Juan Orlando Hernández, the former president of Honduras, was extradited Thursday to the United States, where he will face federal drug trafficking and firearms possession charges.
The US Justice Department at the same time unsealed an indictment alleging Hernández engaged in a conspiracy to protect and profit off smugglers moving cocaine from Central and South America into the United States.
The indictment in US District Court in the Southern District of New York charges Hernández with cocaine importation conspiracy, possession of machine guns and destructive devices, and conspiracy to possess machine guns and destructive devices.
“As is charged in the indictment, Hernández abused his position as President of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday at a news conference announcing the charges.
The Honduran government said Hernández, who denied allegations against him, was being flown to New York.
He was taken from a police special forces prison to an air base in Tegucigalpa, the capital, for the flight. The handcuffed Hernández, wearing a blue jacket and jeans, was escorted by more than a dozen police officers, as seen on local television.
Hernández was placed in a US Drug Enforcement Administration plane that took off from Toncontin International Airport at around 4:20 p.m. local time, Honduran authorities said.
Hernández’s wife, Ana Garcia, posted a video of the former president on her Twitter account.
“The truth is a liberating force when it’s revealed, it’s my prayer, my family’s and of thousands of Honduran families, so the truth is revealed and prevails in my case. I am innocent, I have been, and I am unfairly treated by the process,” he said.
“You know that I worked tirelessly to restore peace in Honduras. We gave our maximum effort for our nation, and it’s unfortunate that those who turned Honduras into one of the most violent countries on Earth, those villains, now want to be heroes,” Hernández said in the video, whose recording date is unknown.
The Honduran Supreme Court last month authorized the extradition. Hernández left office in January after eight years as president.
The former president was arrested at his home on February 15 at the request of the US government. About a month earlier, federal prosecutors claimed that Hernández helped an alleged drug trafficker deliver thousands of kilos of cocaine to the US in exchange for hefty bribes. His administration at the time denied the allegation.
The extradition to the US of the former director of the National Police in Honduras, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladare, was also approved by Honduras’s Supreme Court of Justice on Thursday, according to a press release from the Judiciary of Honduras.
Valladare is also sought after by the US District Court in the Southern District of New York for conspiring to import, manufacture, and distribute a controlled substance into the United States and using or carrying firearms to import narcotics, among other charges. Valladare has been under detention since March 10th, while he was awaits to be sent to the US, according to the press release.
Hernandez’s brother, Tony Hernandez, is currently serving a life sentence in a US federal prison for drug trafficking. According to court filings in that case, US authorities believe former president Hernandez was a co-conspirator in the operation, funneling drug money to help fund his presidential campaigns. Hernandez has repeatedly denied those allegations.
According to court filings in that case, US authorities believe Hernández was a co-conspirator in the operation, funneling drug money to help fund his presidential campaigns. Hernández has repeatedly denied those allegations.
According to the indictment, Hernández partnered with some of the most violent drug trafficking groups, receiving millions of dollars off a network that funneled cocaine through Honduras and into the United States. He used the money, the indictment says, to enrich himself, finance his political rise and subsequently remain in power.
In exchange, Hernández provided the trafficking organizations with law enforcement information that helped shield the organizations’ leaders from criminal investigations, protected leaders from extradition to the US and allowed them to commit violence with virtually no consequences, US authorities say.
Garland said that the Justice Department’s yearslong investigation into drug trafficking organizations have led to “the conviction of numerous Honduran drug traffickers who were responsible for the importation of over 500,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States and dozens of foreign murders.”
“If you think you can hide behind the power of your position, you are wrong,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said during the news conference.
CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon, Sahar Akbarzai, Valentina Di Donato and Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report. Elvin Sandoval reported from Tegucigalpa, Honduras