(CN) — In February, former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández stood flanked by officers. A chain stretched between his wrists and ran down to the shackles on his ankles.
Weeks after he left office, the U.S. government sought his extradition from his Latin American country, saying the former official played a role in sending 500 tons of cocaine to the states beginning in 2004 and when Hernández was still just a congressman.
On Friday, Hernández is scheduled to have his initial appearance in a federal courtroom in New York. He was brought to the states and the U.S. District Court for Southern New York unsealed a superseding indictment against him on Thursday.
Announcing the indictment at a Thursday evening press conference, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Hernández ran Honduras “as a narco-state.” The indictment in the U.S. comes after the Drug Enforcement Agency spent years investigating the infiltration of the Honduran government by drug trafficking organizations, he said.
“The Justice Department is committed to disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people. No matter how far or how high we must go,” Garland said.
The indictment accuses Hernández of three counts: engaging in a cocaine importation conspiracy, possessing machineguns and destructive devices and possessing those devices while engaging in the conspiracy.
If convicted of the conspiracy charge, Hernández could face up to life in prison.
The indictment accuses the former president of accepting bribes totaling in the millions of dollars from drug trafficking organizations, one being the Sinaloa Cartel. In turn, he protected shipments of cocaine moving from Venezuela and Colombia, for instance, as they moved through Honduras and onto the United States.
The indictment said because Hernadez accepted a bribe from Victor Hugo Diaz Morales, aka El Rojo, certain officials were placed in law enforcement positions. And that, the indictment said, was how Diaz Moralez learned about the radar capabilities of the nation so drug-running planes could avoid detection, for instance.
With Hernández in power, the Honduran police and military protected the shipment of drugs and violence in the country metastasized.
In turn, Hernández allegedly used the money he accepted from drug traffickers to engage in voter fraud during the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections in that country.
The former president “corrupted the legitimate institutions of Honduras,” the indictment says.
But it was one of the country’s institutions that sent Hernández to the U.S. to face charges. In mid-March, Honduras’ Supreme Court said the former president should be extradited to the U.S.
The court is made up of magistrates who all joined it while Hernández was president.
Earlier in his political career, Hernández voiced support for an amendment to the nation’s constitution that would allow the U.S. to extradite the country’s citizens if charged with drug trafficking crimes.
“Hernández campaigned on a simple promise to the Honduran people, that he would clean up political corruption and fight drug traffickers,” said Administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration Anne Milgram during the press conference. “But in reality, the indictment alleges that Hernández did the opposite.”
Behind the scenes, Hernández allegedly told drug traffickers that he would protect them against extradition.
The indictment comes after the U.S. sentenced in March 2021 Hernández’s brother — also a former lawmaker of Honduras — to life imprisonment on weapons and drug charges.
Following news of Hernández’s arrest in mid-February, Hondurans expressed optimism but wondered how the nation would recover from, say, his efforts to sell the country’s natural resources to private hands.
Meanwhile, Garland said he saw no conflict between bringing charges against Honduras’ former president and efforts to foster relationships across Latin America.
“In this particular case, the new administration of Honduras wants our help,” Garland said. “We are hopeful that honest administrations across Latin America will view our assistance in rooting out corruption, and particularly Narco-corruption, will be to the benefit of those countries, those administrations and their people.”
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.