Portugal Colonial - Honduran ex-president faces US extradition for alleged drug trafficking

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Honduran ex-president faces US extradition for alleged drug trafficking
Honduran ex-president faces US extradition for alleged drug trafficking

Honduran ex-president faces US extradition for alleged drug trafficking

Honduran ex-president Juan Orlando Hernandez, accused by Washington of ties with drug traffickers, vowed Tuesday to cooperate with domestic justice in a US bid to extradite him.

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Honduras's Supreme Court of Justice will meet Tuesday to assign a judge to weigh the US request even as Hernandez's lawyer claimed the politician enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

In an audio message on Twitter, Hernandez said his team had already informed the police "that I am ready to collaborate and to come voluntarily... at the time the judge will decide."

He would do so, said Hernandez, "to confront this situation and defend myself."

Special forces agents encircled Hernandez's home in the capital Tegucigalpa after an official, who declined to be named, confirmed to AFP Monday that Washington had asked for him to be extradited.

The official said Hernandez was in the country.

The ex-president's lawyer, Hermes Ramirez, said the police deployment constituted an "attack" on the ex-president's rights as it had prevented advisers from coming to the residence.

Dozens of people with banners, meanwhile, celebrated outside Hernandez's home, while in other cities people took to the streets with loudspeakers singing "Juancho goes to New York," using a nickname for the ex-president.

Hernandez, a former US ally who left office last month, has been linked to drug trafficking operations by New York prosecutors.

- 'Significant corruption' -

Even though he officially supported US anti-drug campaigns during his two terms in office, traffickers caught in the United States claimed to have paid bribes to the president's inner circle.

Alleged associate Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez was sentenced in the United States last week to life in prison and a fine of $151.7 million for smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States -- with Hernandez's aid, according to prosecutors.

And in March 2021, Hernandez's brother, former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez, was given life in prison in the United States for drug trafficking.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that "according to multiple, credible media reports" Hernandez "has engaged in significant corruption by committing or facilitating acts of corruption and narco-trafficking and using the proceeds of illicit activity to facilitate political campaigns."

Hernandez denies the claims, which he said were part of a revenge plot by drug lords that his government had captured or extradited to the United States.

- 'Bankrupt' state -

Lawyer Ramirez insisted Monday that his client enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a member of the Guatemala-based Central American Parliament, Parlacen.

Hernandez joined Parlacen hours after leaving office on January 27, when leftist Xiomara Castro was sworn in with vows to transform the "bankrupt" state he left behind.

Several analysts approached by AFP said that any immunity conferred by Parlacen membership could be waived by the regional body at the request of a national government.

Ramirez said no arrest warrant had yet been served on Hernandez, who had sought to cultivate close ties with Washington during eight years in office dogged by accusations of corruption.

Blinken said last week that Hernandez was added to a list last year of people denied entry to the United States for corrupt or anti-democratic actions.

Attending Castro's swearing-in last month, US Vice President Kamala Harris was the first foreign official to have a bilateral meeting with her, and welcomed the new leader's commitment to combating corruption and impunity.

Castro has promised to undo laws passed under Hernandez that reduced penalties for drug trafficking and corruption.