and contradict themselves.”
Mr Hernandez entered office in January 2014 and remained in the role until January 2022, when Xiomara Castro was sworn in as his replacement. A warrant for the arrest of Mr Hernandez was issued within hours after he left office.
In February, Mr Hernandez was placed in handcuffs at his home in Tegucigalpa. The country’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal of a judge’s decision to allow his extradition to the US.
An unsealed indictment alleges that beginning in 2013 or 2014, Mr Hernandez partnered with cartel leaders and other “violent and large-scale” traffickers and received bribes to ensure their operations in Honduras and his political power in the country, including elections in 2013 and 2017 .
Prosecutors allege Mr Hernandez protected traffickers from investigation and arrest, aided traffickers’ evasion from military and law enforcement, directed the military to protect drug shipments, and “sanctioned brutal violence”.
He faces three counts, including conspiring to import cocaine into the US and using and carrying machine guns and destructive devices during as part of a drug conspiracy. Charges carry sentences up to life in prison.
A case against him has been building for months – he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in his brother’s trial as well as the case against former national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla, nicknamed “El Tigre.”
The nation’s former top law enforcement was arrested on 9 May and is expected to be extradited to the US.