Less than three weeks after Juan Orlando Hernández left office, the former Honduran President has been placed under arrest pending extradition to the United States for his alleged links to drug traffickers.
Hernández left his home in Tegucigalpa escorted by law enforcement officers. He was shackled at the wrists and ankles and wore an armored vest.
Honduras' Supreme Court of Justice had appointed a judge Tuesday morning to handle the case, and hours later arrest warrant was signed.
Security Secretary Ramón Sabillón, who was fired by Hernández as head of the National Police in 2014, said Tuesday that Hernández had ties ”with cartels to traffic and corrupt many public institutions, (which) generated social deterioration and annulled the application of justice in Honduras.
Sabillón added that the main charges against Hernández in the United States are drug trafficking, use of weapons for drug trafficking and criminal association to use weapons in drug trafficking.
Federal prosecutors in New York had repeatedly singled out Hernandez as an accessory during his brother's drug trial in 2019, alleging that his political rise had been supported financially by drug cartels.
The former President's brother, Juan Antonio Tony Hernandez, was sentenced to life in prison on drug and weapons-related charges in March 2021. During the trial, Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Laroche had spoken of drug trafficking sponsored by the state.
Hernández posted an audio recording on Twitter early Tuesday in which he said he was quick and ready to collaborate and come voluntarily (...) to be able to face this situation and defend myself.
According to media reports, President Hernández used to have the support of former US President Donald Trump's administration but it all changed once Joseph Biden took office.
The identity of the Supreme Court Justice who signed the warrant was not revealed. Chief Justice Rolando Argueta is known to be close to Hernández and the 15 Supreme Court justices were appointed by Congress in 2016 -during Hernández's first presidency- for seven-year terms. Most of them are said to belong to the National Party, like the former president.
Last year, a group of US senators had endorsed a proposal to isolate Hernández by banning the export of tear gas and rubber bullets which Honduran security forces had used in recent years against protesters.
“Throughout the past eight years of decadence, depravity and impunity, consecutive US administrations have tarnished our reputation by treating Hernández as a friend and partner,” US Senator Patrick Leahy, one of those who supported the move, said in a statement Tuesday.
By making excuse after excuse for a government that had no legitimacy and was operating like a criminal enterprise, US authorities lost sight of what we stand for and that our true ally is the Honduran people,” he added.
According to Honduran criminal law experts, Hernández's extradition to the US will last nearly three months or less.
Hernández left the presidency on January 27 when President Xiomara Castro was sworn in. That same day, Hernández was sworn in as a representative of Honduras before the Central American Parliament.
One of his lawyers, Hermes Ramírez, told local media that his client had immunity because of his position in the regional parliament and insisted that the security forces were not following the proper protocol.
Hernández claims Honduras began allowing the extradition of Hondurans for drug offenses when he was Speaker of Congress, but US prosecutors said he took bribes from drug traffickers with promises to protect them once he became president. In 2019, US prosecutors in New York implicated him numerous times in his brother's drug trial, claiming that drug profits financed his political rise.