The US ordered the arrest and extradition of former President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez

TRUENEWSBLOG — The United States has asked Honduras to arrest former President Juan Orlando Hernández for his eventual extradition to the US, officials confirmed Monday.

National Police and soldiers surrounded the neighborhood around Hernández’s home Monday night.

Honduras’ foreign ministry first said via Twitter that it had told the country’s Supreme Court that the US embassy had formally requested the arrest of a Honduran politician for extradition.

The ministry did not name the politician. But current Honduran vice president Salvador Nasralla confirmed to The Associated Press that Hernández is named in the request.

Later, the Supreme Court President called an urgent full court session Tuesday morning to select a judge to review the United States’ extradition request.

Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice, declined to comment. The US State Department referred requests for comment to the Department of Justice.

CNN en Español first reported that the politician was Hernández and showed the ministry’s memo to the court naming Hernández.

Hernández’s lawyer, Hermes Ramírez, accused the authorities of being unfair to the former president. He said Hernández was at the Tegucigalpa residence.

“At this point, the security minister is violating the rule of law by wanting to execute an arrest warrant that violates the procedure established by law,” the lawyer told local media. “We are leaving open the abuse my client ex-President Juan Orlando Hernández is subjected to.”

Over the weekend, Hernández posted photos of himself playing with his dogs in an apparent attempt to debunk rumors that he had fled the country.

Hernández left office on January 27 with the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro. On the same day he was sworn in as the representative of Honduras in the Central American Parliament.

Ramírez said Monday night that Hernández had immunity because of his position in the regional parliament and insisted he had a right to a presumption of innocence.

With a weak and co-opted Honduran judicial system, for years Hondurans’ hope for justice rested with US state attorneys in New York, where a series of revelations against Hernández at home were closely followed.

There had been speculation for months whether Hernández would be indicted when he was no longer president, because US prosecutors in New York repeatedly implicated him in his brother’s 2019 drug trafficking trial and claimed his political rise was fueled by drug profits. Hernández strongly denied any such activities.

The brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, himself a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in prison in March 2021 on drug and weapons charges. At his sentencing, Assistant US Attorney Matthew Laroche described the crimes as “state-sponsored drug trafficking.” .”

In an audio recording sent to his staff that day, the then-president said his brother’s sentencing was “hard on the family, hard on me personally.”

“I find it outrageous; I find it incredible that in this way false testimony from confessed killers could be heard and given weight,” he continued, citing Honduras’ progress in reducing violence as evidence of his stance on organized crime.

US prosecutors said Tony Hernández brokered large bribes for his brother from drug dealers to protect their shipments through Honduras. In some cases, members of the national police and military escorted drug shipments, prosecutors said.

They said Juan Orlando Hernández received bribes while he was a member of the Honduras Congress and passed bribes to other lawmakers so they would endorse him as president of the body.

Hernández has long said the allegations against him come from drug dealers, some of whom he handed over, who are now swearing revenge. He has denied any involvement with drug dealers.

Hernández became President of Congress in early 2010. By 2013, he was running for president of Honduras, allegedly soliciting $1.6 million from a drug dealer to support his campaign and that of other National Party politicians, according to US authorities.

Tony Hernández also received $1 million from Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán to support his brother’s presidential campaign, prosecutors said. They said Tony Hernández promised the Sinaloa cartel leader that if his brother won the presidency, they could protect Guzman’s drug shipments through Honduras.

Juan Orlando Hernández took office on January 27, 2014. US authorities allege he continued to receive drug profits during his tenure in exchange for having drugs shipped through Honduras.

Hernández has also been named as a “co-conspirator” in the case of convicted drug dealer Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez.

Witnesses at the two-week trial just before Tony Hernández’s sentencing reported that Hernández accepted bribes from Fuentes Ramírez and other drug dealers from his time as a presidential candidate until at least 2019.

During the Fuentes trial, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he sent Juan Orlando Hernández $250,000 through his sister in 2012 in exchange for protecting his smuggling business and avoiding extradition. An accountant testified that he witnessed Hernández receiving bribes from Fuentes Ramírez twice in 2013.

Hernández used a friendly Supreme Court to overcome Honduras’ constitutional ban on re-election, winning a second term in a 2017 election marred by irregularities.

He was a deeply unpopular president at a time when tens of thousands of Hondurans were fleeing the country due to a lack of economic opportunity, street gangs turned violent and natural disasters struck.

Hernández sought favor with the Trump administration, which was primarily focused on slowing immigration. The Trump administration was quick to recognize Hernández’s reelection victory in the disputed election. And Hernández announced that Honduras would follow Trump’s example and move his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

When allegations against Hernández surfaced at trials in New York, Hernández often used photo ops with US officials to show he had nothing to hide.

However, the Biden administration struggled to keep Hernández at bay, often reiterating that corruption was a key driver of migration in the region.

Hernández has focused his defense primarily on his record of extraditing drug traffickers to the United States and the cooperation of Honduran security forces with US authorities in intercepting drug shipments.

Honduras amended its constitution in 2012 – while Hernández was president of Congress – to allow for the extradition of Hondurasers accused of drug trafficking. And drug dealers were extradited under Hernández. However, the US government has complained that Honduras has failed to extradite others in recent years, including some of Tony Hernández’s alleged co-conspirators.

In February, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to revoke Hernández’s US visa and sanction him as a “significant foreign drug trafficker.”

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