US asks Honduras to extradite ex-president suspected of drug trafficking

Honduras' former president Juan Orlando Hernandez has been linked to drug trafficking operations by New York prosecutors. PHOTO: AFP

TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) - The United States has asked Honduras to extradite former president Juan Orlando Hernandez who is suspected of drug trafficking, a Honduran official said on Monday (Feb 14).

Police special forces were seen encircling Hernandez's residence in the capital Tegucigalpa on Monday evening, while the official, who declined to be named, said the former president is currently in Honduras.

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

Earlier, the Honduran foreign ministry had said on Twitter that an "official communication from the US Embassy" was sent to the Supreme Court formally asking for the provisional arrest of a "Honduran politician" for extradition.

The ministry did not name the politician.

News channel CNN broadcast images of the document, which made a "formal request for provisional arrest for the purpose of extradition to the United States of America of Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado".

AFP has learned that the Supreme Court will meet in an emergency session on Tuesday (Feb 15) to appoint a judge to consider the request.

Speaking to a local TV channel, Hernandez's attorney Hermes Ramirez said the police deployment constituted an "attack" on the ex-president's rights as they had prevented advisers from coming to the residence.

Ramirez said no arrest warrant had been served to Hernandez, who has repeatedly denied any involvement in drug trafficking.

During his eight years in office, Hernandez cultivated close ties with Washington, though his tenure was dogged by accusations of corruption, and of his relatives and alleged associates having links to the drug trade.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed this month that Hernandez had been blacklisted last year, with his name added to a register of people denied entry to the US for corrupt or anti-democratic action in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

"The United States is advancing transparency and accountability in Central America by making public visa restrictions against Honduras' former president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, on account of corrupt actions," Blinken tweeted on Feb 7.

"No one is above the law."

Honduran police officers surround the house of ex-president Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Feb 14, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS


Hernandez's lawyer said the former president has immunity, however, because he has joined the Guatemala-based Central American Parliament.

The regional body, called Parlacen, offers its members immunity from prosecution.

Hernandez joined Parlacen hours after leaving office on Jan 27, when leftist Xiomara Castro was sworn in and vowed to transform the "bankrupt" country which she intended to turn into a "socialist and democratic state".

Even though Hernandez supported US anti-drug campaigns, traffickers caught in the US claimed to have paid bribes to the president's inner circle.

Alleged associate Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez was sentenced by the US this month to life in prison for drug trafficking.

In March 2021, Hernandez's brother, former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez, was also sentenced to life imprisonment in the US for drug trafficking.

Blinken said in a statement last week 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 has denied all charges and claims the accusations are a part of a revenge plot from the same drug lords that his government captured or extradited to the US.

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