Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has said he is ready to collaborate with the national police, hours after authorities surrounded his house amid US government requests that he be arrested and extradited to Washington.
Speculation had been swirling for months that the United States was planning to request Hernandez’s extradition when he left office amid accusations that he colluded with drug traffickers. Left-wing leader Xiomara Castro replaced him as president last month.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Honduras’ Supreme Court – which will decide on the extradition request – is due to meet on Tuesday morning to name a judge to oversee the case, a judiciary spokesman said.
The US is seeking to extradite Hernandez on charges relating to weapons and a drug-trafficking scheme between 2004 and 2022, Reuters reported on Tuesday citing a US embassy document.
The embassy said in the document that Hernandez was part of a scheme that trafficked from Honduras 500,000 kilograms of cocaine received from Venezuela and Colombia to the US.
Honduras’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had said via Twitter on Monday that it had notified the country’s Supreme Court that the US embassy had requested the “formal provisional arrest of a Honduran politician” for extradition.
On Monday, tens of police officers surrounded Hernandez’s house, according to Reuters news agency reports.
Images of a document, which showed a “formal request for provisional arrest for the purpose of extradition to the United States of America of Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado” were also broadcast by CNN.
Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice, declined to comment. The US Department of State has also not commented yet.
A lawyer for Hernandez, Felix Avila, told a local TV channel that if a Supreme Court judge orders his client’s arrest, he “has said that if he is allowed, he is willing to surrender voluntarily”.
Washington’s request for extradition is in contrast to a period when the US government saw Hernandez as a vital ally in volatile Central America during his eight years in power.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hernandez was included on a list last year of people accused of corruption or undermining democracy 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 said on Twitter on February 7. “No one is above the law.”
“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,” the US State Department said in a statement.
A US federal witness said Hernandez “received narco-trafficking proceeds as part of his campaign funding”, the statement also said.
Hernandez left office on January 27 with the swearing-in of President Castro. The same day, Hernandez was sworn in as Honduras’s representative to the Central American Parliament.
With a weak and co-opted Honduran justice system, Hondurans’ hope for justice had rested for years with US federal prosecutors in New York, where a string of revelations against Hernandez was closely followed back home.
Speculation had swirled for months over whether Hernandez would be charged once he was no longer president, because US prosecutors in New York repeatedly implicated him in his brother’s 2019 drug trafficking trial, alleging that his political rise was fuelled by drug profits.
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.
His brother, former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez, was sentenced in March 2017 to life imprisonment in the US for drug trafficking.