Juan Orlando Hernández faces drug and arms trafficking charges after being extradited to the United States this week.
Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández appeared for the first time before a US court. being extradited to the country to face drug and arms trafficking charges.
Hernandez, 53, appeared via video link in federal court in New York on Friday. He was not required to plead guilty and his lawyers did not request bail for him but said they would at a later date, the AFP news agency reported.
A US judge has set an arraignment hearing for Hernandez on May 10, where he will be formally asked whether or not to plead guilty.
Hernández was extradited Thursday afternoon from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plane bound for the United States.
That same day, US federal authorities released an indictment against the former president, accusing 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 accused of having facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tons of cocaine – mainly from Colombia and Venezuela – to the United States through Honduras since 2004, well before his presidency.
In turn, he received “millions of dollars in bribes … from multiple drug trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico and elsewhere,” US prosecutors allege, including approximately $1 million from the Mexican drug lord. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
But the former president, who served two terms between 2014 and January 2022, has maintained that he is innocent. He lost his immunity from prosecution when he handed over power to Honduras’s first female president, Xiomara Castro, in January.
A ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice at the end of March cleared the way that Hernandez be extradited to face charges in a New York court.
The US Justice Department said in a statement Thursday that Hernandez, once seen as a key US ally, committed electoral fraud as the people of Honduras endured conditions of poverty and rampant violence.”
The US indictment charged Hernandez with three counts of drug and weapons offenses that could land him decades in prison if convicted.
Damian Williams, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said during a press conference Thursday night that Hernandez was involved in “rampant corruption and massive cocaine trafficking” that fueled the violence in Honduras.
“Honduras became one of the most violent countries in the world during the defendant’s presidency, and while Hernández accumulated money and political influence, the people of Honduras endured conditions of poverty and violence,” he said.
Hernandez has denied the allegations. In a video message posted Thursday, he said: “I am innocent; I have been and am being unfairly subjected to prosecution.”