Juan Orlando Hernández have been building for years. (Photo by Popow\ullstein Via Getty Images)
The U.S. has requested the extradition of the former president of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández just weeks after he left office, and issued drugs and weapons charges against the former official.
Hernández, who announced on Twitter this morning that he will hand himself in once a judge has been appointed to review the extradition request, has always denied years of allegations in U.S. court cases that he oversaw a “narco state” during his time in office, taking bribes from drug-traffickers and benefiting financially from the international cocaine trade.
But the former president has been named as a co-conspirator in a number of drug-trafficking cases in the U.S., including one in which prosecutors accused him of saying he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos.”
Hernández is wanted on weapons as well as drugs charges, according to a translation of the damning charges out of the Southern District Court in New York seen by VICE World News Tuesday morning.
The charges allege that the former president was part of a drug conspiracy that smuggled more than 500 tonnes of cocaine from South America through Honduras to the Guatemalan border, and that he protected drug-trafficking organisations that committed “brutal acts of violence with no consequences.”
It outlines how Víctor Hugo Díaz Morales, alias "El Rojo," a former Honduran trafficker who was captured in 2017, worked with the former president. Hernández, the charges allege, accepted $40,000 in bribes from Díaz Morales in 2005 to offer him help as well protection from the military in his drug-trafficking activities. Díaz Morales also gave Hernández $100,000 in 2009 to go towards his then campaign to be president of the National Congress, according to U.S. prosecutors.
In return for his bribes, Díaz Morales was also allegedly passed information from the Honduran government on the activities of U.S. agents working with Honduran officials in anti-narcotic activities such as the use of radar technology to detect drug shipments, say the allegations.
The charge sheet also alleges that in 2012, when the then-Congressman Hernández supported the renewal of an extradition agreement between the U.S. and Honduras, he promised behind closed doors to continue to protect the drug-traffickers with whom he was allied.
The president also used his drug-trafficking contacts to secure votes during his second presidential campaign in 2017, according to the document seen by VICE World News, and asked his collaborators to use their drug proceeds to buy votes in the states of Copan and Lempira. He was reelected.
This week’s charges also back up what witnesses have claimed before in the courts: that Hernández took a million-dollar donation for his presidential campaign from Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in 2013 in exchange for protection of the Sinaloa Cartel’s interests in Honduras.
His brother, Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was convicted for drug trafficking in the U.S. in 2019 and sentenced to life behind bars last year. During his trial, Tony was described as “a uniquely bad character. Who, along with his brother, is at the centre of years of state sponsored drug trafficking.”
But the new charges circulating today allege that even following the conviction of Tony, his brother President Hernández continued to work with drug-traffickers.
News footage from late Monday evening showed Honduran police officers surrounding the house of former president Hernández. There has been speculation in recent months that should the U.S. seek to prosecute him, Hernández may go on the run. But his statements via Twitter Tuesday morning suggest that he is prepared to face the music.
“This is not an easy moment,” said Hernández in a voice message on Twitter. “The national police have received the message via representatives that I am ready to cooperate.”
Hours after his statement, the Honduras Supreme Court announced that they had appointed a judge to consider the U.S. request for Hernández’s arrest and extradition. Hernández has yet to turn himself in, nor comment since the appointment of the judge.
Around a 100 police officers surrounded Hernández’s home on Monday evening, reportedly surprising the former president.
His lawyer, Hermes Ramírez, confirmed that Hernández was home and they were “working on his legal strategy” when the police arrived. Ramírez claimed that other lawyers have not been allowed to enter and they have not been informed of the details of the extradition request and arrest warrant. “They are trampling on the rights of my client.”
Honduras Security Minister Ramón Sabillón spoke to local press outside of Hernández house and said that “it is a victory for the people, it is justice for the people.”
Despite the allegations against him, Hernández was an important ally to the U.S. government in anti-narcotic efforts during his time in office. During his tenure a number of important drug-trafficking groups were extradited and prosecuted in the U.S., including Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga of the Cachiros and Geovanny Fuentes. Both of them subsequently accused the Honduran government and Hernández of aiding and abetting their drug-trafficking activities.
The U.S. State Department and Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from VICE News. Charges against him have not been made public officially, but a copy of a translation of the charge sheet was passed VICE World News.
This story is developing. Refresh for updates.