September 28, 2022

Honduran ex-president Hernández faces charges in US court

NEW YORK (AP) — Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández made a virtual appearance Friday in federal court in New York to face drug and weapons trafficking charges after he was arrested in Honduras and extradited in overnight to the United States.

Hernández, who has denied any wrongdoing, was not required to enter a plea during the initial 12-minute hearing before Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron in Manhattan. A plea will take place at his next hearing on May 10 before Judge P. Kevin Castel, who would preside over a trial if it were to take place.

His attorney, Raymond Colon, said he was okay “at least for now” with letting Hernández stay behind bars rather than trying to convince a judge to set bail.

During Friday’s hearing, a relaxed-looking Hernández, dressed in a blue jacket with a button-down shirt underneath, sat in a chair listening to the judge and the attorneys via a black corded phone that he held to his ear, letting Aaron know he could hear and understand the proceedings.

“Yes, your honor, I’m listening to you through an interpreter,” said Hernández, who could be seen taking several sips from a can of Coke before the hearing began.

As Aaron read him his rights, Hernández nodded. The magistrate then read a brief description of the charges against him, telling him that he allegedly received millions of dollars between 2004 and 2022 for his role in a drug deal that brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds of drugs in the United States.

Assistant US Attorney Elinor Tarlow said Hernández, who boarded a plane Thursday in Honduras with agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration – just three months after leaving office – arrived in the area of New York at 12:50 a.m. Friday.

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland accused Hernández of abusing his position as president of Honduras “to operate the country like a narco-state”.

Hernández, who served as the Central American nation’s president from 2014 to 2022, has been charged in court documents with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy, possessing machine guns and destructive devices and conspiring to possess machine guns and destructive devices.

Hernández was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa in February at the request of US authorities. The Honduran Supreme Court rejected his appeal against a judge’s decision in favor of extradition.

His court appearance on Friday in New York was virtual due to COVID-19 protocols, authorities said.

Hernández has denied any wrongdoing. In a video message released on Thursday, he said: “I am innocent; I have been and am unfairly sued.