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Honduras ex-president bound for US for drug trafficking trial
Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez was set to be extradited to the United States Thursday, the government said, to stand trial for allegedly aiding the smuggling of hundreds of tons of cocaine to America.
The 53-year-old, whose 2014-2022 stint as president was plagued by allegations of corruption, risks spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
Hernandez is accused of having facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tons of cocaine -- mainly from Colombia and Venezuela -- to the United States via Honduras since 2004, starting long before his presidency.
In turn, he allegedly received "millions of dollars in bribes... from multiple narcotrafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico and other places," according to a US Embassy document.
Not even three weeks after leaving office following elections last November, a warrant was issued for Hernandez's arrest at Washington's request, and he surrendered to police on February 15.
He is being held at a police special forces prison in the capital Tegucigalpa.
Hernandez portrayed himself as an ally of the US war on drugs during his tenure, helping to extradite several narcotics kingpins.
Washington even supported his re-election in 2017 despite a constitutional one-term limit and accusations of voting fraud.
But several drug traffickers told US prosecutors they had paid bribes to the president's inner circle, and by the time he left office, US drug enforcers were ready to move against Hernandez.
- 'Narco-state' -
US prosecutors say the former president turned Honduras into a "narco-state" by involving the military, police and civilians in drug trafficking to the United States
An alleged Hernandez associate, Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, was sentenced in the United States in February to life in prison and a fine of $151.7 million for smuggling tons of cocaine with the ex-president's aid, according to prosecutors.
And his brother, ex-congressman Tony Hernandez, was given a life sentence in the United States in March 2021 for drug trafficking crimes in which Juan Orlando Hernandez was said to have been a co-conspirator.
This month, a judge authorized the extradition to the United States of former national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla, accused of running drug trafficking operations for Hernandez.
The former president denies the allegations against him.
Hernandez left office on January 27 when leftist Xiomara Castro became president of this country, which has a poverty rate of at least 60 percent among its 10 million inhabitants.
On March 28, the 15-member Supreme Court of Honduras -- all judges appointed during Hernandez's first term -- ratified his extradition to the United States.
In a statement, the former president's family protested his "innocence" and said he was a "victim of revenge by the drug traffickers he himself had extradited or forced to flee to the United States."
These had told lies about Hernandez in a bid to have their own sentences reduced, the relatives said.
Security Minister Ramon Sabillon said Hernandez was scheduled to depart the country at 1:00 pm local time (1900 GMT) Thursday on a US Drug Enforcement Administration flight from the Toncontin air force base in Tegucigalpa to New York.